A planned key rail link which campaigners fear could be axed in cost cuts will be built, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted today.
The Cabinet Minister tried to ease concerns over the future of High Speed 2’s Eastern Leg – and claimed it will go ahead.
He told the Policy Exchange think-tank: “We are going to complete HS2 and include HS2 on the Eastern Leg to Leeds.
“The only question that we have is how to better integrate that with plans which were developed a very long way since HS2 was first dreamt up all those decades ago – and that pertains to the Northern Powerhouse Rail.”
Northern Powerhouse Rail would connect the North’s six big cities – Newcastle, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool and Manchester Airport.
Plans for HS2’s eastern flank were thrown into doubt in December after the National Infrastructure Commission said investment should be pumped into regional networks rather than building the full line to Leeds – fuelling fears the 225mph would not extend to Yorkshire.
Phase 1 is due to run from London to Birmingham, Phase 2a from Birmingham to Crewe, and Phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester, and from Birmingham to Leeds.
The Government delayed decisions on the design of the section to Yorkshire until after publication of an Integrated Rail Plan for the North and the Midlands.
The blueprint was due to be published last year(2020) but the timetable was scuppered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Shapps said: “We will report on that soon and it will take into account not only the Eastern Leg but also how that better integrates with Midlands Connect and hub railways, what’s going through the Northern Powerhouse Rail.”
The Transport Secretary said the Government wanted to speed-up the benefits from the Eastern Leg, which experts warned may not be realised until 2050.
“We think we can bring that forward quite dramatically by building it in a smarter way, and that’s what we are looking at through the IRP,” he added.
The top Tory, who is also the “Northern Powerhouse Minister” – despite his constituency being in Hertfordshire – claimed he was committed to boosting links across the North
He hit out at the time it takes to travel by train between Manchester and Leeds. The journey lasts between 53 minutes and 83 minutes.
“If that route was in the South East you would get there within 30 minutes,” he said.
“But if you go on that train service today it winds along, you end up having to lose hope before you get to your destination.
“We want the great northern towns and cities all to be linked up – Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Huddersfield, Hull, Sheffield, Bradford, Newcastle – the whole lot.”
Northern Powerhouse Partnership director Henri Murison said: “The Transport Secretary and Minister for the Northern Powerhouse is doing exactly the right thing in promising to deliver the Eastern Leg right the way to Leeds, and we now need government to publicly commit to this in the Integrated Rail Plan as soon as possible.
“It’s critical to ensuring levelling up is a reality not just rhetoric.”