Purpose of HS2 'destroyed if Yorkshire leg scrapped', warns top rail expert

HS2’s “whole purpose will be destroyed” if the Yorkshire leg of the route is scrapped by the Government, one of the country’s foremost rail experts has warned.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps gives the signal for digging to begin at ongoing works at the HS2 'superhub' at Oak Common station in West London. Picture: PA/ Stefan Rousseau

Writing in today’s Yorkshire Post, Nigel Harris, managing editor of RAIL magazine, called on Red Wall MPs “to stop snoring and sniff the coffee” and fight for the project to be delivered.

His comments come as rumours grow that the Government is preparing to scrap or mothball the HS2 eastern leg between Birmingham and Leeds.

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“Without the eastern arm, HS2’s whole purpose is destroyed and it becomes nothing more than a very expensive West Coast Main Line by-pass, benefiting only the western half of the country – and with a much worse benefit:cost ratio as well,” Mr Harris said.

Work is already taking place on southern sections of HS2 - but the Eastern leg between Birmingham and Leeds is in doubt. Picture: PA

He added that he was cynical about reports suggesting the Eastern Leg is about to be cancelled.

“Until I hear Prime Minister Boris Johnson reverse his frequently repeated, unambiguous promise to ‘build the HS2 network in its entirety’, then Government policy remains unchanged, whatever the headlines, critics and mischief makers might imply,” he said.

“Government has a long tradition of ‘testing the water’ on potentially controversial decisions which might blow up in its face, and I have no doubt elements of that are going on here.

“So, we HS2 East supporters need to redouble our efforts to make it clear not only to Government, but also to communities on HS2E’s line of route (and to the country as a whole) just what is at stake if this fundamentally important aspect of the project was to be scrapped.

“The tranche of recent Northern ‘red wall’ Conservative MPs, on whom the Government needs to remember that its Parliamentary majority depends, also need to stop snoring and sniff the coffee.

“HS2 and Government messaging in the early days (a decade or so ago) was admittedly dire, and the myth took root among critics that HS2 was all about saving a few minutes on journeys to Birmingham. This was never the case.”

It comes after Northern political and business leaders released a report earlier this week making the case for the line to be built in full.

There have been a string of reports in recent weeks that the Eastern leg of the scheme between Birmingham and Leeds could be axed by the Government.

The Financial Times reported this week that the scheme - which is currently on hold until the publication of the Government's Integrated Rail Plan - "is expected to be curtailed or mothballed" due to rising projected costs. Estimated costs for the entire line are now over £100bn - more than triple the original projection.

Mr Harris said the work is actually likely to be considerably cheaper than current estimates are suggesting.

“Just about every cost figure you see reported is massively inflated partly because of ludicrous Treasury contingencies on the one hand and insane Phase 1 procurement policies on the other,” he said.

“These passed so-called design risk on to the contractors building the railway, whereby they became responsible for structural resilience for maybe 25 years. This led to eye-watering ‘gold plating’ of construction standards on the one hand and gobsmackingly high insurance costs on the other.”

No Government announcement on HS2 is expected until the publication of the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), which is considering how the line could be more effectively integrated with other schemes like Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Work on the eastern leg route has been on hold since February 2020, when the Government launched the IRP.

The plan was originally due to be published by the end of 2020 but is yet to be delivered, with no date for publication. It will not be published until September at the earliest with Parliament currently in summer recess.

A DfT spokesperson said: “The Integrated Rail Plan will soon outline exactly how major rail projects, including HS2 phase 2b and other transformational projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers across the North and Midlands need and deserve.”

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