The North will not put up with 'scraps' in reported plan for future of HS2, leaders warn

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Political leaders have warned that the North will not put up with the “scraps” of HS2 while London gets the “gold-plated” stage of the project, as Boris Johnson is set to announce his backing of the project on Tuesday.

The controversial high-speed railway scheme is understood to be on the agenda at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, before the Prime Minister makes a statement in the Commons.

Stock artist's image of HS2. Photo: HS2 Ltd

Stock artist's image of HS2. Photo: HS2 Ltd

But with reports of a six-month review of the northern section of the scheme - which connects to Manchester and Leeds - leaders warned any attempt to scrimp on the build would be resisted.

In a joint statement mayors and council leaders across the North - including Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram, Dan Jarvis, Sir Richard Leese, Judith Blake, Susan Hinchcliffe and Nick Forbes - widely welcomed the news that Mr Johnson looked set to back the scheme.

They said: “The Victorians built the train lines that form the vast part of our national railway, but we can’t rely on this forever. Transforming rail capacity and connectivity in the North will create economic growth, improve productivity, boost jobs and skills, increase prosperity and support a transition to a low-carbon economy.

“After decades of underinvestment in strategic rail infrastructure, HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail integrated together represent a once-in-a-generation chance to transform connectivity, attract investment, and boost skills and opportunity across the North.”

But they also warned any attempt to scale back plans would be a mistake, and said: “The North of England needs new rail lines that go north-south and west-east. London isn’t being forced to choose, it’s getting Crossrail and HS2; we shouldn’t be forced to either. We need HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) delivered in full. The Government needs to be clear we will not accept a gold-plated high-speed line between London and Birmingham, then once again the North getting the scraps.”

The BBC confirmed on Monday night that Mr Johnson would give the go-ahead to the full project but would call for a six-month review to look into cost savings and integration with NPR on the second stages.

A source with knowledge of the project also told The Yorkshire Post this could lead to the northern phases and NPR being taken off the much-criticised HS2 Ltd and handed over to a new body.

On this possibility the leaders added: “We understand the independent Oakervee review recommends bringing HS2 and NPR together under one project lead.

“We would welcome this to ensure we get the phasing in the right order and that we bring the earliest benefits that we can across the North. If we simply try to bolt NPR on to HS2 infrastructure then we risk repeating the mistakes of the past, where our infrastructure is unable to cope with the growth in demand.

“This would also help us develop the right solution for the vital west-east connections across the North. We need to build the full NPR network – connecting Liverpool, Manchester Airport, Manchester Piccadilly, Bradford City Centre, Leeds, York, Hull, Sheffield and Newcastle.”

High-speed trains may also run beyond the new lines on existing tracks as far as Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Former HS2 Ltd chairman Douglas Oakervee was commissioned by the Government in August 2019 to lead a review into whether or not the programme should be scrapped amid rising costs and delays.

It has been widely leaked that the review found HS2 could cost up to £106bn, but concluded that "on balance" it should continue.

HS2's original budget was £32.7bn at 2011 prices.

It was due to open in December 2026, but HS2 Ltd chairman Allan Cook said last year it would be "prudent to plan for an opening between 2028 and 2031".

Last month, Whitehall's spending watchdog said the scheme is over budget and behind schedule because its complexity and risks were under-estimated.

The National Audit Office warned that it is impossible to "estimate with certainty" what the final cost could be.

HS2 has been the subject of years of intensive lobbying from politicians and opposition groups.

Several environmental organisations claim building it will cause huge damage to natural habitats, including dozens of ancient woodlands.

Communities living on or near the route have expressed anger at the impact on their lives, while many people have said the project is simply too expensive and the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Labour's Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald claimed HS2 has been "appallingly mismanaged" by the Conservative Party.

He called for the high-speed railway to be integrated with Crossrail for North - a proposed boost for rail services between Liverpool and Hull - and eventually extend high-speed lines to Scotland to "remove the need for domestic flights".