£96bn for rail but Leeds HS2 leg due to be scrapped

HS2 eastern leg cancelation

A £96bn rail improvement programme will help transform services in the Midlands and northern England, the government has said ahead of the expected scrapping of part of the HS2 scheme.

Local service upgrades, bringing faster journeys, will happen up to 10 years earlier than planned, ministers say.

It comes as businesses reacted angrily to reports the East Midlands-Leeds HS2 high-speed line would not be built.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will unveil the plans this morning.

Speaking to the BBC, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab denied that the government was rowing back on promises to “level up” the country with HS2.

He called the new plan “good for the whole country”, adding: “We are entirely delivering on the aspiration and ambition of the levelling up agenda.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) says its Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) will improve journey times and capacity “from London and across the Pennines” and “strengthen connections between major cities in the North and Midlands”.

HS2 was originally meant to connect London with the city centres of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. But sources has have said that the eastern leg to Leeds is set to be scrapped.

Writing in the Yorkshire Post, Mr Johnson appears to confirm reports that a shorter high-speed route will be created from Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway, with the HS2 trains then running up as far as Sheffield on mainline tracks.

In his article Mr Johnson wrote: “HS2 will come to Sheffield, meaning a trip to or from London will take just one hour 27 minutes – precisely the same as under the old HS2 plans.

“We’ll look at how to get HS2 to Leeds too, with a new study on the best way to make it happen.

“But high-speed rail is grindingly slow to build. Under the original blueprint, first drawn up more than a decade ago, Yorkshire would have not have seen the benefits of our investment until at least the 2040s. Levelling up can’t wait that long.”

The government is also expected to put money aside to explore setting up a tram service for Leeds and spend £360m on contactless ticketing across commuter rail networks.

About half of the £96bn investment in rail is thought to be new money.

Speaking ahead of Thursday’s announcement, the prime minister said the IRP was the “biggest transport investment programme in a century, delivering meaningful transport connections for more passengers across the country, more quickly – with both high-speed journeys and better local services, it will ensure no town or city is left behind”.

The IRP was initiated after the 2020 Oakervee Review into major transport schemes including HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR).

But the prime minister has come under pressure recently over claims the government intends to “water down” planned rail upgrades.

There has been outcry from some politicians and businesses in the north of England at reports that there will not be an entire new fast line between Leeds and Manchester, via Bradford. The improvements to the NPR east-west connections are likely to involve upgrades to existing infrastructure.

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said on Tuesday he was “absolutely appalled”, claiming the region would be “bypassed” when new routes were developed elsewhere.

Speaking to the PA news agency on Tuesday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “[People in the North] should definitely feel optimistic.

“Not only are we going to spend a huge amount of money doing this, we are going to deliver it decades before it would have otherwise happened.”

Mr Shapps added that if he had been transport secretary 15 years ago with responsibility for HS2, then “I would have started in the North and moved south, I think that would have made sense”.

He went on: “The Northern Powerhouse Rail, the Midlands Connect – all of those did not exist when HS2 was first mooted, but we are where we are and it’s being built and we need to make sure we connect it all up and that’s what the Integrated Rail Plan intends to achieve.”

However, Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, told the BBC’s Today programme: “I think we’ve got a real risk of disappointment across the North.

“The budget that’s been promised, £96bn, is about £30bn less than the previous plans and what we were being offered. That means real cuts on the eastern leg, real cuts to the new line across the Pennines through Bradford.”

He said it was now vital to ensure links between Leeds and Sheffield were improved to ensure excellent regional links, as the North was “going to lose on that connectivity to the West Midlands and London”.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union Aslef, accused the government of using “smoke and mirrors” while breaking its promises.

“HS2 was meant to be a world-beater… instead, the Tories are letting us down,” he said.

“This government is a government of broken promises. It has announced Northern Powerhouse Rail an incredible 60 times – and I know because we’ve counted – and now it puts the project in the bin.”