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Transport for the North hits out as key HS2 extension is halted

Words: Huw Morris
Curzon Street Station, Birmingham

Transport for the North is warning that major rail projects in the north of England will be ‘back on the drawing board’ and damage the government’s levelling-up agenda if work on a key extension to HS2 remains halted.

The warning follows HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston’s admission that it has been told by the Department for Transport to suspend work on the planned section between Birmingham and the East Midlands, and onwards to Leeds. Work on extending HS2 to Manchester continues.

Thurston told a Commons inquiry last week that HS2 Ltd had worked on the north-west section and north-east sections of the line as a single project.
“At the moment we are only working on phase 2b west,” he told the Commons Transport Committee. “We are only focused on that. The company has been asked by the department to focus on the route into Manchester and the eastern leg will play out in the fullness of time. We expect it to be part of the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP).

“We are focused on producing a budget and a plan, working on the hybrid bill to get royal assent somewhere around 2024 or 2025, subject to parliamentary timetables, for the section to Manchester. That is where our focus is at the moment. The company is not doing any work on anything else at the moment.”

He said the original plan “was that phase 2 was going to be done as one integrated project – the whole railway north of Crewe into Manchester and from here in the West Midlands all the way through the East Midlands to Leeds”.  He added: “That is not now playing out that way.

“We are taking the western link now as a very discrete project and we wait to be guided by the department on what we do with the eastern link.”

But Transport for the North interim chief executive Tim Wood warned that any delay building the eastern leg of HS2 would put the planned Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) at risk.
“HS2 and NPR are two parts of a whole. NPR relies on 80km of HS2 line, both eastern and western legs. The NPR line linking Sheffield and Leeds is largely comprised of HS2 track.

“To lose HS2’s eastern leg would mean NPR going back to the drawing board to deliver connectivity between these great cities, importing more delay and cost into NPR. Instead of levelling up the North it would leave it lopsided between the west of the Pennines and the east. We don’t need either/or, we need both.”

Image credit | HS2