HS2 ‘about capacity, not speed’ say Leeds council chiefs

Councillors claim HS2 could open the rail network up to more freight.
Councillors claim HS2 could open the rail network up to more freight.

Decision-makers in Leeds have warned that too much focus on HS2 journey times could risk damaging the argument for high speed rail in the city.

Work is due to start in 2024 on the Leeds leg of the the nationwide high-speed rail project, expected to eventually cost more than £50bn.

The new trains are expected to cut 49 minutes on journeys between Leeds and London, but members of Leeds City Council’s executive committee have claimed the main reason for the work is to increase capacity on the network.

The council’s portfolio holder for regeneration, transport and planning, Richard Lewis, said: “In 2011, (then-transport secretary) Philip Hammond talked about the network and how it would create better links.

“I feel frustrated that the debate has since become a narrow one about high speed technology. It’s about rail capacity and that is what is important for this city.”

Coun Andrew Carter, leader of Leeds’s Conservatives, said: “I recall the beginnings of the discussions on HS2 which were with the last Labour government. The debate was around the fact that it was not just about speed.

“But now it has centred on journey times. The whole debate is ‘what is 20 minutes off journey times?’ – that is simply a by-product.”

He added that it could open up opportunities for companies to use the rail network for freight.

He said: “A high percentage of goods that come into the ports is going straight onto the road network.

“This will contribute massively to the environment to move goods from the road to the rail network.

“We need to move the debate away from speed and onto capacity. The benefits for the North of England and this city are massive.”

Council leader Judith Blake added: “We are already seeing in Birmingham the investment that is flowing into that city. This is a huge opportunity for us.

“There are so many other aspects to it. It’s so important that all of this is coming forward alongside our growth strategy – we need to recognise the lack of investment of across the north or generations.

“HS2 have done an incredible amount of consultation in the south of Leeds and that will continue.”

Councillors agreed to submit latest plans for the so called “high speed rail hub” for Leeds Railway Station to the government.

Improvements worth around £500m will be made to Leeds train station to ensure it can accommodate the planned high speed rail lines, HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

It followed a report which stated claimed around 5,000 jobs would be lost or displaced from Leeds City Centre, as a result of the new HS2 line work starting in 2024.

A statement from the company on the impact of the construction of the station, listed the losses of the Hilton Leeds City Hotel on Neville Street and Asda’s head office as potentially having a “major adverse” impact.