HS2 is in a fragile state and may not be built in full, says Labour's Jim McMahon

The controversial HS2 project is in a “fragile state” and may not go ahead as originally planned amid fears the Eastern leg through Yorkshire is to be delayed or scrapped altogether, according to Grant Shapps’s Labour counterpart.

Sunday, 29th November 2020, 8:46 am

Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon said the flagship high speed rail scheme connecting London, Leeds and Manchester was an “orphan in Parliament” with few MPs willing to publicly support it.

It comes as a group of peers including Yorkshire-born former Home Secretary Lord Blunkett revealed plans to add an amendment to HS2 legislation currently going through Parliament to ensure a commitment to the Eastern leg through Yorkshire.

Last weekend, the Sunday Times reported that the 120-mile eastern leg between Birmingham and Leeds could suffer long delays or not go ahead at all if the recommendations of the National Infrastructure Commission are taken up.

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Boris Johnson at an HS2 building site earlier this year. Pic: PA

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As part of a suggested “phased approach”, one option would be to build the HS2 line from Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway near Nottingham as a “first phase” with the rest of the line through Chesterfield and Sheffield to Leeds to be built at a later date.

Mr McMahon said the rising cost of HS2, which is opposed by many Conservatives MPs, meant that project was already at risk of becoming “unstable”. He said: “If you then reduce the benefit even further then I think there’s a real danger that HS2 in the way that it was planned won’t go ahead at all.

“And so I think the danger is beyond the Eastern leg, it’s beyond Leeds, you could argue whether it will have an impact on anything north of the Midlands even, so I think it’s in a very fragile state.

“What I feel in Parliament in particular, is that it hasn’t really got any kind of strong advocates who are willing to bang the drum who are willing to make the case.

”Which is bizarre in terms of how much it is costing us in terms of cash investment, it is one of the biggest UK infrastructure projects in generations and yet it seems to be a bit of an orphan in Parliament.”

This month Ministers confirmed legislation for the project’s eastern leg, part of phase 2b of the scheme, will be split into a second parliamentary bill, separate from that for the western leg of phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester.

The Oakervee review said earlier this year that the final bill for the rail link could reach £88bn against a budget of £62.4bn, in 2019 prices. And earlier this month HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson stopped short of committing to the eastern leg during a Westminster Hall debate.

On Monday, a cross-party amendment in the Lords will attempt to force the Government to confirm whether or not it will commit to the Eastern leg of HS2.

Sheffield Liberal Democrat peer Lord Paul Scriven, one of the amendment’s proposers, said: “This is a clear indication for the Government to not just say nice words but a real way to put their money and their rail lines where their mouth is, if we genuinely believe in levelling up.”

Lord Scriven said the way the Bills on HS2 had been divided meant that he and others feared the Eastern leg would be scrapped. And rather than “take it on trust” that the Government would build the Eastern leg, the amendment, which is also backed by Lord Blunkett, Lord Adonis, and Lord Curry of Kirkharle, would force the Government to put the eastern leg Bill before parliament within six months of the western leg, if it goes ahead.

"I can't see any reason why the Government, if they are committed to the eastern leg, would refuse to do it," Lord Scriven said.

He said if they did not accept the amendment, it would send a clear signal that the eastern leg had been abandoned, and he added: "The effects for businesses and for the future prosperity for Yorkshire will literally have a great big boot stomped on them without the Government giving the commitment.

"It is a litmus test, words or action. On Monday evening, the county will know that the Conservative Government is going to build the eastern part of HS2 or they are just going to give us the nice words."