Government urged to rethink changes to HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail

The Government has been urged by an influential committee of MPs to reconsider its decision to scale back Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2, to ensure a “once-in-a-generation investment in rail is not to be a missed opportunity”.

After conducting a detailed review of the £96bn Integrated Rail Plan during an inquiry which was launched in December, Parliament’s Transport Committee said it “has the potential to transform rail travel for future generations” but also “left some towns and cities very disappointed”.

The plan promised three high-speed lines, the electrification of 180 miles of railway and other upgrades in the North and the Midlands.

But it stated the eastern leg of HS2 will now stop at East Midlands Parkway and not reach Yorkshire as originally planned, although the services will run to Sheffield on existing lines and a £100m will be spent on looking “at the most effective way to run HS2 trains to Leeds”.

The Government has been urged to reconsider plans for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail

The Government also changed the plan for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) and broke a promise, outlined in its 2019 manifesto, to build the line between Leeds and Manchester.

It has instead opted to build a 40-mile line between Warrington and Marsden and upgrade the Transpennine Route, claiming this option will slash journey times and save around £18bn.

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The Transport Committee said there is a “fixation” on cutting journey times and if the Government does not deliver both rail projects in full, it may not create the “vital capacity” needed to transform in the North’s overcrowded rail network.

It also found that decisions to scale back the projects may have been based on “insufficient” evidence, as it has not conducted the full cost-benefit analysis of HS2 without the eastern leg or completed a full analysis of the wider economic impacts of the different NPR options.

According to the committee, the Government “must remain open” to Transport for the North’s proposal, to build a high-speed line between Leeds and Manchester, with a stop in Bradford, and a new line from Warrington to Liverpool, as it could “represent the best potential value”.

“If so, they must grasp that nettle. Extra costs are not to be incurred lightly, but a significantly better outcome for our economy and communities is a worthwhile investment,” it added.

Huw Merriman, Chair of the Committee, said: “The Prime Minister promised that he would, with Northern Powerhouse Rail, do for the North what he did for Londoners with Crossrail. Instead, much of the track will be an upgrade of existing line.

“The business case of HS2 was based on it going east to Leeds. Now, it stops in the East Midlands without any understanding of how much money is saved.

“Those we spoke to from the cities of Leeds and Bradford, in particular, do not recognise that the finalised plans meet either the promises they believe were made or the Prime Minister’s stated aims.

“For these cities, and the taxpayer as a whole, the Government must demonstrate the rationale for its decisions. An investment of this substantial sum must be based on the best evidence and the best value for money.

“It must bring the greatest overall benefit to rail services, the economy, environment and communities across the North and Midlands.”

The committee also found plans to increase capacity across the network will “fall at the first hurdle” unless stations which are already at capacity are upgraded.

It said the Government must commit to supporting the redevelopment of Leeds Station by 2035, so it has the capacity to accommodate additional services, and "reconsider the case" for building a new station in Bradford.

The Government must also set out the timetable for the long-awaited £100m study on bringing HS2 trains to Leeds by September, it added.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The Government’s £96bn Integrated Rail Plan is the largest single rail investment ever made by a UK Government, and this report significantly underplays the benefits it will bring to millions of passengers for generations to come.

“The Plan, which is backed by detailed economic analysis, is already benefitting our regions with 26,000 jobs created for the HS2 project alone, and will deliver transformational benefits to communities across the North and Midlands, far sooner than under previous plans.”