Anger at Pennines split over HS2

Anger at Pennines split over HS2

Published: 25th March 2014

MPs have expressed concern that the North West is to receive the benefits of high-speed rail several years before Yorkshire under revised plans for HS2.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat backbenchers from the region warned that Manchester and Liverpool will steal a march on Leeds and Sheffield under proposals from new HS2 boss Sir David Higgins to bring forward the benefits of the project to the North West.

In a review of the project published last week, Sir David called for the first phase of the Y-shaped line, from London to Birmingham, to be extended to a new North West transport hub at Crewe by 2026 so that journey times to Manchester, Liverpool, North Wales and western Scotland will all be improved ahead of the second phase’s completion – to Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester – several years later.

Speaking in the Commons, Alec Shelbrooke, the Tory MP for Elmet and Rothwell and a former aide in the Department for Transport, said he had “deep concern” that the North West will enjoy the advantage of faster trains to London long before the second phase of the project is completed.

“Speeding up delivery for this major infrastructure project for the North is to be welcomed,” he said. “But deep concern is felt in West Yorkshire that economic advantage may come for the west side of the Pennines earlier than it will in Yorkshire, if the extension goes beyond Birmingham before it goes to Manchester and then Leeds.”

Greg Mulholland, the Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West, said previous promises that the two arms of the HS2 project would be built at the same time could be broken.

“I support linking our northern cities with high-speed rail, but does the Secretary of State understand the concerns on the east side of the Pennines about the announcement of the Crewe hub?” he asked Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin. “All along we were given assurances that the link to Sheffield and Leeds would happen at the same time as Manchester.”

Mr McLoughlin insisted he has not yet made a “full decision” on the proposals for a hub at Crewe, although it was evident he hopes to proceed with the idea.

“(Building) the line to Crewe sooner would mean journeys that are shorter than they would be under (existing plans) – quicker to Manchester, quicker to Liverpool and quicker to Scotland,” he told MPs. “That is a welcome proposal and I am commissioning HS2 Ltd to undertake the work to allow it to be considered in detail.”

Mr McLoughlin, the MP for Derbyshire Dales, also announced the creation of a new regeneration company to deliver the wider economic opportunities of the £50 billion project.

Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh welcomed Mr McLoughlin’s endorsement of Sir David’s report but called for more clarity on how Ministers will ensure the existing rail network in the North is also upgraded to maximise the benefits of HS2.

“Sir David has listened to concerns from cities such as… my city of Wakefield about how the line will connect to the current railway network, and how their services into London can be improved,” she said. “When can we expect the Government’s response to those significant issues in Sir David’s report? We want a coherent transport plan for the North and the Midlands, which have been historically underfunded, and for proper east-west links between Liverpool and Manchester and Leeds and Hull.

“A rebalancing of railway investment into the regions to close the economic divide is how we maximise the benefits for the whole country from this project.”