New doubts over future of HS2 as report calls for eastern leg of the project to be SCRAPPED
- A National Infrastructure Commission report has warned there is not enough money to complete HS2 and other planned rail upgrades
- It advises the £86bn earmarked for rail improvements should be spent on more popular routes in the north of England
- Leaders of Sheffield, Nottingham and Leeds said HS2 must be completed in full
The future of HS2 was thrown into doubt yesterday after a report recommended a huge scaling back of the £106billion project.
The review by a panel of experts which advises ministers on major projects suggests the eastern leg of the high-speed line – a £40billion section connecting the East Midlands to Sheffield and Leeds – should be shelved.
The National Infrastructure Commission report warns there is not enough money to complete HS2 and other planned rail upgrades.
It suggests ministers use the £86billion earmarked for rail improvements to ‘improve journeys that people are most likely to take – into cities from the surrounding area, rather than into London‘.
In response, the leaders of Sheffield, Nottingham and Leeds said: ‘Nothing less than the full delivery of HS2, which the Government have already committed to, is acceptable.’
A Department for Transport spokesman said it would ‘take the time to consider these recommendations in full’. It added: ‘We expect to publish the Integrated Rail Plan in early 2021.’
The future of HS2 was thrown into doubt yesterday after a report recommended a huge scaling back of the £106billion project. Pictured: A proposed design for a HS2 train
Earth-moving machinery at the Chiltern tunnel north portal, overlooking Great Missenden dig as part of works for HS2
Although local links should be prioritised, the commission said it ‘does not rule out the further development of options to complete the HS2 Phase 2 eastern leg.’
Sir John Armitt, the commission’s chairman, added: ‘Major rail schemes will be an important component in levelling up the country’s economic geography, but we should ensure public money is carefully spent where it can make the most difference.’
The findings are a serious blow to the beleaguered project and to the Prime Minister’s hopes of ‘levelling up’ the country by improving transport links across the Midlands and the North.
In a bid to reward voters in the North who backed the Tories for the first time in last year’s December election, Mr Johnson promised to accelerate the timetable that would see high-speed lines to Manchester and Leeds open by 2040.
He said that ‘condemning the North to get nothing for 20 years’ would be ‘intolerable’ and insisted HS2 would be completed in its entirety.
However, in recent months there have been growing fears that ministers are prepared to scrap the eastern leg of the line to keep a lid on spiralling costs.
The recommendations in yesterday’s report adds serious weight to the rumours.
Maria Machancoses, director of Midlands Connect, a body that develops transport projects, said mothballing the eastern leg would ‘short-change millions of people across the Midlands and undermine our efforts to deliver a transport network fit for the 21st Century’.