Battle continues over the location of the planned South Yorkshire HS2 station.
Today’s announcement that the proposed separate HS2 station in Leeds has been scrapped in favour of integrating high speed rail lines into the existing station is a huge victory that follows intense lobbying by both political and business leaders.
In Sheffield it will raise hopes that there is a willingness to review elements of HS2 and the city’s call for the proposed station at Meadowhall to be moved to the city centre could yet be heeded.
However, there are key differences between the two issues.
The original plan for HS2 services to terminate in Leeds at the proposed New Lane station south of the River Aire posed few real problems for the city but raised major questions over the benefits high speed rail would bring to the rest of West and North Yorkshire.
There were grave concerns that without the ability to easily connect to local services, Leeds would become the final destination for HS2 passengers.
For example, your industry might decide to hold a conference in Harrogate. After all, people could catch HS2 to Leeds and connect with a local service. But wait, they’d have to traipse across the river on a ten minute walk dragging their suitcase through the rain. Why not just hold the conference in Leeds instead?
Maintaining broad regional support for HS2 relied on demonstrating it could have a transformational impact on the wider economy and it was with that in mind, and with the support of Leeds, that George Osborne announced earlier this year that HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins would review the station plans.
Announcing the result today, Sir David said it was “very gratifying” to see the “consensus” around the Leeds station issue. The same cannot be said in South Yorkshire.
Sheffield has made the case that placing the HS” station in the city centre will have a much bigger impact on the economy than building it at Meadowhall.
But its neighbours completely reject that view and have shown no indication of relenting.
The lesson of today’s announcement is that a persuasive economic argument, backed by a political and business consensus, can change the plans for HS2.
The notable absence of a decision on Meadowhall today suggests the Government and Sir David are waiting for that formula to appear in South Yorkshire.