A proposal to build the HS2 rail link in phases has led to fears the eastern leg of the project will be scrapped altogether.
As further doubts are cast over the future of the Yorkshire leg of HS2, after it emerged government advisers will recommend the rail link be built in phases, delaying its completion by up to 20 years, business leaders across the north of England have accused the government of ‘hypocrisy around levelling up’.
Leaders in the North of England and the Midlands are "fighting with the government behind the scenes" over plans for a “phased delivery”.
Dan Fell, Chief Executive of the Doncaster Chamber of Commerce, said, “Any delay would impact the economic future of the region at a time when key stakeholders and businesses need clarity and certainty to move forward and recover from the impact of the pandemic.
“The truth is that ‘‘levelling up’’ is not about big infrastructure projects and transportation, it is about people.
“In South Yorkshire, we have more people claiming unemployment-related benefits than at any time since the 1990s. This is why South Yorkshire’s businesses and residents should be so angry every time it feels that key projects are backsliding or that government is trying to tell us that ‘‘levelling up’’ does not apply to us.”
Northern leaders fear plans for a “phased completion” of the 120-mile Birmingham to Leeds route of the high-speed rail link will effectively kill off the scheme. The recommendations are understood to form part of the National Infrastructure Commission’s review into the vast rail project and will inform the Government’s imminent Integrated Rail Plan.
Under the proposals to build the line in phases, a link between Birmingham and East Midlands Parkway would be built with further lines to Sheffield and Leeds coming at a later date. But the plans could mean construction on the Yorkshire section of the leg would not begin until 2040, prompting serious concerns that it may never happen at all.
Both are vital if an essentially Victorian system that is increasingly struggling to cope with the huge demands placed upon it is to be transformed to give Yorkshire a transport network fit for the 21st century. HS2 has invited business to bid for £12 billion supply contracts, and has already brought jobs to Yorkshire.
114 companies in Yorkshire and Humber have already delivered work on HS2, and the project was originally pitched to bring more high-quality jobs to a region that desperately needs to see more of its people back in work.
A decision by ministers last month to split the eastern route into separate legislation from the Birmingham to Crewe and Manchester link prompted former transport secretary Lord Adonis to claim the Yorkshire section “probably would not now go ahead”.
Mr Fell continued, “With the need to build back better following the Covid-19 pandemic, delivery of long-term, job-creating infrastructure projects like need to be a critical component of the agenda.”
Sheffield City Region’s growth strategy is currently in development and a consortium has already been appointed to upgrade Sheffield Midland station to accommodate HS2 and Northern Powerhouse rail services.
In addition to the station upgrade, the consortium will also look at how to improve transport links to the station, developing the surrounding area, and looking at opportunities for private development. HS2 will also help ease the strain for rail passengers right across the county.
It will achieve this by taking some of the higher speed train services off the existing rail network and freeing up capacity for more local rail services.
Mayor of the Sheffield City Region Dan Jarvis said, “The track cannot stop short at Birmingham or Manchester, it must come all the way to Yorkshire and beyond. It’s time for the government to stop the dither and delay, put its money where its mouth is and deliver on its promises.”