Controversial high speed rail link set to boost economy

Train
Simulation of what the new high speed trains will look like Photo: Department of Transport

The routes of high-speed rail links to cities in the north of England have been unveiled, in a move Prime Minister David Cameron said would boost Britain's stagnant economy.

Extending the already-planned London to Birmingham HS2 line as far as Manchester and Leeds is designed to cut journey times, ease overcrowding and boost regional business.

Officials say the #32.7 billion project will create at least 100,000 jobs.

But the Government is braced for a fresh backlash from rural communities through which the line will pass and some controversy over the chosen location of stations.

The Department for Transport said there would be five stops on the 211-mile Y-shaped extension northwards from Birmingham - scheduled to be completed in 2032, six years after the first phase:

:: Manchester - alongside the existing Piccadilly station;

:: Manchester Airport - interchange by the M56 between Warburton Green and Davenport Green;

:: East Midlands - at Toton, between Nottingham and Derby and one mile from the M1;

:: Sheffield - at Meadowhall shopping centre;

:: Leeds - at New Lane in the South bank area connected to the main station by walkway.

There will also be a "dedicated link" alongside the high-speed line at Crewe to link up with standard trains - reducing journey times to Liverpool and Glasgow.

But a proposed spur to Heathrow has been put on hold pending the results of Sir Howard Davies' review of future airport capacity - which is not due to give a final report until the summer of 2015.

Instead passengers heading to the world's busiest airport will have to change onto the new London east-west Crossrail service for an 11-minute transfer to terminals.

The Department for Transport said the journey from Manchester to Birmingham would be reduced to 41 minutes and from Manchester to London to 1 hour 8 minutes - almost half the present times.

Leeds will be 57mins away from Birmingham compared to 1hr 58 mins today, and 1hr 22mins away from London Euston, down from 2hrs 12mins - official projections say.

Critics have suggested that siting the Sheffield station outside the city centre - requiring passengers to take a connecting train of around 7-12mins - will mean standard trains will get people there more quickly.

The project has been welcomed by many civic and business leaders in the region.

But the first tranche proved controversial, especially in picturesque Tory heartlands which will be affected, such as the Chilterns, infuriating MPs and countryside campaigners.

Residents there will not enjoy the economic or personal benefits of a station and some have opposed the project on environmental grounds - a pattern expected to be repeated this time around.

Conservatives in Chancellor George Osborne's Tatton constituency have already indicated that they will object to any plans to route the line through parts of the Cheshire countryside.

The High Court is considering whether the first phase of the project, which will take high-speed trains from London to Birmingham, is legally flawed and needs to be reconsidered.

The challenge was taken to the court by campaigners who accused the Government of failing to undertake a "strategic environmental assessment" or arrange an adequate consultation process.

Labour backs HS2 - which was begun under its administration - but says there are "worrying signs" that the timetable for delivering it is slipping.

Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said: "We believe ministers should be working more vigorously to ensure the proposals are delivered on time."

The "botched" consultation on the first phase may have to be rerun if the High Court upholds the campaigners' cases, she said, urging ministers to learn lessons.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that he intended to bring forward the consultation on phase two to begin this year, not 2014, and has asked officials to see whether the entire project can be speeded up.

The route is due to be finalised by the end of next year.

"As with previous consultations, we will work closely with communities and interested parties to find the right balance between delivering the essential infrastructure that we need and respecting the rights and justifiable concerns of those who will be most affected by HS2's construction," he said.

The proposed routes were "a great starting point for the process of engagement to follow", he said, saying it would "deliver a priceless dividend" for the UK.

"While doing nothing would be the easy choice it would also be the irresponsible choice. This is an unparalleled opportunity to secure a step-change in Britain's competitiveness and this Government will do everything possible to ensure that the towns and cities in the Midlands and the North get the connections they need and deserve to thrive," he said.

Officials said there would be "a generous compensation package for people living near the line" as well as noise and other nuisance mitigation measures such as tunnels.

Mr Cameron said: "Linking communities and businesses across the country and shrinking the distances between our greatest cities, High Speed Rail is an engine for growth that will help to drive regional regeneration and invigorate our regional economies.

"It is vital that we get on board the high-speed revolution.

"We are in a global race and this Government's decision to make High Speed Rail a reality is another example of the action we taking to equip Britain to compete and thrive in that race.

"High Speed Rail is a catalyst that will help to secure economic prosperity across Britain, rebalance our economy and support tens of thousands of jobs."

HIGH SPEED 2 will provide a boost to the economy in Liverpool and improve connections from the city to the rest of the country, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin pledged today.

The proposed route and the locations of new stations in the West Midlands, North West, East Midlands and Yorkshire were unveiled this morning as David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin underlined the Government’s absolute commitment to investing in the infrastructure that Britain needs to compete and succeed in the global economy.

Liverpool will be connected to the high speed line via a connection from the West Coast Mainline at Crewe. This will allow passengers to travel seamlessly to and from the city - reducing journey times to London by over half an hour from 2h08m to 1h36m and travel to Birmingham Interchange station will be cut to 1h10m from 1h43m.

Other key benefits for Liverpool and the North West:

HS2 will also free up capacity on the existing north-south lines creating benefits for passengers and businesses both on and off the new high speed network.With one change at Crewe passengers from Chester and North Wales will be able to access high speed services to London and the Midlands.

Combined with the current programme of electrification and plans for completing the Northern Hub, this improved connectivity will unlock the enormous potential and opportunities that cities like Liverpool have to offer – making them more attractive places to locate and do business.

The publication today of the 211-mile northern Phase Two route of HS2, part of the Government’s Mid-Term Review, follows the confirmation a year ago of HS2’s 140-mile southern Phase One route between London and Birmingham, which starts construction in four years and opens to passengers in 13 years. The routes announced today, running from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, will open six years after that.

Mr McLoughlin has also confirmed that the consultation on the proposed routes published today will be brought forward to start in 2013 rather than in 2014. He has also ordered the Department for Transport to look into whether the project can be fast-tracked so that the second phase of HS2 is completed ahead of the scheduled completion date of 2032.

Patrick McLoughlin said:

“High Speed Rail is an unparalleled opportunity to secure a step-change in Britain’s competitiveness and this Government will do everything possible to ensure that Liverpool benefits by getting the connections it needs and deserves to thrive.

“HS2 will be woven into the transport fabric of the nation, accessible to all, including those in Liverpool, and I believe these proposed routes north of Birmingham offer a great starting point for the consultation process to follow. As with previous consultations, we will work closely with communities and interested parties to find the right balance between delivering essential infrastructure and respecting the rights and justifiable concerns of those who will be most affected by HS2’s construction.”

What next?

The Government and HS2 Ltd will work with MPs, local authorities, station city delivery partners and others, including environment and heritage organisations, to refine these proposals.

This period of engagement will then be followed by an extensive consultation on the preferred route, stations and depots to begin ahead of schedule later this year. This will be designed to give the public the greatest possible opportunity to comment on the plans. The final route will be chosen by the end of 2014.

DfT will also take forward a study in collaboration with Transport Scotland to examine rail connectivity needs north and south of the border and consider Scotland’s aspirations for High Speed Rail. This work will look at how best to boost capacity and cut journey times to under three hours.