TRANSPORT Secretary Philip Hammond has sought to ease fears that high-speed rail may never reach Yorkshire – but warned it will not be possible to build the network any faster.
Mr Hammond said he wanted to address the “suspicion” by some in the North of England who fear the 250mph network may stop once the London to Birmingham line is built – rather than being extended to Leeds and to Manchester as the Government has pledged.
Giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee, he insisted that the Leeds and Manchester lines could not be included in a Bill which will cover the Birmingham line because it would delay the project by several years.
But he promised the Bill will include a commitment to build the extra branches – due to be open by 2032/33 – by a certain date, and offered to meet sceptics to discuss what to say.
“I’m happy to sit down with representatives of the areas where most of the concern’s been expressed and look at what language we can put into the first Hybrid Bill,” said Mr Hammond at the hearing.
Protesters fighting the project had gathered outside Westminster displaying a white elephant.
“I want this suspicion and concern to go away. Some of the strongest supporters of the project are in the North and I want to reassure them.”
Mr Hammond, who said he had seen no new evidence suggesting the scheme should be halted, said the economic case for the extra branches meant it would make no sense to stop the network at Birmingham.
But he rejected calls for the project to be speeded up, saying that building the high-speed network – which would cut journey times from Leeds to London by up to 50 minutes at a cost of £32bn – more quickly would take money away from other transport schemes.
Comment: Page 12.