Concern grows about HS2 eastern leg

ANOTHER leak has raised concern still further that the eastern leg of HS2 is unlikely to be built in the foreseeable future.

Although the western leg between London and Manchester is progressing, with construction underway on Phase 1 to Birmingham, the government has been declining to make any commitment to Phase 2b to the East Midlands and Yorkshire, saying only that the Department for Transport’s Integrated Rail Plan, which is running very late, will clarify the situation.

Eyebrows were raised as long ago as January last year when the newly-appointed HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson promised to ‘bring forward legislation to bring high-speed rail into Manchester as soon as practical’, but did not mention Leeds.

Since then there has been a series of speculations and leaks suggesting that the government’s enthusiasm for the eastern leg is dwindling, in the face of rising costs on Phase 1 and the railways’  general cash problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. One reaction has been the reduction of Network Rail’s enhancements budget by £1.5 billion, but this amount will not be nearly enough to rescue HS2.

The latest leak was published by the Sunday Mirror, which quoted an unnamed source as saying that ‘there’s no way we’re going to see this built in our lifetimes’.

There have been mixed reactions. Some MPs in Yorkshire would prefer to see the eastern leg budget spent on other transport projects. The Guardian quotes the member for Rother Valley Alexander Stafford as saying: ‘What we need is the money invested in transport infrastructure that might actually bring a tangible benefit to seats like mine. We need a better bus service and better links to Manchester across the Pennines rather than a hugely expensive white elephant that is sucking resources out of areas like mine and will only benefit a tiny number of people living in central Leeds.’

But the idea of indefinite postponement is dismaying other politicians and business leaders in the region. West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin said: ‘The government cannot talk about levelling up and a commitment to the north without addressing the decades of underinvestment across our transport networks.

‘The eastern leg of HS2 is essential to providing the rail services that work for our communities, as part of a joined-up transport system that connects people to better jobs, better education, and more opportunities.’