MPs push for promise to deliver eastern leg of HS2 'on time, in full, and at the same time as the western leg' in levelling up commitment

A transport minister has been asked directly to commit to delivering the eastern leg of HS2 “on time, in full, and at the same time as the western leg to show their commitment to leveling up”.

Tuesday, 17th November 2020, 7:21 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th November 2020, 5:59 pm

Doubt has been cast over whether Phase 2b of HS2 - which would run from Birmingham, through the East Midlands and South Yorkshire to Leeds - would go ahead amid spiralling coronavirus costs.

And while a report into how best deliver the scheme is still being prepared, a parliamentary debate today heard how the scheme was seen as crucial in the levelling up project by a number of MPs.

Colne Valley Tory MP Jason McCartney told the Westminster Hall debate that in Yorkshire HS2 would not just benefit cities such as Leeds and Sheffield, but also towns such as Huddersfield.

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HS2 workers. Photo: PA

And he pushed for a firm commitment that the eastern leg would go ahead “on time, in full, and at the same time as the western leg”.

The call for a specific commitment to Phase 2b was echoed by Labour MP for Leeds Central Hilary Benn.

But HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson would not specifically commit to the specific route, saying that a report being prepared by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) must first be completed in the coming months, which is due to advise on how to integrate Phase 2b with other projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail.

He said: “I want to start by reiterating the Government's commitment to HS2 and to enabling the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North to reap the benefits of high speed rail services.”

And he said it was not true that any part of the scheme had been scrapped.

But he added: “I am aware that there are concerns about what the NIC is likely to suggest in their report, I'd like to say as an independent body it is right that they look at all available evidence in undertaking their assessment.

“Once the report is published, it will be for ministers to consider the NICs conclusions and make final decisions on the integrated rail plan.”

Darren Henry, Conservative MP for Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire, who called the debate said: “I entirely agree with the Prime Minister that we must build back better and invest in an infrastructure revolution to recover from the unprecedented challenges and economic pressures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, High Speed Two is central to fulfilling all of these aims.”

But he said: “The council and business leaders in my area, and indeed in the North, have raised quite serious concerns to me that the eastern leg of Phase 2b may be scaled back.”

And he added: “Critically when it comes to the eastern leg, the case for leveling up is more pronounced than on any other section of the railway.”

Mr Henry said the completion of HS2 would lead to better life chances for young people,who he said were “growing up living with hand washing, wearing face masks, working in bubbles and learning online”

“For them, the investment that comes from HS3 is not about a railway,” he said.

“It is about hope, aspiration and a positive future, a future where their playing field has been leveled up where their potential can be untapped and harnessed.”

Construction work started in September on phase one of HS2 from London to Birmingham.

Phase 2a is planned to run from Birmingham to Crewe, and legislation for that is currently passing through Parliament.

A transport consultant who contributed to the Government-commissioned Oakervee Review last year warned that the final bill for HS2 could reach £106bn at 2019 prices.

Douglas Oakervee, who conducted the review, said this was a top-end estimate and argued that the line could still be built far more cheaply if the Government did not insist that engineering firms carry all the risk, which inflates the price of the contracts.

Despite it running tens of billions of pounds over budget and several years behind schedule, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light for the railway in February 2020.