Expert warns against parkway station for high speed rail line

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BUILDING a “parkway” station in South Yorkshire for the high-speed rail line rather than in a city centre “probably won’t work” because of problems getting passengers to and from it, MPs have been told.

The Government has also been warned it will still need to make significant improvements to local transport – such as the Leeds trolleybus scheme – alongside the high speed rail project to crack the region’s transport troubles.

Giving evidence at the start of a Parliamentary inquiry into the Government’s proposed £32bn high speed network (HS2), Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said that “parkway” stations – outside city centres and accompanied by car parks or park and ride services – had often failed.

The Government plans to open the first phase of the line, from London to Birmingham, in 2026, with legs to Leeds and Manchester by 2033.

Under the current proposals, Leeds would be served by a city centre station but a single station would serve South Yorkshire, Meadowhall being a possible location. Other parkway stations could be in the East and West Midlands, but Mr Joseph said routes near the likely locations were already too congested.

“If you don’t look at the capacity for getting people to and from them, then parkway stations won’t work,” he said. “We would argue they probably won’t work anyway.”

He said city centre transport improvements would also be needed to avoid urban areas becoming even more gridlocked.

Referring to plans in Leeds for a trolleybus scheme which will require Government funding, Mr Joseph said: “That kind of thing is critical if you’re going to maximise the benefits of high speed rail.”

The Transport Select Committee expects to report in the autumn, and its verdict on the project will add the case either for or against high speed rail.

Among other witnesses yesterday, the Rail Freight Group called for the whole project to be turned on its head by starting construction in Leeds and Manchester and working down to London, rather than starting in the capital and building north.

An independent report commissioned by the committee concluded that there is a “degree of uncertainty” around the financial benefits of the project.

There is “relatively little evidence presented” on the regional and socio-economic impacts of the HS2 programme, said the report by consultants Oxera. It was immediately seized on by critics of the project, which the Government hopes will tackle the north-south divide.

Having ruled out expansion at south-east England airports, the coalition Government is firmly behind HS2, but the route passed through beauty spots in Tory heartlands and while some local authorities and business leaders are firmly in favour of it, local residents’ groups and some councils are adamantly opposed.

In written evidence to the committee, the Department for Transport said analysis indicated that the proposed Y-shaped network would generate “monetised economic benefits with a net present value of around £44bn”.

The Oxera report said: “The monetised estimates are surrounded by a degree of uncertainty. The overall balance of non-monetised impacts – which include landscape, carbon and changes in land use – is difficult to ascertain.”

Asking the question “Who benefits?” from HS2, the report added there was “relatively little evidence presented on the regional and socio-economic impacts of the programme” but said cities with a flourishing service sector were most likely to benefit.

Oxera also said that the regeneration benefits of areas in the vicinity of high-speed rail hubs are likely to be understated but that these may be offset by “economic losses in other areas, including locations not served by the high-speed line”.

The director of the Campaign for High Speed Rail, Prof David Begg, said: “The closer people look at this issue the more they will see the great benefits high speed rail will have on the country as a whole.”