Push for fast track to North as high-speed rail wins go-ahead

Riders from Crowberry Stables in Middleton, pass a sign marking a bridge on the proposed HS2 line near Middleton, Warwickshire.
Riders from Crowberry Stables in Middleton, pass a sign marking a bridge on the proposed HS2 line near Middleton, Warwickshire.
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THE Government is to review whether a high-speed rail link between Leeds and London could be built more quickly after confirming it will go ahead with the £32bn project.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it would examine whether the Yorkshire link could open earlier than 2033 amid concern from supporters of the project that the High Speed Two (HS2) network will take more than two decades to complete.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening delighted businesses and politicians in the region yesterday by confirming that the Government will go ahead with a Y-shaped network – from London to Birmingham before branching east to South Yorkshire and Leeds and west to Manchester – despite fierce opposition from people living along the route.

The network, which is initially expected to carry trains at 225mph, will cut up to an hour off journeys from Sheffield to London and 50 minutes from Leeds to London and is estimated to be worth £2bn to the region’s economy. By joining up with the existing Channel Tunnel high-speed line it will also allow passengers to travel from Yorkshire to the continent without changing trains.

The Birmingham line will be open by 2026 but it will be another seven years before trains reach Leeds, when journeys to York will also be slashed as the line connects to the East Coast Mainline .

The DfT said the timetable strikes the best balance between getting the project completed and making sure it is the right route but said: “Given the strength of consultation responses on the need to quicken the pace of delivery – or at least to avoid delays – the Government will review whether the process can be further accelerated.”

Ms Greening told the Yorkshire Post: “We are going to try to ensure that we can get on with finalising the Y-shaped aspect of the HS2 route but also then getting on with taking that through parliament and building this network as fast as we can.

“As we see with our Victorian railways, we’re living with them today therefore it is absolutely sensible to make sure we take enough time to get these plans right. We will try to fast forward our plans as much as we can but we won’t do it at the expense of getting the right outcome for our country and the communities affected.”

Ms Greening also sought to ease fears that by pressing ahead with legislation for the London to Birmingham route this Parliament, and leaving a Bill covering the routes further north until later, there is a risk the northern branches may never be built.

“We will look to see whether we can make a more legal commitment,” she said. “However, I can be categorical – it’s this Government’s intention the full Y-shaped network will go ahead.”

However, Labour, which largely supports the scheme, said there would be “disappointment” at the decision to legislate separately and said approving the entire route would open up the possibility of starting to build the network in the North as well as the South.

The decision to go ahead with the network, championed by the Yorkshire Post Fast Track to Yorkshire campaign, was criticised by opponents who claim it will be too environmentally damaging and a waste of money despite Ms Greening announcing extra tunnels and other measures to limit its impact on the countryside.

Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg said it was “great news”, adding: “It is a long-term investment to help heal the North-South divide.”

Ian Williams, director of policy at Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber, warned: “The battle for high-speed rail is not yet won and we do have concerns over the length of time that it will take to convert the HS2 bill into legislation, which is estimated to take two years.

“This will be approaching the next general election and could influence MPs in constituencies close to the line. The Chamber would urge the Government to ensure that the bill is passed within one year, as well as provide a firm commitment to build both branches of the Y network at the same time.”

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