Northern leaders say levelling-up would be 'in tatters' amid fears HS2 may not reach Sheffield and Leeds

Northern political leaders say the Government's levelling-up plans would be left "in tatters" if high-speed rail scheme HS2 never reaches Yorkshire.

Fears that the eastern leg of the massive transport project could be delayed by up to 20 years have today been reported in The Sunday Times.

It reports that North of England and Midlands leaders are "fighting with the Government behind the scenes" on what they believe will be a “phased delivery” of the 120-mile eastern leg between Birmingham and Leeds - a potential recommendation in an upcoming report by Sir John Armitt, who has been reviewing the plans for the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

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According to the right-leaning Times, one option would be to build the HS2 line from Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway as a “first phase” with the rest of the line through Chesterfield and Sheffield to Leeds to be built at a later date.

Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council.

"It is understood that this could delay the scheme by up to 20 years, with construction unlikely to start on the eastern leg before 2040, if it goes ahead at all," says the report.

Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Across the north and Midlands, leaders from both political parties and from business are clear that any attempt to scale back the delivery of the eastern leg of HS2 as an integral part of High Speed North — which the government has already committed to — would leave its levelling-up ambitions in tatters.”

This month ministers confirmed legislation for the project's eastern leg, part of phase 2b of the scheme, will be split into a second parliamentary bill, separate from that for the western leg of phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester.

Dan Jarvis, mayor of the Sheffield City Region, told the Times that “watering down or cancelling the project would be unforgivable”.

Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region.

He added: “HS2 is more than journey times to London ... Levelling up will not happen with half-measures.

“The track cannot stop short at Birmingham or Manchester. It must come all the way to Yorkshire and beyond. It’s time for the government to stop the dither and delay, put its money where its mouth is and deliver on its promises.”

The Oakervee review said earlier this year that the final bill for the rail link could reach £88bn against a budget of £62.4bn, in 2019 prices.

The HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson stopped short of committing to the eastern leg during a Westminster Hall debate last week.

He said: “I want to reiterate the Government’s commitment to HS2 and to enabling the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the northeast to reap the benefits of high-speed rail services.”