Warning of delays lasting 14 years if HS2 axed

Patrick McLoughlin
Patrick McLoughlin
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The Transport Secretary will throw down the gauntlet to Labour over HS2 today as he publishes a major new report which warns of years of delays for Yorkshire’s rail passengers if the new high-speed line is not built.

Patrick McLoughlin will tell a conference in Manchester this morning that Labour is “playing politics with our prosperity” by wavering in its support for the new 250mph rail line between London and the North.

Mr McLoughlin will emphasise the point with a new study which warns that upgrading existing lines instead of building HS2 would mean 14 years of delays and bus replacement services on the East Coast, Midland and West Coast main lines.

He will contrast Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls’s sudden doubts about the scheme with Labour’s public commitment to bringing a new “cross-party sense of national purpose” to major infrastructure projects.

Despite having conceived HS2 while in Government and backed the scheme vocally for the past three years, Labour now says it is unsure whether the project should go ahead.

The possible U-turn leaves the 20-year construction project on a knife-edge, with David Cameron stating that it may have to be abandoned if it does not enjoy cross-party support.

Mr McLoughlin will echo those sentiments in his speech today, warning that HS2 “must have broad support across parties – or in the end it will be nothing”.

And in a broadside aimed squarely at Mr Balls, he will add: “Let me say something very direct to those in the Opposition who have learnt nothing from the past. You can’t say one day you back better infrastructure, only the next threaten to stop it being built.

“You can’t go on claiming to want ‘one nation’ if you won’t back the things that will bring it together. You can’t play politics with our prosperity.”

His intervention comes as business leaders from across the North reiterated their firm backing for the scheme in a letter to the Prime Minister. Signed by 10 chambers of commerce, including those in Leeds, Sheffield, Doncaster, Barnsley and Rotherham, the letter says their members are “united in support of the project” because of the “economic uplift it will generate in the North”.

The Yorkshire Post also reports today how the biggest firms in the region are firmly backing HS2, as the newspaper’s Big Debate about the scheme continues.

The issue will move back the Commons on Thursday when the first of two HS2 Bills returns to Parliament for its third reading.

Ministers hope to sway doubting MPs with the publication of an updated version of the business case for HS2, and a report by Network Rail which warns passengers on the East Coast, Midland, and West Coast main lines would face 14 years of weekend delays if the scheme was cancelled and existing lines upgraded instead.

The study concludes there would need to be 144,000 hours of maintenance work merely to increase rail capacity by just a third of that offered by HS2, and at a cost of £20bn. During a typical weekend, the journey time from Leeds to London would soar to four-and-a-half hours, with bus replacement services necessary for protracted periods.

Transport Minister Robert Goodwill, the MP for Scarborough, said: “Spending £20bn upgrading the existing network is not an alternative. The disruption would be a nightmare – this report makes that absolutely clear.”

Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh said she would read the reports “with interest”, but reiterated there must be “no blank cheque” for HS2.