Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, told The Yorkshire Post that any scaling back of the high speed rail project would be a betrayal of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda and that there was no way to address the North/South divide without building both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.
His remarks come following unverified reports that the Treasury wants the eastern route of HS2 scrapped as part of a round of spending cuts to tackle Britain’s deficit, which has ballooned to more than £300bn, or 14.5 per cent of GDP, following the pandemic.
Mr Murison said: “Scaling back HS2 would be a huge betrayal of this government’s repeated promises to the North and its stated highest priority, the ‘levelling up’ agenda.
“We need to start building from Leeds to unlock connectivity benefits sooner so the Northern Powerhouse Rail leg to Sheffield can be delivered, attracting investment and underpinning huge numbers of jobs.
“The most transformational economic case for high-speed rail is on the Eastern Leg. Cancel it - or postpone it indefinitely - and the North East, Leeds, Sheffield and the East Midlands will remain cut off from each other, constraining productivity and limiting opportunities for people who live there to go south to London.”
His comments come after political and commercial leaders across Yorkshire issued a joint statement insisting that the eastern leg to Sheffield and Leeds be delivered in full
A report by the High Speed Rail Group (HSRG), High Speed Rail Yorkshire and North East Voices includes contributions from MPs, local government leaders, LEP chairs and business chiefs and states that the eastern leg of HS2 is crucial in delivering economic growth and improved rail connectivity to Yorkshire.
HS2 was first mooted by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, with all subsequent Prime Ministers having backed the scheme, with current PM Boris Johnson as recently as February of last year stating in the House of Commons that the eastern leg would be delivered.
Work is already underway on the project to link Birmingham to London, with the route then set to split into two, with one leg heading towards Manchester and the other to Yorkshire.
The planned eastern leg of HS2, known as Phase 2B, would see a major new station constructed in Leeds, and plans for new services due to come to Sheffield, York, Darlington, Durham and Newcastle.
It is then expected these services will integrate with Northern Powerhouse Rail and local transport to relieve congestion, improve reliability, and speed up journey times.
Projections show that in Leeds alone, the HS2 Growth Strategy will bring over £500m in investment and around 40,000 jobs.
However critics have rounded on the cost of the project which has more than tripled since it was first announced more than a decade ago.
A High Speed Rail Group spokesperson said that “there must be no delay from the Government in committing to the Eastern Leg”, while Leeds City Council leader James Lewis sid that the delivery of the Eastern Leg of HS2 was “ a once-in-a-generation opportunity to truly rebalance the United Kingdom’s economy, creating meaningful and inclusive growth across the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East”.
The Department for Transport stopped short of confirming that the eastern leg would be cancelled but pledged to reveal more information in the delayed and much anticipated Integrated Rail Plan, which is due to be published in the Autumn when Parliament is recalled.
A DfT spokesperson said:“The Integrated Rail Plan will soon outline exactly how major rail projects, including HS2 phase 2b and other transformational projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers across the North and Midlands need and deserve.”