'Moment has gone' for HS2 in the North, suggests Tracy Brabin as she eyes alternative schemes

Tracy Brabin has suggested “the moment has gone” for HS2 serving the North as she pledged to work with other regional mayors on pushing for alternative rail transport improvements.

The West Yorkshire mayor made the comments as she spoke to The Yorkshire Post on Friday at the Convention of the North in Leeds.

It followed an on-stage speech in which she had criticised the Government’s Network North proposals for reallocating £36bn of saved HS2 money to an array of smaller regional transport infrastructure projects as lacking cohesion.

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Ms Brabin was asked in a subsequent press conference what the solution to improving the North’s transport links is given Labour’s current position that it will not reinstate the HS2 leg between Birmingham and Manchester scrapped by Rishi Sunak and her criticism of his Network North alternative.

West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin, co-host of Convention of the North, addresses delegates at the Convention of the North on March 01, 2024 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin, co-host of Convention of the North, addresses delegates at the Convention of the North on March 01, 2024 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin, co-host of Convention of the North, addresses delegates at the Convention of the North on March 01, 2024 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

She said: “We’ve seen from Government that they are selling off the land around HS2. It feels like that moment has gone. When you are laying off engineering companies costing millions in fees, that is going to have to lead to a rethink.”

Mr Sunak cancelled the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 in October, after Boris Johnson had previously axed the Birmingham to Leeds leg of the route.

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HS2 Ltd had previously signed off on £300m worth of framework agreements for the Manchester leg. In November, Rail Minister Huw Merriman said not progressing and “wrapping up” contracts which were no longer required was among the work being carried out to bring the scrapped Manchester leg “to a stop in a safe and efficient way whilst ensuring value for money”.

He also said plans to sell off land no longer needed for HS2 were being developed, with details to be announced “in due course”.

In response to the situation, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham is working with Andy Street, his Conservative counterpart in the West Midlands on alternative options for a new line between Manchester and Birmingham including effectively retaining the HS2 route but with a cheaper lower-speed line built.

In addition to the £36bn for Network North, £12bn has also been earmarked by Government for better connections between Manchester and Liverpool following lobbying by Mr Burnham and Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram.

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Ms Brabin said she intends to work with South Yorkshire mayor Oliver Coppard on a similar collaboration to push for funding of key transport priorities. She cited a rolling programme of rail electrification across the North, faster trains between Sheffield and Leeds and a transformation of Leeds railway station as among the policies they want to see developed.

"More than anything the people of the North want to see delivery,” she said.

"They are absolutely sick to death of promise after promise after promise and nothing happening.”

Mr Coppard said he hopes to work with Ms Brabin and other regional mayors to develop proposals that help South Yorkshire. He said the next Government should reassess Network North to come up with a more joined up plan.

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“It is a not a network and not in the North. There was £235m for potholes in London with the badge ‘Network North’ on it just utterly undermined the idea that this is about the North.

"Things like Midland Mainline electrification into Sheffield is just as important as HS2 was to the West Coast. There are things we want to do in South Yorkshire we need investment in. We need to do that in partnership with our strong partner regions across the North to connect up the great cities of the north. The fact that Manchester and Sheffield are connected by a single treack road is just beyond a joke really at this point.

“We need to get the system to be a system, not just a series of disconnected projects.”

​Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has said there is “an HS2-sized hole” in the Government’s levelling up plans – but says he is seeking an alternative to the high-speed line rather than it being brought back.

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He said unless an alternative to HS2 in the North is found, the region will be reliant on Victorian rail infrastructure for the rest of the century while much of the South is served by high-speed lines.

"It is imperative the Government does not release the safeguarding on the land between Birmingham and Manchester. It is essential they do not start a sell-off of that land – options need to be considered for a successor to HS2. This isn’t an argument to bring it back but it is an argument to say the West Coast mainline and the M6 cannot be what connects the north-west to the Midlands and the south for the rest of this century.

"We need much better than that and we need a new railway line to bring the capacity that’s needed. Without it, there is no coherence in the Government’s levelling up plans.”

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