Government Commits to Eastern Leg of HS2, Easing Fears of Potential Abandonment

Posted on 01 June 2021

The commitment of the government to the eastern leg of High Speed 2 (HS2) has been reinforced amid growing concerns that the section leading to Leeds might face abandonment. In a virtual event held for the Policy Exchange think tank, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps made a resolute announcement that the government intends to proceed with HS2 and ensure the inclusion of the eastern leg extending to Leeds.

Over the past few months, anxieties regarding the potential abandonment of the eastern leg have escalated. These concerns were further fuelled by the decision of the Department for Transport to divide the Phase 2b bill into two separate parts, thereby creating a division in the legislative requirements for constructing the western and eastern legs. The recommendations put forth by the National Infrastructure Commission's Rail needs assessment, which prioritised the western leg leading to Manchester, combined with the absence of any mention of the eastern leg in the Queen's Speech, have significantly exacerbated these fears.

Shapps expressed optimism by suggesting that the benefits of both legs could materialise sooner than initially projected, which was estimated to be around the years 2040 or 2050. He further added, "We believe that by implementing more advanced construction methods, we could expedite the realisation of these benefits considerably."

More detailed information regarding the government's plans will be disclosed in the much-anticipated Integrated Rail Plan (IRP). This comprehensive document is expected to outline the phased development and interconnectedness of major projects such as HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), and the Midlands Engine. The IRP, originally scheduled for an early release this year, experienced a delay due to local election purdah rules, but it is now anticipated to be published in the coming weeks.

Shapps emphasised the necessity of integrating the eastern leg with the advancements that have taken place since the inception of HS2 many decades ago, particularly in relation to NPR. In response to these developments, Transport for the North (TfN), representing political and business leaders in the North, has urgently called upon the government to promptly release the IRP. This call is motivated by the aim to prevent any potential delays in the implementation of critical schemes such as NPR and HS2. Transport for the North argues that the timely publication of the IRP is crucial for effectively addressing congestion issues prevalent in the North's rail network and for progressing short- and medium-term projects like the Transpennine Route Upgrade, which recently secured a funding boost of £317 million.

Tim Wood, the interim CEO of Transport for the North, emphasised the urgency of releasing the IRP to facilitate precise planning and the timely execution of railway investments in the North. He emphasised that any delays in the arrival of NPR and HS2 in the region could hinder the immense economic growth potential, which includes the creation of up to 74,000 new jobs through Northern Powerhouse Rail. Wood expressed Transport for the North’s readiness to work closely and collaboratively with the government to expedite the initiation of the NPR project.

Wood regarded the IRP as an extraordinary opportunity, occurring once in a generation, to redefine the narrative of the North's railway system and address the lingering issues stemming from years of underinvestment. He highlighted the plan's significance not only in shaping long-term rail expenditure but also in addressing immediate congestion problems. Wood urged the government to prioritize the publication of the IRP, as it would pave the way for substantial progress in delivering key components essential for establishing a modern and efficient railway network in the North.

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