North-South split over rail project

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A MASSIVE consultation into the proposed new high-speed rail lines to Leeds and Manchester has confirmed a broad North-South split has developed in public support for the £32bn scheme.

A report released by the Department for Transport (DfT) yesterday assessing more than 55,000 responses to the recent consultation into HS2 has revealed there is overwhelming support for the project in Northern towns and cities, but fierce opposition in parts of London, the South East and Midlands.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening confirmed in January that the new high-speed rail lines will go ahead despite a concerted campaign in the Home Counties to have the project canned.

The new analysis shows that the rival pro-HS2 movement within Northern cities – spearheaded by the Yorkshire Post’s Fast Track to Yorkshire campaign – was hugely successful, with Leeds lodging the highest number of responses to the plan in the North.

More than 1,250 people from the city offered written submissions to the DfT – three times as many as in Manchester – with 96 per cent in favour.

A similar proportion of the 700 respondents from Sheffield – where another station on the line is expected to be built – also gave the scheme the thumbs-up.

The report makes clear that the message has got through to Whitehall.

“Most of the key northern English and Scottish cities that would benefit from HS2 are strongly in favour of it,” its authors state.

Business and local authority leaders from Leeds and across the region were yesterday queuing up to praise residents and business who had helped convince the Government.

Coun Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council’s executive board member for development, said: “It is great to hear there has been so much support from the people of Leeds for High Speed 2.

“I hope this support will continue for this excellent campaign for improved rail links to the North of England, and further our case for getting approval for the scheme.”

Neil McLean, chair of the Leeds City Region LEP, said: “The national high speed rail network offers a unique opportunity to transform the economic prospects of the Leeds City Region and the North, deliver significant productivity benefits and accelerate economic growth. It comes as no surprise that at all the city region’s residents and businesses are saying yes to HS2.”

Last month Ms Greening received the first detailed proposals from HS2 Ltd, the company set up to oversee the scheme, suggesting precisely where the northern legs of the line should be built.

That report has been kept secret while the DfT digests the proposals before it publishes its own detailed plan this autumn.

Business leaders in Yorkshire say it is vital to keep the pressure on Government.

Ian Williams, director of policy for Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Following the Government’s inquiry it is clear there is strong support for high speed rail, with many businesses, including the chamber, submitting evidence. Yorkshire’s business community recognises how vital this infrastructure for the future of the regional economy, in terms of enhancing our competitiveness and opening up new markets in the South and Midlands, as well as improving connectivity to Heathrow.

“However, the fight to bring high speed rail to the region is far from over, as there is still strong opposition from parts of the South.

“Therefore it is vital that Yorkshire’s businesses and communities continue to show their support, and demonstrate why the line is so important to the region.”