David Cameron and his entire cabinet travelled to Leeds to give the green light to a new £32 billion high-speed rail line to London. Jack Blanchard reports.
Villagers gearing up to fight the new high-speed rail link to Leeds should “look at the bigger picture” and realise the scheme is vital for Britain’s future, David Cameron has said.
The Prime Minister and the rest of the Cabinet were in West Yorkshire yesterday for a rare away-day meeting to mark the publication of the route of phase two of the £32 billion HS2 project from Birmingham to Leeds.
Amid tight security and a news blackout, the Government’s most senior Ministers arrived at Leeds station from London King’s Cross at 10.48am for a 75-minute Cabinet meeting at Leeds City Museum.
They listened to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin reveal details of the HS2 route, which will slash journey times from Leeds to London by almost an hour when it opens in 2032.
Publication of the proposed route maps immediately sparked protests from people living in rural areas nearby.
But speaking to the YEP, Mr Cameron said the project would be worth the inevitable pain to give the Northern economy the boost it needs. I do understand that whenever you suggest building infrastructure, you’re always going to have objections,” the Prime Minister said.
“You need to have a generous compensation scheme - and we will.
“But I would appeal that people look at the bigger picture.
“We’re competing in a global race, and if we don’t have the most modern and up-to-date infrastructure, we’ll fall behind.
“Other countries have really got on board the high-speed rail revolution, and we need to do the same.”
High-speed rail has been used in Japan since the 1960s, and is now commonplace in countries including France, Spain, Italy, Germany and China.
Recent studies suggest HS2 will create tens of thousands of jobs in Leeds, and many more across the north of England.
But Mr Cameron has been under pressure from backbench Tory MPs to ditch the £32.7bn scheme due to its high cost and adverse impact on the countryside.
The Prime Minister, however, made it clear yesterday there will be no turning back.
“It just brings our country closer together,” he said.
“You can argue forever about the best ways to heal the North/South divide, to strengthen the big northern cities of our country, but I think it’s absolutely certain that if you build high-speed rail and you shorten journey times, you increase capacity on our railways, then it’s a big boost for the northern cities.”
The first phase of the new line will travel from London to Birmingham, opening in 2026. Phase two will fork into a ‘Y’-shaped route to Yorkshire and to the North-West.
Maps published by the Department for Transport yesterday showed the new HS2 line will broadly follow the route of the M1 as it travels north from a new ‘East Midlands hub’ station near Nottingham into South Yorkshire.
It will pass to the east of Sheffield, stopping at a new station at Meadowhall several miles from the city centre.
It will then continue along the motorway’s line, before turning off to pass to the east of Barnsley and Wakefield. A spur will then dart off north-west into Leeds at Oulton, passing through Stourton and Hunslet to arrive at the new terminus station in the city centre.
The main line will continue north alongside Leeds, before turning due east and passing Garforth, Micklefield and Church Fenton. It will connect with the existing main line services a few miles south of York.
City leaders said they hope the new HS2 station in Leeds could be part of wider regeneration of the south bank.
The plan published yesterday suggests Leeds New Lane Station will be sited on land south of the ASDA headquarters building, opposite Bridgewater Place.
Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield said: “We have lobbied long and hard for a high-speed rail link to Leeds, and this is excellent news.
“It will strengthen Leeds’ position as the Northern transport hub and unlock major investment, jobs opportunities and connectivity to the rest of the country.
“The proposed station offers a unique opportunity to create a striking new gateway into the city centre, but will only work if the interchange links directly into Leeds Station and comes with a significant government package of investment in its infrastructure, road and rail links to the rest of the city region area.”
Moving walkways could be built to speed up the journey between the new and old stations.
Leeds City Council has previously set out plans for a new look south bank centred on a new green space in the wake of the decision to close the brewery which dominated the area.
Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership chairman Neil McLean said: “HS2 will bring real benefits to all our cities by freeing capacity on the existing local rail network and improving connections to the capital and European markets, which in turn will shape business investment decisions and enhance our competitiveness on the world stage.”
Speaking in the Commons, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said the line will “give muscle to the economies of the cities beyond London.” But he accepted the announcement would “create great anxiety among those close to proposed route”.
He said the proposals are still at a draft stage, and that a formal consultation will open later this year,
“We will consult properly, design carefully, and compensate fairly,” he said. “Let me stress I am announcing a preferred route.This is the start of the process, not the end.
“We are ready to listen, ready to improve.I want this line to create jobs and prosperity, not harm it. So where businesses may be affected, we will work with them to find a solution.”
Despite his reassurances, Mr McLoughlin faced considerable opposition from backbench Conservatives yesterday.
Tory party vice-chairman Michael Fabricant, whose Lichfield constituency lies on the proposed route, said: “This route plunges through rural Britain. It should use existing transport corridors. It blights the environment, homes and lives.”