North 'betrayed' by government decision to scrap HS2 leg and Northern Powerhouse Rail

Ministers vow rail benefits 10 years sooner amid fury over cuts to HS2 scheme. Credit: PA

The North has been "betrayed" by the decision to scrap part of the HS2 extension, Labour has said.

Following the announcement that key rail schemes in the north of England, including Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Leeds HS2 leg, will be shelved, shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said it was “the betrayal of trust, the betrayal of promises and the betrayal of investment the north of England and the Midlands deserve”.

Transport secretary, Grant Shapps, announced on Thursday that that the eastern leg of HS2 will be scrapped between the East Midlands and Leeds. There is also frustration that improvements to east-west connections across the North, known as Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), involve upgrades to existing infrastructure rather than a new line between Manchester and Leeds.

Speaking to MPs following Mr Shapps' announcement, Mr McMahon said:“There is no amount of gloss, no amount of spin that can be put on this.

“He promised HS2 to Leeds, he promised Northern Powerhouse Rail, he promised that the North would not be forgotten. But he hasn’t just forgotten us, he has completely sold us out.”

The government insists the revised plans will deliver faster train journeys up to 10 years sooner than planned.

Shadow chancellor and MP for Leeds West, Rachel Reeves, said the Tories had backtracked on four years of manifesto promises.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What we are getting is tinkering around the edges rather than the proper transformation of transport in the north of England.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves travel by train to Leeds and Bradford. Credit: PA

“Already Yorkshire has the lowest level of capital investment in transport than anywhere in the country.

“Capital investment in transport in the north of England is half the level that you see in London and the South East.

“We have been badly done by for many years now.”

The transport secretary said an investment of £96 billion will help improve services in the Midlands and northern England and speed up journeys ten years sooner than if ministers had pressed ahead with earlier plans.

Instead of the HS2 route reaching Leeds, there will be a new Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway line.

There will also be a new line connecting Warrington, Manchester and western Yorkshire.

But business leaders, local politicians and industry bodies in the region said they were "disappointed at the decision".

Leader of Sheffield City Council, Councillor Terry Fox called the revised plans "the great train robbery of 2021 and said he was "furious" at the U-turn, describing it as "a betrayal". 

In response to the plans, Mr Fox said: “We are England’s fourth-largest city, a major transport hub and when the details of the report began to leak this week, the rumours were inconceivable. 

“As it turns out, the announcement is even worse than the rumours – we are in fact a victim of the great train robbery of 2021. 

“This announcement has many wide-ranging implications and we will be seeking answers from government on what this means for people whose lives, homes and futures have been affected by the planned construction of HS2 and who are now left distressed by today’s U-turn. 

Cllr Louise Gittins, Interim Chair of Transport for the North, described the announcement as “woefully inadequate”.

“After decades of underfunding, the rail network in the North is not fit for purpose. It is largely twin-track Victorian infrastructure trying to cope with the demands of a 21st Century economy," she said.

She said the region had watched "as billions have been poured into HS2 building work from London to Birmingham". 

“We have watched as billions have been poured into Crossrail being dug out and built across the capital," she continued. "It is time for the North to have its fair share. It’s time for the North to have a proper railway network to allow our towns and cities, our businesses, and our people to thrive and grow for generations to come. It’s time for real evidence of levelling up.”

Sir Roger Marsh OBE DL, Chair of the business voice for the North NP11 group of Northern Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), and of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership said historic underinvestment in transport continued to hold both the North and the wider UK economy, back.

HS2 was due to be extended to Leeds Credit: Danny Lawson/PA

“While the Integrated Rail Plan does confirm some welcome investment in several parts of the North, this will not deliver the transformational boost to rail capacity and connectivity that these two major schemes offered," he said.

"It is true that the North needs to see transport investment now, not just in 20 years’ time, however our position has always been clear that to truly level up the North and deliver the economic growth we can and want to achieve, we need the full package of local, regional and pan-northern investment that successive governments have promised."

Dr David Spicer is Director of Business and Community Engagement in the Faculty of Management, Law & Social Sciences at the University of Bradford, who was one of several business leaders across the region put their names to a letter to the prime Minister encouraging HS2 to be built, said the decision to drop HS2 means government is not serious about "levelling up".

"From a national infrastructure perspective, it’s very disappointing. This was touted as a major opportunity and improvement of the quality of our connectivity between North and South. For that to have been summarily removed is a concern, because it questions the government’s commitment to levelling up and connecting the rest of the country with the South East," Dr Spicer said.

He continued: “The question has to be: how do people across the region get into and out of this hub? If I get in my car and drive to Manchester, I can be in the city centre in about an hour. For rail services to compete with that, they have to be either on a par or better - it’s as simple as that.”

Passengers at Leeds station. Credit: PA

The GMB Union described scrapping the Leeds HS2 leg as "economic vandalism" adding it made "no sense" not to investment in a city like Bradford that has one of the youngest workforces in Yorkshire.

Neil Derrick, GMB Regional Secretary for Yorkshire and North Derbyshire, said: “Cutting investment for a city like Bradford makes no sense, with one of the youngest workforces in Yorkshire.

“The city would benefit for generations by having stronger links to Manchester and Leeds.

“All of the Government’s own sums show that if you put a pound of money into the economy by building things like railways,  you get at least one pound out in the form of increased wages or economic growth.

“This is economic vandalism pure and simple."

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said while it was "positive" to see some local and regional rail projects, it was difficult to see the Integrated Rail Plan as "anything other than a piecemeal approach".

He added it was "worrying” Northern Powerhouse Rail had been scaled back.

“This project has been promised time and time again since 2014, with millions of pounds spent on its design and shovels ready to go. These plans being torn up will only add yet more costs and delay work.”

Writing in the Yorkshire Post on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government’s planned investments would still mean “faster journeys, to more places, more quickly” for Yorkshire, while confirming a new study to plan how best to eventually link Leeds to the HS2 network.

In his column, Mr Johnson wrote: “HS2 will come to Sheffield, meaning a trip to or from London will take just one hour 27 minutes – precisely the same as under the old HS2 plans.

“We’ll look at how to get HS2 to Leeds too, with a new study on the best way to make it happen.

“But high-speed rail is grindingly slow to build. Under the original blueprint, first drawn up more than a decade ago, Yorkshire would have not have seen the benefits of our investment until at least the 2040s. Levelling up can’t wait that long. And towns like Wakefield, Doncaster, Dewsbury and Huddersfield would have suffered as trains were taken off the existing main lines.”

MPs hit out at reports Northern Powerhouse Rail plans to be scaled back. Credit: PA

One of the aims of the IRP was to increase capacity and have more frequent services “in a way that presented value for money for the taxpayer”, according to the department.

“From London and across the Pennines, the IRP delivers journey times which are the same as, similar to or faster than the original HS2 and Leeds-Manchester proposals, while doubling or trebling capacity and ensuring passengers and consumers benefit from tangible changes more quickly.”

The government-commissioned Oakervee Review warned in 2018 that the final bill for the entire Y-shaped network of HS2 could reach £106 billion.

Phase 1 will run between London and Birmingham, and Phase 2a between Birmingham and Crewe.

Phase 2b was due to extend the line between Crewe and Manchester, and between Birmingham and Leeds, although the later stretch is expected to be curtailed.