A MAJOR consultation will be gin in the coming months to assess how towns and cities across the north of England can benefit from the huge increase in rail capacity brought about by the construction of HS2.
Network Rail said the a new high-speed line linking London to Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester would allow a complete overhaul of services along the existing rail network.
Government officials told the Yorkshire Post the new consultation will be “specifically aimed” at surrounding cities such as Hull, Bradford and Wakefield, where residents and council leaders have expressed concern they will see little benefit from the £42.6bn scheme.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told the Yorkshire Post on Saturday he is determined to improve rail links across Yorkshire to ensure every part of the region benefits from the new line when it fully opens in 2033.
Speaking yesterday at the publication of the new report, David Prout, the DfT’s director-general of HS2, said: “The reworking of the timetables north of London is a massively complex job and something we will be undertaking over the next couple of years, in consultation with local communities, MPs, interested parties and so on.
“This is specifically aimed at those kinds of communities who feel they need an opportunity to say; ‘we need better services if you’re going to release all this capacity’.”
No decisions have yet been taken about any new services, but the updated HS2 business case published by the Department for Transport (DfT) yesterday highlighted possibilities that included new direct links to the capital from Harrogate, Halifax and Hull, and a Bradford-London rail link in just two hours.
It also states commuter services into Leeds, Sheffield, Wakefield and Doncaster would be radically overhauled by the release of space on existing routes .
And it seeks to allay fears in Wakefield – where council leader Peter Box is one of the region’s few town hall bosses opposed to the project – that the city could actually see a slower service to London as a result of HS2.
Wakefield and Doncaster both currently enjoy fast, direct rail services to the capital, and some local politicians fear the change of use of the East Coast Main Line for more local services could have a negative impact.
But the report states: “Our aim is that all towns or cities which currently have a direct service to London will retain broadly comparable or better services, once HS2 is completed.”
Councillor James Lewis, chairman of West Yorkshire transport authority Metro, said: “This report makes clear the additional capacity that HS2 will create, which is key to the future of our local transport network.
“Fudging the need for more rail capacity and trying to upgrade existing routes would cost £20bn and mean 14 years of delays, diversions and misery for passengers.
“This disruption would have a huge economic impact.”
The new business case also sought to respond to concerns raised by critics including the Commons public accounts committee that previous reports were based on outdated figures.
It factors in a range of new data including the rise in the scheme’s cost to £42.6bn; the package of improvements in the existing rail network announced by Ministers in the summer; a projected increase in the number of business passengers on the new line; and a new assessment of how much time people spend working when on trains.
The official cost-benefit ratio of the project has now fallen slightly, but remains at £2.30 for every £1 of public money spent.
The Government said this figure still represents a “high” score for a big infrastructure project, and would rise considerably higher if it also factored in the likely increase in passenger use and the huge investment the line will bring.
Business groups including the CBI broadly welcomed the report, with the British Chambers of Commerce stating: “HS2 is the only scheme that can transform capacity on Britain’s overstretched railways.”
However Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said: “As we expected, the Government have pulled some random figures out of the air in a desperate attempt to con the public.”