A CONTROVERSIAL high-speed rail link will be built in England at a cost of £33 billion, but UK ministers have faced criticism for refusing to commit to a Scottish extension.
Transport minister Keith Brown said Scotland may have to wait 20 years to hear whether it would be connected.
Justine Greening, the UK Transport Secretary, gave the go-ahead for the first two stages of the line, from London to the West Midlands in 2026 and a “Y-shape” spur to Manchester and Leeds by 2033.
It is called High Speed Two (HS2) following the Channel Tunnel rail link being renamed High Speed One, with trains travelling at 250mph – twice as fast as on current London-Scotland lines.
Ms Greening said a hybrid bill for the first section would be introduced next year, but extending the line to Scotland was a matter that would require further talks with Scottish ministers.
She said: “The focus has to be on the Y-network. I am very happy to discuss with the Scottish Government their ideas on how to broaden that network.”
However, her stance angered the Scottish Government.
“It is disappointing there is still no commitment from the UK government to bring high-speed rail to Scotland,” Mr Brown said.
“The Secretary of State proposes to think about Scotland only after the hybrid bill stages for London-Birmingham or Birmingham-Manchester are established. But that could be 15 or 20 years away. Scotland simply cannot wait that long.”
Mr Brown said a report published last month concluded the case for high-speed rail in the UK was stronger if Scotland was included.
It is estimated that completing the link to Edinburgh and Glasgow would cost about £15bn, with Scotland expected to contribute £8 to £9bn. The Scottish Government has said it will not commit to funding until it sees how Westminster intends to extend the line towards Scotland.
Mike Weir, the SNP’s Westminster business and enterprise spokesman, also called for a far swifter commitment from UK ministers.
He said: “Scotland is being left in the sidings by the UK government, and we need a timetabled commitment to delivering high-speed rail connecting Scotland and the south.
“While the first phase of HS2 is a start, the UK government must not wait, but widen the remit of the delivery company to provide a detailed and timetabled plan for extension of the line north to connect with Scotland. This should start now.”
The call was backed by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, whose chief executive, Liz Cameron, said: “What we need to see now from the Westminster government is a firm commitment and timetable for Scotland’s inclusion in the HS2 network.
“The Scottish Government have already stated that they are ready to find the resources to build high-speed rail north of the Border, but only when Westminster places resources in place to build a line to the Border on the English side.”
Ms Greening stressed the benefits of the initial phases of the line to Scotland, with London to Edinburgh and Glasgow journeys being reduced by half an hour – or about 12 per cent – to three-and-a-half hours.
She said: “HS2 will link some of our greatest cities – and high-speed trains will connect with our existing railway lines to provide seamless journeys to destinations far beyond it.
“This is a truly British network that will serve far more than the cities directly on the line.”
Ms Greening announced that the first phase of the project, which will cost £16.4bn, will feature more tunnels in a bid to appease opponents.
This will reduce noise and the number of properties being affected, she said.
Some Tory MPs, including Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan, as well as local residents and some councils, are bitterly opposed to HS2.
The first phase will include a rebuilt Euston station in London, and a link to High Speed One.
A spur line to Heathrow airport is planned as part of the second phase.