Government urged to build HS2 in full to Leeds after Grant Shapps comments fuel speculation line could be delayed

Conservative and Labour politicians have united to urge the Government to ensure that HS2 is built in full after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps added to mounting speculation that a section of the high-speed rail route through Yorkshire is facing delays or could be axed totally.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. (PA)

The Government should commit to continue the project north of Birmingham and “penny pinching” will not make sense in the long-run, both figures across the political divide have warned, following Mr Shapps’ assertion that plans first drawn up “15 to 20 years ago” no longer “benefits people”.

Mr Shapps’ Conservative colleague, Andrew Jones, called for action to ensure the multi-billion pound project progresses.

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The former Transport Minister, who is the MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, told a Transport for the North event at the Conservative Party conference yesterday: “We have more services and more passengers than at any point in the railway’s history.

“I think action is what we need. In regards should we be proceeding – yes. We need to see HS2 in full.”

His sentiments were echoed by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, who offered his “support” to “colleagues in Yorkshire”.

“I would say stick to the most ambitious vision,” he told the same panel.

“In the end, capital investment will build a more productive North, and to be honest, the penny pinching won’t make sense, I don’t think in the long run because the more you put it back, what’s the point in doing it at all unless you do the most ambitious version?”

It is thought that regardless of what happens to a much-anticipated link to Leeds, the HS2 line from the Midlands to Manchester will be completed.

Mr Shapps has said that Ministers are not willing to “blindly follow” plans drawn up many years ago. Instead, the Government wants to “make sure we get trains to Leeds in a way that actually benefits people on the network”.

According to a report in The Financial Times yesterday, the Government is expected to announce a delay to the HS2 eastern leg between Birmingham and Yorkshire shortly, and priority will instead be given to the Manchester to Leeds Northern Powerhouse Rail project, which has been dubbed HS3.

Mr Shapps told The Financial Times: “Midlands Rail Hub and Northern Powerhouse Rail are things, they’ve been invented, they hadn’t been when HS2 was first designed.

“We need to work these things together.”

However, a Yorkshire MP has expressed relief at the prospect of the line being delayed or thrown out altogether, describing it as “a project which has been overwhelmingly rejected by my constituents”.

Writing in The Yorkshire Post today, Alex Stafford, the Conservative MP for Rother Valley, said: “I have been vocal in arguing that HS2 runs counter to this Government’s levelling up agenda in areas like Rother Valley.

“We are told that HS2 is a critical part of levelling up, but this is quite frankly a fallacy.”

Asked whether the eastern leg would go ahead, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We’ll set out exactly how major rail projects such as HS2 phase 2B and other projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail will work together to deliver the reliable train services passengers of North and Midlands need and deserve.”