Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin declared the debate over the building of high speed rail to Yorkshire over today and signalled major decisions over the route and station locations will be taken by the end of the year.
Mr McLoughlin claimed the Conservatives’ election win was a mandate for the Government to begin construction of the HS2 project between London and Birmingham and to flesh out the detail of the second phase which will take the line in a Y-shape from Birmingham to Manchester to the west and to South Yorkshire and Leeds in the east.
He repeated David Cameron’s election pledge to look at ways of delivering the Yorkshire section of the line earlier and promised key decisions on the second phase, including the preferred route and station locations, would be taken this autumn.
He told an audience in Leeds: “The general election result was a massive vote of confidence in favour of HS2.
“So the argument has been won. HS2 will be built, the full ‘Y’ network, from London to Birmingham and Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, with construction starting in just two years.”
HS2 executive chairman Sir David Higgins is due to produce a report later this year looking at the options for the future of Leeds station to ensure HS2 services are properly intergrated with local lines and emerging plans for east-west high speed rail, known as HS3.
The Yorkshire Post understands the original proposal for a separate HS2 station in Leeds around the current site of Asda House, known as New Lane, is now considered all but dead.
The focus has now shifted to how the existing station can be expanded or a second station can be constructed in a way that it can be easily connected to the current terminal.
The timetable set out by Mr McLoughlin also gives Sheffield just months to win the argument that the South Yorkshire station, currently earmarked for a site at Meadowhall, should be moved to the city centre.
The city’s council argues that the higher construction costs associated with a city centre station would be dwarfed by the much greater impact on the South Yorkshire economy.
Sheffield City Council leader Julie Dore said: “Sheffield will keep fighting for the right solution for the Sheffield City Region and that is Sheffield city centre.”
Coun Dore said it was important the Government did not commit to a station location for HS2 until there was more detail on transpennine high speed rail to ensure the two projects are properly integrated.
Shadow Rail Minister Lilian Greenwood said: “The Government’s real approach to transport in the North was revealed last year when they let modern trains transfer to the South without any replacements lined up, and the average cost of rail fares has risen by 23 per cent over the last five years.
“This latest stunt is merely an attempt to distract passengers from Ministers’ failure to give passengers a fairer deal. We need improvements to the North’s transport networks and to passenger services, but given their track record there can be no confidence in the Tories’ ability to deliver.”