A Government review into the controversial HS2 rail project will consider "whether and how [it] should proceed", Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has revealed.
Mr Grant Shapps today published the terms of reference and timetable for the Government-commissioned independent review of the high speed rail project connecting London, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester.
Led by former HS2 Ltd chairman Douglas Oakervee, the review will consider "whether and how HS2 should proceed", the Department for Transport said.
A final report will be sent to Mr Shapps with "oversight from the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer" by the autumn.
Mr Shapps said: "The Prime Minister has been clear that transport infrastructure has the potential to drive economic growth, redistribute opportunity and support towns and cities across the UK, but that investments must be subject to continuous assessment of their costs and benefits.
"That's why we are undertaking this independent and rigorous review of HS2.
"Douglas Oakervee and his expert panel will consider all the evidence available, and provide the department with clear advice on the future of the project."
According to DfT, Mr Oakervee will be assisted by peer Lord Berkeley, a former Chairman of the Rail Freight Group . They will be supported by a panel of experts including John Cridland, the chairman of Transport for the North.
Mr Oakervee said: “The Prime Minister has asked me to lead this important review into the HS2 programme. I looking forward to working with my deputy, Lord Berkeley, to advise the government on how and whether to progress with HS2, based on all existing evidence.”
HS2 would connect London, the Midlands and up to Wigan, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds using trains capable of travelling at 250mph. It is due to arrive in Leeds in 2033 but the legislation for the northern leg of the route has not yet been placed in the Commons.
Concerns have arisen over the spiralling costs of the project and there has been a major row over the route of the high speed service as it goes through South Yorkshire.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month promised to progress plans for high speed rail between Leeds and Manchester as part of the £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail project once the HS2 review is complete in the autumn.
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: "The North is struggling to cope with our Victorian railway infrastructure and major upgrades are long overdue. HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail will need to last us as long as the Victorian rail infrastructure it replaces, so it is essential that we get it right.
"While I am not opposed to looking at how we can ensure HS2 delivers value for money, people in the North will be wary of this review. There is no elected representative from the North on the review team and, too often, Government promises to the North have proved to be about as reliable as our trains. If we are not careful, this review could add uncertainty and confusion just when the North needs clarity."
Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership said: “HS2 is a vital project to help rebalance the economy and make us more productive, alongside linked interventions including most notably Northern Powerhouse Rail.
“The Northern Powerhouse Partnership will be engaging positively with the review to make the case for why HS2 is so necessary, for cities like Leeds and Manchester, but also for those like Newcastle, Preston and Glasgow, which all benefit from significantly better connections under an integrated plan for a new railway to take city to city traffic off our largely Victorian network which we need for commuters and freight.”
Earlier this month, The Yorkshire Post revealed that the arrival of high-speed rail in the North could be delayed because of a dispute over whether a £6bn underground station should be built in Manchester.
Greater Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham has refused to support plans for the £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) scheme connecting the great cities of the North because it includes a surface extension to Piccadilly station to accommodate high-speed rail rather than an underground station.
Transport for the North, which is submitting the plans to the Government, says a six-platform, 400-metre station above ground that can accommodate NPR and HS2 would deliver the same benefits as an underground site for a fraction of the cost.
But Mr Burnham is unhappy with the analysis carried out by HS2 and TfN officials and wants more work to be done on the design before a decision is made.
During a “heated” behind-closed doors meeting of TfN’s board in Leeds he refused to back the decision to allow work to continue on HS2 based on the current design.
TfN’s chairman John Cridland was forced to withdraw his officers’ recommendations and the matter will be discussed again at the next board meeting in September. Leaders asked TfN to go back and do more work on the project to ensure the North makes the most of high-speed rail.
It is now feared that a lack of agreement may potentially delay the Government’s plans for HS2 to be extended to Leeds and Manchester under Phase 2b of the controversial project, though TfN insists its work is not holding HS2 up.