Boris Johnson can't afford to build HS2 into Yorkshire and improve local rail links, says National Infrastructure Commission chairman

Boris Johnson will not be able to afford to build both western and eastern legs of HS2 as well as improving northern regional rail links on his current budget, according to the chairman of the body which advises the Government on infrastructure spending.
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Sir John Armitt, who chairs the National Infrastructure Commission, told an online event that to afford the Yorkshire leg of the high speed rail scheme and the leg between Crewe and Manchester Ministers would have to sacrifice local schemes in the North.

He defended his organisation's rail needs assessment, which advises the Government on how it could prioritise spending on major rail infrastructure schemes, after northern leaders said implementing its findings would "represent a levelling down of ambition and investment".

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Boris Johnson will not be able to afford to build both western and eastern legs of HS2 as well as improving northern regional rail links on its current budget, according to the chairman of the body which advises the Government on infrastructure spending. Pic: PABoris Johnson will not be able to afford to build both western and eastern legs of HS2 as well as improving northern regional rail links on its current budget, according to the chairman of the body which advises the Government on infrastructure spending. Pic: PA
Boris Johnson will not be able to afford to build both western and eastern legs of HS2 as well as improving northern regional rail links on its current budget, according to the chairman of the body which advises the Government on infrastructure spending. Pic: PA
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Ahead of the Government's Integrated Rail Plan being published, the report in December recommended that investment should be focused on boosting mainline services across the North and the Midlands.

Its assessment stated it would be “potentially cheaper and faster” to deliver improvements to regional journeys through a combination of new lines and upgrades, rather than Phase 2b of HS2.

Speaking at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group, Sir John, said the decision was ultimately up to the Government about how much they wished to spend.

His report set out options for an £86bn budget for rail infrastructure, representing 1.2 per cent of gross domestic product, as well as more ambitious options with budgets of £108bn and £129bn.

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He said his conclusion was that there would be a "greater level of benefits by focusing on those regional connections and finishing the western leg of HS2 than by sacrificing some of the Northern projects in order to at this stage do the two legs of the Y."

"But it's a decision for government at the end of the day, how much money they wish to spread, because you wouldn't get both legs of the Y within the current budget anyway and any sort of improvements in the North."

He said that to do all the schemes currently proposed in the North and Midlands, including upgrades to the trans-Pennine route and East Coast Main Line, would cost between £140bn and £180bn.

And he added: "Remember those journey figures, 70 per cent of the journeys made are actually made on the regional lines, they're not made travelling to and fro from London. And who travels through from London during the week, most likely businessmen, not necessarily so much the general public."

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This week, two Yorkshire Labour leaders teamed up with a Conservative from the Midlands to call on Ministers to "wholeheartedly reject" the report by the NIC on how major rail schemes could fit together.

And Transport for the North, the body set up to transform northern transport links, say the options in the report "represent a levelling down of ambition and investment, compared to the commitments made by government to level up".

Judith Blake, Dan Jarvis and Kay Cutts, who lead the Connecting Britain campaign lobbying for the Eastern leg of HS2, say the scenarios laid out in the NIC's Rail Needs Assessment from last month "would seriously inhibit economic growth and rebalancing".

Its assessment stated it would be “potentially cheaper and faster” to deliver improvements to regional journeys through a combination of new lines and upgrades, rather than Phase 2b of HS2.

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This could mean the controversial high speed rail scheme would stop at East Midlands Parkway on the edge of Nottingham rather than carrying on to Sheffield and Leeds.

During the APPG session, Labour's shadow rail Minister Tan Singh Dhesi asked if potentially scrapping the eastern leg of HS2 would "detrimentally impact" people living near the route who would benefit from extra rail capacity on local lines.

He said: "I allude to those in Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield and up to Leeds, and they are saying 'look, we are being sold down the river'. There was a commitment from government that they would complete the HS2 project in full.

"And now it seems that there is the report and the review from the NIC, which has meant that their constituencies will not be able to benefit from HS2 and that's unfair."