Leeds Council leader 'disappointed but not surprised' as Government scraps HS2 line

The leader of Leeds City Council has launched a scathing attack on the Government, claiming 10 years of efforts to bring new high-tech rail lines to the city have been washed down the drain.

Thursday, 18th November 2021, 4:33 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th November 2021, 4:34 pm

It follows an announcement in Parliament from transport secretary Grant Shapps that the Government would invest £96bn in improving rail transport networks in the midlands and North of England.

But much of this was funding that was already expected, while the major new proposed rail line set to run through Leeds – the eastern leg of HS2 – was left out of the document, while plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail were watered down.

The eastern leg, also known as phase 2b, of HS2 would have been a brand new line linking Birmingham with Leeds, via Sheffield. Northern Powerhouse Rail was a proposed high speed line linking Liverpool and Hull, with stops at Leeds, Bradford and Manchester along the way.

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HS2 would have been a brand new line linking Birmingham with Leeds via Sheffield

Instead of this, the Government insists existing lines would be upgraded to better cope with electric and high speed trains. Mr Shapps also announced a £200m commitment to a new mass transit network in West Yorkshire.

This is despite commitments from Boris Johnson in recent years that both NPR and the eastern leg of HS2 would be built.

But Leeds City Council leader James Lewis (Lab) claimed that, following the Government’s broken promises on HS2, the council would “reserve judgement” on whether the Government would even honour the commitments it made today.

Coun Lewis (Lab) said: “After more than 10 years of effort, investment and planning based on the government’s clear proposal to bring HS2 to Leeds, we have been left extremely disappointed and frustrated by today’s announcement which only offers more studies, reviews and uncertainty for high-speed connections to our city – but, sadly, we are not surprised.

Leeds City Council leader James Lewis

“This is not the first time our city has been promised major infrastructure investment, only for it to be curtailed or cancelled. It is 10 years this month since the Transpennine Route upgrade was announced, yet we are still waiting for the fully-defined scheme, and it is 30 years since the idea of a ‘supertram’ was first mentioned.

“So we will reserve judgement on delivery until we see spades in the ground. The Leeds-Sheffield connection is the most advanced and shovel-ready section of HS2 and NPR, and will bring immediate benefits between two core cities along with benefiting many communities in between by freeing up capacity on local routes.

"We already know there is no capacity to bring more trains into Leeds from the West and no more land available either. We are calling for the Leeds to Sheffield work to be fast-tracked and delivered without delay whilst the Government carries out yet more studies or reviews.”

Coun Lewis added it was a “great irony” that passenger numbers in Leeds Station were growing rapidly.

He said: “This clearly demonstrates not only the need for investment in the existing station to manage current capacity but also commitment to deliver a new station in Leeds as part of any revised high speed proposals brought forward, and investment in our current rail network, making us ‘next generation rail ready’ to accommodate future demand.

“The initial funding for mass transit is welcomed, because there is a need to enhance connectivity across our city and with neighbouring areas, and with 75 per cent of passengers travelling to Leeds Station from outside the district there is also a clear and immediate need to improve rail provision because of the demand we face now and in the future.

“If the people drafting national policy used our station and knew the city, they would make better decisions. The Department for Transport’s arrival in Leeds earlier this year is already a positive step because we can help develop a greater understanding of our city’s needs and challenges.

“We remain determined to make sure that this is the last time a major project benefiting Leeds is cancelled.”

Speaking to Parliament today, transport secretary Grant Shapps called the Government’s plans an “unprecedented commitment to build a world class railway”, and that it would “benefit eight out of 10” of the busiest rail corridors in the North of England.

He added the announcement would increase capacity and improve journey times “up to eight years sooner” than previously planned, and that, under the original plans, HS2 would not have reached the east Midlands and the North until the early 2040s.

Mr Shapps claimed an upgraded existing rail line would run from Manchester to “the western border of Yorkshire”.

He added: “We will study our best on how to get HS2 trains into Leeds as well, and we will start work on the new West Yorkshire mass transit system, righting the wrong of this major city, probably the largest in Europe which doesn’t have a mass transit system.

“We commit today to supporting West Yorkshire Combined Authority over the long term to ensure that this time it actually gets done.”

Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon (Lab) told parliament: “I am frankly staggered by the way this statement started – that he was ‘proud’ to present this to the house.

“Proud of what? The betrayal of trust? The betrayal of promises? The betrayal of investment that the north of England and the midlands deserve?

“There is no amount of spin that can be put on this. He promised HS2 to Leeds, he promised Northern Powerhouse Rail.

“He has not only forgotten us, he has completely sold us out.

“We were committed to a new line connecting Manchester and Leeds. We were promised a new line – he has broken that promise and he hasn’t even got the decency to admit it.”

So what does Leeds and Yorkshire actually get?

According to the government documents, the plan would “deliver the heart” of Northern Powerhouse Rail, and include a high speed upgrade for the Transpennine line between Liverpool and Newcastle, taking in Leeds. Government claims this would reduce Manchester-Leeds journey times to 33 minutes.

This is a significant downgrade from the previously planned Northern Powerhouse Rail line, which would have been seen an additional high speed track stop at Bradford – a city only currently served by branch rail lines.

It added that the current Leeds-to-Bradford rail line would be fully electrified, and would lead to a “non-stop journey time which could be as low as 12 minutes”.

Under the plans, HS2 trains would run from Sheffield to London in 1 hour 27 minutes, but this would not include any additional rail lines, while a “speeded, upgraded” East Coast Main Line would cut journey times from Leeds to London “by 20 minutes”.

It also committed £200m to start work on the new West Yorkshire mass transit system, early plans for which have already been announced by West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

The document stated: “We will start work on the new West Yorkshire Mass Transit System and support West Yorkshire Combined Authority over the long term to ensure that this time, it gets done.

“That commitment begins now with more than £200m of immediate funding to plan the Mass Transit System and start building it, with the first services operational in the second half of this decade.

“Bringing local transport systems outside London to the standards of the capital is a critical part of levelling up, driving growth and prosperity.

“Leeds is the largest city in western Europe without light rail or a metro. The IRP and Mass Transit System could transform local travel in and around Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Pontefract, Huddersfield and the whole of West Yorkshire; expand electrification of the local rail network; and directly improve the journeys which hundreds of thousands of people take every day.”

The report added it would look at the most effective way to run HS2 trains to Leeds including capacity at Leeds Station.