HS2 isn't due to arrive in Yorkshire until 2040 and I want region to see high speed rail benefits before that, says Minister Andrew Stephenson

A government Minister says he wants Yorkshire to see the benefits of high speed rail years before the 2040 date when HS2 is currently expected to arrive in the region.

Conservative Rail Minister Andrew Stephenson told MPs that the Government's eagerly-awaited Integrated Rail Plan would look at how HS2 could be delivered alongside other major projects "to bring down the cost and also deliver the benefits as quickly as possible".

In a Commons debate on northern infrastructure, he was pressed by Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis on whether the eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds and Sheffield would be postponed.

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Boris Johnson can't afford to build HS2 into Yorkshire and improve local rail li...
Florence - the largest ever tunnel boring machine used on a UK rail project - is unveiled at the HS2 site in West Hyde near Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire. Picture date: Thursday May 13, 2021. PA Photo. Named after nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale, The 558ft (170m) long contraption will dig a 10-mile (16km) tunnel under the Chiltern Hills, starting from a site in Buckinghamshire near the M25 motorway. Pic: PA

Mr Jarvis, who is also Sheffield City Region mayor, said doing so would "make HS2 meaningless in terms of levelling up for a huge swathe of the north, including some of its most deprived areas".

And he said it would also jeopardise the proposed high speed Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme connecting the great cities of the North and local transport investment around Sheffield.

The Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) is due to be published in the coming weeks and will set out how HS2, NPR and other major schemes like the Transpennine Route Upgrade would fit together and in what order.

Northern leaders fear that the eastern leg of HS2 may end up being delayed or downgraded and that the Government may opt for a cheaper version of NPR which does not include a city centre stop at Bradford.

The Prime Minister has previously promised to deliver HS2 in full but last winter the National Infrastructure Commission recommended that local rail links be prioritised over the eastern leg, leaving its future in doubt.

Mr Stephenson told MPs: "As things stand, communities on the eastern leg would be waiting until 2040 to realise the benefits of HS2.

"That is clearly too long to wait, which is why the work of the Integrated Rail Plan is looking at ways to scope, phase and deliver Phase 2b alongside other transformational projects, such as the Midlands Rail Hub and Northern Powerhouse Rail, to bring down the cost and also deliver the benefits as quickly as possible."

He assured MPs that the Government was committed to NPR, with "over £100 million spent to date and a further £75 million commitment for this financial year".

And he told Mr Jarvis: "We share his desire to see spades in the ground on that as soon as possible. The Government continue to consider all options for Northern Powerhouse Rail as part of the Integrated Rail Plan, including those in Transport for the North’s statutory advice.

"Once the Integrated Rail Plan is published, TfN will submit a business case for NPR that is consistent with the integrated rail plan’s policy and funding framework.

"This will mean a more rapid alignment around single route options with NPR and an accelerated delivery timetable, which will allow us to realise the benefits for communities in the north as soon as possible."

During the debate, Labour MP Mr Jarvis that on the subject of HS2 "faster rail journeys to London are a distinctly secondary contribution to levelling up".

"My first priority is transport within my region—the sort that gets people to work and the shops every day—and then the transport between the cities and towns of the north, especially Northern Powerhouse Rail.

"HS2 makes sense because it promises to enable those things but, if it undermines them instead, it deeply compromises its claim to be part of levelling up.

"Like other northern leaders, I am hugely concerned that the Government are considering delaying or cutting corners with NPR, or combining it with the trans-Pennine upgrade to help pay for HS2.

"The Minister has been supportive in the past and I hope that he will reassure me today that that is not the case.

"Equally concerning is the possibility that HS2 East through Sheffield and Leeds could be postponed.

"Not only would that make HS2 meaningless in terms of levelling up for a huge swathe of the North, including some of its most deprived areas, but it would jeopardise NPR and local transport investment around Sheffield. It would be the worst of all worlds.

"Therefore, if the Government are serious about HS2 being a project for the North, they should build Phase 2 in its entirety, on time, while doing the same for NPR, Midlands Engine Rail and other supporting works.

"That might sound like quite a lot to ask, but having embarked on HS2 with a promise that it would not come at the cost of northern regional rail renewal, the Government cannot now propose half measures."

Andrew Jones, Conservative MP for Harrogate and a former Rail Minister, said he was a big supporter of both HS2 and NPR, "which includes delivering the eastern leg of HS2".

He added: "It is important to separate the trans-Pennine rail upgrade from Northern Powerhouse Rail.

"Northern Powerhouse Rail is about fast connectivity between the cities of the north; the trans-Pennine rail upgrade is about connectivity into the slightly smaller towns and cities—the Huddersfields, or wherever.

"There is a difference between into and intra. That is not widely understood, but it is significant. The projects do different jobs, and both need to proceed."

But Alexander Stafford, Conservative MP for Rother Valley, said the Sheffield city region and government "must prioritise Rother Valley’s transport, rather than focus on white elephants such as HS2".

He said: "Rother Valley does not want HS2. South Yorkshire and my part of it do not want HS2—it is not a priority. What is a priority is the buses and the connectivity, especially to and from Maltby, to ensure that no community is left behind."