Scrapping the second leg of the government's flagship rail project HS2 would be a “huge betrayal” of northern communities, the Transport Secretary has said.
Chris Grayling was responding to a demand from transport leaders in the midlands and the north for a firm commitment from Westminster that the high-speed rail line would go beyond Birmingham to Crewe, Manchester and Leeds as promised.
In a letter signed by 40 high-profile figures including the leader of Leeds City Council, Judith Blake, Liverpool Mayor Steve Rotheram and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, they wrote: “HS2 Phase Two will extend the benefits of this vital piece of infrastructure to more than 25 million people – over a third of the UK’s population – across the East Midlands, the North and Scotland.
“These people and places should not be denied the job and growth opportunities that HS2 brings. It must continue beyond Birmingham.
“Our support must not flounder or stall. We must unite to deliver HS2 in full, and we urge you to join us by offering your vocal and unwavering support. Help make HS2 happen for everyone, and help us all achieve our full potential.
“To our party leaders we say – back it, build it, benefit from it.”
The demand came after a warning this week former HS2 chairman Sir Terry Morgan that the construction timetable was not achievable within the current budget, and that “something has to give”.
Responding to the concerns at an event in the House of Commons yesterday, the Transport Secretary recommitted his department to delivering the project across the country.
He said: ““High Speed 2 is vital beyond Birmingham, and a failure to deliver it would be a dereliction of our duties to improve the life chances of everyone in this country, an abandonment of our ambition for one of the most extraordinary engineering projects since the Victorian age and a huge betrayal of the people in the Midlands and the North.
“HS2 is a project that will benefit the whole country and we are committed to a second stage between the West Midlands and the North.”
Chairing the event was Labour chair of the Commons Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood, who said the long-awaited rail line was not just “about going to London, it’s about looking to the north.
“The idea that we all want to go to London is a nonsense. But we can all gain from connecting the great cities of the north.”
Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership Henri Murison said: “We want to see northern powerhouse rail and HS2 delivered together as an integrated network. I believe the SEcretary of State wants that. What we now need to see is the funding in the summer in the comprehensive spending review to pay for it.”
Transport for the North’s interim strategy director Jonathan Spruce said: “Delivering HS2 will bring vast opportunities to the north and the midlands.
“But HS2 needs to come all the way, we all need to back it, we need to build it and then we will all benefit from it.”
He added that TfN was set to publish a landmark 30-year transport plan for the north of England next month.
He said: “It will be the first time the north has truly spoken with one voice transport needs and how we better connect the economic assets right across the north.
“It’s a very momentous occasion for the north of England and front and centre within that transport plan and the investment programme that supports it is HS2 and northern powerhouse rail.”