Professor Andrew McNaughton, the former technical director of HS2 who is still employed as a strategic technical advisor to the Government-funded project, said cutting Leeds out of the eastern leg of the high-speed rail line leaves the country facing a new East-West divide as Birmingham and Manchester benefit while Yorkshire and the North-East miss out.
He said the revised plans, which include the HS2 line ending in the East Midlands but its trains running to Sheffield, were “a short-term smokescreen for cutting Yorkshire out of the future of the country”.
Prof McNaughton, who was the very first official employee of HS2 in 2009 and is due to leave his HS2 advisory post in January, said he had viewed Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham “as the heart of HS2 with a useful branch line to London”, adding: “It was about changing the way the North and Midlands functioned as an economic unit.”
He said this would not now happen for Yorkshire, especially as the parallel Northern Powerhouse Rail high-speed line will end two miles inside the region’s border.
He said: “Birmingham is going to thrive fantastically - if you go to Birmingham, you will see the tower cranes busily building a new Birmingham. Manchester will be fantastic.
“Leeds becomes left-behind Leeds and if Leeds is left behind, think what Bradford is thinking. It becomes ‘left behind Yorkshire’ as I see it.”
Prof McNaughton, who is originally from Leeds, said: “I know what a difference being properly connected to the other northern and Midlands city regions would make.
"It upsets me that it is going to be left behind from decisions being made in London with a London lens. The alternatives put forward are just a smokescreen for cutting Yorkshire out of the future of the country.”
He said he “absolutely believes” the Government must go back to the original plan, and added: “Can you imagine when people were designing the motorways, they said you don’t need the M62 here, you don’t need the M1 here because Yorkshire is not that important? It is simply not good enough.
“Unless places are properly connected, they will be left behind economically and they will therefore be left behind socially. Outside investment will go where places are best connected.
“We’ve lost the vision of a future of the North and Midlands as an economic entity that can stand on the world stage of which being well connected together is a central part of. You can’t have prosperity without being well connected.”
The Government’s plans have been given a qualified welcome by Sir John Armitt, the chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, which suggested ending the HS2 eastern leg at East Midlands Parkway as a cheaper alternative to Leeds last year.
Sir John called the IRP “a realistic plan for major long term investments to improve rail for the North and Midlands in the face of public spending constraints”.
Costs for the HS2 eastern leg have more than halves from £27bn to under £13bn under the changes.
But Prof McNaughton’s intervention comes amidst mounting backlash to the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan.
South Yorkshire Mayor Dan Jarvis said yesterday: “The deeper you dig into the IPR, the worse it gets. No NPR link from South Yorkshire to Manchester or Hull. No faster trains from Sheffield to Leeds.
“They’re locking in a second class solution for Northern transport for a generation. It’s not levelling up, it’s business as usual.”
Speaking to reporters in Huddersfield on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the revised plan and claimed “Leeds is going to be vastly better connected as a result of the changes we are announcing”, with faster journey times to Manchester and Bradford and the prospect of a metro system.
He said: “The problem with the original plan is it involved a gigantist approach saying it has all got to be new line. We don’t exclude new line but we start with a terrific difference to local transport.
“At the moment HS2 goes up to Sheffield or you can take HS2 or Northern Powerhouse Rail round via Manchester. Either way, all roads lead to Leeds.”
Prof McNaughton said he did not accept the Government’s argument that building the HS2 Eastern leg would have been too disruptive and that high-speed trains running to places in Yorkshire on existing track is an acceptable alternative.
“Going, ‘You’ll be able to run high-speed trains on existing track’ is a bit like saying, ‘You’ve come off the motorway, you’re still in the same car but you are now doing 30 miles an hour’. You are still in the same car but you are not on the motorway.”
He said while the Eastern leg plans were "ready to go" after spending eight years in development, "the “plans” in the government statement are largely just ideas discarded five or more years ago because they were too disruptive and changed nothing".
He also highlighted that Government claims that the Eastern leg would not have reached Yorkshire until the 2040s did not tally with the original timeline of the route opening in 2033.
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