He has been asked to “give HS2 east the green light to move to the delivery and implementation stage”, in a joint letter from Leeds Council’s Labour leader, James Lewis, and Ben Bradley, Conservative MP for Mansfield.
The letter also states that the Government must publish its long-awaited Integrated Rail Plan, which was originally due to be released last year, and ensure the plan recognises that HS2 is the “best opportunity to create a substantial increase in capacity for rail freight”.
Work is well under way on the first phase of the high-speed rail project, which is expected to cost more than £100bn, and phase 2a was approved by Parliament earlier this year. But phase 2b, which will see a western line link Crewe and Manchester and an eastern line link West Midlands to Leeds, is still awaiting approval.
HS2 will improve connectivity for passengers but also create capacity for up to 144 extra freight trains every day and each of them will take up to 76 heavy goods vehicles off the road, the letter states.
It also says the eastern leg will be “pivotal” for the Midlands and the North, as it will “better connect supply chains”, relieve congestion at pinch points and “support the economic recovery”.
“Currently the rail freight sector carries over £30bn of goods per year, with the industry contributing £870m per annum to the UK economy. And yet there are around half as many freight trains using the network than there were 15 years ago, with the conventional network at capacity and critical pinch points from the East Midlands to Newcastle,” the letter states.
“There is growing demand for rail freight around Sheffield, with a new rail freight terminal opening at Tinsley, use of I-Port in Doncaster by rail growing, and growth in aggregates traffic through Hope Valley from the Buxton quarries.
“Further north, capacity on the East Coast main line is constrained to just six passenger trains per hour north of Northallerton due to the lack of upgrades to reroute freight.”
It adds: “The best and most effective way of releasing the additional capacity for freight and local and regional passenger services is the delivery of the HS2 eastern leg as currently designed, as soon as possible.”
There were concerns the eastern line, which is due to open between 2036 and 2040, would be scrapped after the National Infrastructure Commission said investment in local rail projects should be upgraded. But in May, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that the Government was committed to building it.
The Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) has rated the scheme as red, the highest risk warning available to it.
The IPA assesses the likelihood of large schemes fulfilling their objectives on time and in budget and a red rating means the experts believe that “successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable”.
Councillor Lewis said: “The Industrial Revolution was led from Leeds and the North of England by exporting our goods to Britain and the world.
"Rail freight adds £870m a year to the economy but today track congestion restricts freight and passenger services, and is pushing millions of unnecessary HGV journeys on to our busy roads. That is why we ask the Prime Minister again to give the green light to the eastern leg of HS2 that will cut carbon and increase freight by rail across the whole UK.”