Boris Johnson reiterates commitment to eastern leg of HS2 ahead of key northern transport meeting today

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Boris Johnson has recommitted to building the eastern leg of HS2 after months of rumours it would be scrapped.

Harrogate and Knaresborough Tory MP Andrew Jones questioned the Prime Minister on the project in the Commons today, and quipped that on Coronation Street’s 60th anniversary, it felt like politicians had been discussing infrastructure in the North for “almost as long”.

He urged Mr Johnson to start the construction of the eastern leg of HS2, which will run from the West Midlands through Sheffield to Leeds, from the North.

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And while Mr Johnson said Mr Jones was “completely right about the power of great infrastructure projects to deliver jobs”, he added: “And that's why we're getting on with both with the eastern leg of HS2 and with Northern Powerhouse Rail, and what I've asked the National Infrastructure Commission and Network Rail to look at is how those two projects can best be integrated to boost the economy of the whole of the of the North of the country.”

Boris Johnson returns to Downing Street after PMQs. Photo: PABoris Johnson returns to Downing Street after PMQs. Photo: PA
Boris Johnson returns to Downing Street after PMQs. Photo: PA

Mr Johnson intervention comes after fears the route could be scrapped, with only the western leg from Crewe to Manchester going ahead, due to the way in which the Bills for the scheme have been split up.

Last month, a bid to force the Government to commit in law to proceeding with the eastern leg of HS2 was defeated in the Lords.

A cross-party amendment challenged ministers to start the process of approving the eastern leg before Parliament within six months of the western leg.

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But it was defeated by just nine votes, with 265 voting for it, and 274 against.

Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership lobbying group Henri Murison welcomed the statement.

He said: “Andrew Jones, a Yorkshire Conservative and businessperson before he entered politics, has rightly called at PMQs to stick to his promises made following the Oakervee Review to get building HS2 from here in the North, including eastern leg in full.

“The Prime Minister is right - we need to get started with Northern Powerhouse Rail and Eastern Leg. We have proposals for Government to secure first phases of new lines needed East and West, North to the South through the East Midlands, and related upgrades such as from York to Newcastle on East Cost mainline.

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"The National Infrastructure Commission's Rail Needs Assessment should reflect the previous evidence-based proposals of the Independent Northern Powerhouse review into HS2 - if it is to have credibility with northern business and civic leaders.”

Mr Johnson’s comments come as Transport Secretary and Northern Powerhouse Minister Grant Shapps will this afternoon speak to mayors and council leaders at the second virtual meeting of the Northern Transport Acceleration Council (NTAC).

The Transport Secretary is expected to reaffirm his commitment to fast-tracking the delivery of infrastructure upgrades as the country builds back better from the pandemic.

It comes after he joined HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson at a virtual roundtable with Northern business leaders yesterday to discuss how the Government and firms can work together to create jobs and boost skills while delivering net zero plans and generating local growth.

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And next week, the Transport Secretary will meet with Northern MPs to explore what can be done across Westminster to expediate the delivery of Northern Powerhouse policies.

Mr Shapps said: “Covid-19 has demonstrated that it is more critical than ever that we turbo-charge our efforts to power up the North. We’re focused on building back better, and dedicated to ensuring people see real change as swiftly as possible.

“These discussions will inform how the Government can work together with leaders across the North to kickstart recovery in the region, create jobs, develop skills and generate opportunities for communities.”

The Transport Secretary will be joined at the NTAC meeting by the HS2 Minister, Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris and Roads Minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton.

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Alongside discussing the outcome of the Spending Review and Green Book reforms, the Council will be updated on the work of the Department’s newly-established Acceleration Unit – which began operating in October – and its role in speeding up the delivery of Northern priorities.

The Transport Secretary will also today chair the first meeting of a panel of experts with experience across a range of sectors, who will work with the Acceleration Unit to unblock issues on key transport programmes and push forward progress for passengers.

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