The arrival of high speed rail in the North could be delayed because of a dispute over whether a £6bn underground station should be built in Manchester, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.
Greater Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham has refused to support plans for the £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) scheme connecting the great cities of the North because it includes a surface extension to Piccadilly station to accommodate high speed rail rather than an underground station.
Transport for the North, which is submitting the plans to the government, says a six-platform, 400 metre station above ground that can accommodate NPR and the HS2 high speed line from London would deliver the same benefits as an underground site for the fraction of the cost.
During a "heated" behind-closed doors meeting of TfN's board in Leeds he refused to back the decision to allow work to continue on HS2 based on the current design, which would allow the line to connect to NPR at six touch points across the North.
TfN's chairman John Cridland was forced to withdraw his officers' recommendations and the matter will be discussed again at the next TfN board meeting in September. Leaders asked TfN to go back and do more work on the project to ensure the North makes the most of the opportunity high speed rail presents.
It is now feared that a lack of agreement may potentially delay the Government's plans for HS2 to be extended from the Midlands to Leeds and Manchester under Phase 2b of the controversial project, though TfN insists its work is not holding HS2 up.
The current plan is for the legislation to be placed before the Commons in June 2020, based on having a surface station at Piccadilly and an extra HS2 platform at Leeds station instead of a proposed 'touchpoint' south of the city where the two high speed lines would intersect.
Any major changes to the Bill would have to come via an 'additional provision' (AP), which takes months to prepare and develop.
A confidential TfN document seen by The Yorkshire Post says that a decision later than Summer 2019 "may not leave sufficient time" to develop an AP, potentially meaning the main HS2 Bill can't be placed by June and jeopardising the promised arrival of the line in the North by 2033.
The report discussed on July 31 says: "HS2 Ltd have advised that a decision is needed now if they are to prepare an Additional Provision with different designs for the Phase 2b Bill."
It adds: "Delays to the approvals and construction of HS2 will have implications for the delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail. The scale of delay to either scheme is difficult to quantify at this stage."
A Department for Transport spokesman said last night there was no "immediate" risk of delaying the HS2 bill. He said: "“We are continuing work with TfN on developing NPR. TfN is considering making a case for changes to existing HS2 designs but we have not yet seen a business case for these."
The spokesman added: “The Prime Minister has made clear the Government’s commitment to regional growth and prosperity in the North, including to accelerate plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail between Manchester and Leeds. The Prime Minister has also said he intends to hold a review on HS2."