HS2 minister's silence over future of Leeds leg in 3,200 word statement to Parliament

A detailed ministerial update on the progress of HS2 in the last six months has failed to directly mention the plans for the threatened Eastern leg between Birmingham and Leeds.

Rail Minister Andrew Stephenson gave a 3,200 word written statement to Parliament on HS2’s progress but it did not directly mention the plans for the Yorkshire section of the route, which are rumoured to face being delayed or mothballed when the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) is published.

Work on the Birmingham to Leeds route - part of Phase 2b of HS2 - has been on hold awaiting the outcome of the IRP, which was originally due to be published last year but is now expected in the coming weeks.

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In the update Mr Stephenson said preparations are continuing for the western leg of Phase 2b between Crewe and Manchester, with a Parliamentary bill due early next year.

Andrew Stephenson's update on HS2 to Parliament contained no information about the Eastern leg route to Leeds.

He added: “We will soon publish the integrated rail plan for the North and Midlands which will set out how we will deliver and sequence HS2 phase 2b, Northern Powerhouse Rail and other major rail schemes, such as Midlands Rail Hub, to ensure transformational rail improvements and benefits are delivered to passengers, businesses and communities more quickly.”

In the ‘forward look’ section of his update, there was no mention of the Eastern leg and it was not mentioned anywhere else in his update.

Mr Stephenson said overall progress on the wider HS2 project was going to plan.

“I am proud to report significant progress on HS2 in my third update to Parliament on the project. We remain within budget and schedule, have hit major construction milestones, made substantial progress with key procurements, and are crucially supporting more jobs than ever before - all demonstrating just how HS2 is central to this Government’s mission to ‘Build Back Better’ from the covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

Mr Stephenson said that one year on from the start of construction on the first phase of the project, HS2 now supports 20,000 jobs.

The update came as Labour renewed calls for the Government to go ahead with HS2 in full up to Yorkshire as Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon visited Leeds railway station with West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin on Thursday.

Mr McMahon said of the omission of Leeds in the Parliamentary statement: "Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say he had a forgetful day. But if when the Budget comes out, that's not hardlined into it then it goes from being slightly forgetful to an absolute betrayal."

Ms Brabin said: "I gatecrashed the Conservative party conference to ask about these rumours [that the Eastern leg would be cancelled] and they all said 'It isn't dead'.

"We are getting mixed messages which is so frustrating. It's time now for the government to walk the walk and be clear with leaders across the North. We can't be served cold porridge, we've got to have something that is fit for the future."

Labour highlighted a series of comments made in Parliament in the past year by Mr Stephenson, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Boris Johnson suggesting the Eastern leg would go ahead.

Speaking ahead of the visit to Leeds yesterday, Mr McMahon said: “The Conservatives have committed and re-committed to the full delivery of HS2 and of Northern Powerhouse Rail more times than it’s possible to count – including at least five times in the House of Commons in the last 12 months alone. If they now go back on their word, communities will feel rightly betrayed and left behind.

"Transport connectivity in the North and Midlands has to be improved if we are to transform our economy and build for the future. Our regions deserve better than the empty words, meaningless soundbites and failure to see projects through – a thread running far too often through everything this Government promises.

“Labour has already committed to the full delivery of HS2 and that includes the Eastern leg. We’d work with mayors and leaders in our regions to make that happen- and to make sure the project was delivered at best value for money.”

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