We’ve axed the northern leg of HS2 to make improvements in the region now - Mark Harper
Last week the government stepped up and made a big and necessary decision to ensure the country’s transport infrastructure is fit for the future.
We must face facts: since the pandemic, demand has fallen for long distance rail. Business travel, once the rail industry’s biggest source of revenue, has almost halved. Inflation caused by the aftermath of Covid and the war in Ukraine has seen the cost of construction materials rocket, with HS2’s forecasted budget doubling to around £100bn.
Now, we could’ve kept our head down and carried on with HS2 regardless – spending more taxpayers’ money on a project that wouldn’t have arrived until the 2040s or delivered value for the scale of what was invested. That would have meant HS2 continuing to swallow up my transport budget, with one in every three pounds spent on one rail line. That would have also meant sacrificing better east-west links across the north’s towns and cities. That would have ignored the everyday needs of millions of people across the North including here in Yorkshire, who want improved local roads, cheaper local bus services and better regional trains. Those are the people’s priorities and they’re mine too.
So, we will redirect every penny of the £36bn saved from HS2 on the local transport projects that people want, with almost £20bn being spent in the North to deliver hundreds of transport projects as part of Network North.
It means we can now bring Bradford and Hull into Northern Powerhouse Rail. I was in Bradford on Thursday, where there will be a new station with new connections to Manchester which will halve journey times to 30 minutes, whilst doubling capacity and increasing services. We’ll electrify routes between Leeds, Hull and Sheffield so passengers enjoy faster journeys. Communities previously cut off by the Beeching reforms will see the Don Valley line restored, and new stations at Haxby and Waverley. And we’ll make sure Leeds is no longer the largest city in Europe without a mass transit system. I’m pressing go on the £2.5bn West Yorkshire Metro.
However, most journeys take place on our roads, so we’ll resurface hundreds of miles of them, dealing with the menace of potholes in the process.
We’ll spend £460m on smaller schemes such as the Shipley Eastern Bypass, near Bradford. And we’ll continue to back our most popular form of public transport by extending the £2 bus fare cap until December 2024, putting money back into the pockets of passengers and helping protect vital services.
People in Yorkshire have for too long been promised jam tomorrow, the Prime Minister and I are changing this. What you tell us you need is better connectivity sooner, not in decades’ time. Improvements in local services in a matter of months and years, not decades.
Decisions and resources made and spent at the local level, not more London-centric thinking. So, that’s what we’ll deliver. More than doubling the funding for Northern Mayors. Better connections between, and within, towns and cities. And a relentless focus on improving everyday local journeys.
Mark Harper is the Transport Secretary.