Political leaders condemn Government’s decision to scale back HS2

Political leaders have condemned the Government’s decision to scale back HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail and claimed it flies in the face of the levelling up agenda.

They are calling on the Government to allow a free vote on its highly controversial Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), which outlined £96bn of investment yesterday, and allow MPs to decide whether the proposals should be taken forward without being influenced by party leaders.

A joint letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, signed by seven mayors and 18 council leaders, states the “pared-back plan will not unlock the full potential of the North of England”.

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It adds: “These decisions go beyond party politics and indeed our generation. They are critical to the future of the North for the next 100 years and more.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Network Rail hub at Gascoigne Wood, near Selby, North Yorkshire, to coincide with the announcement of the Integrated Rail Plan.

After previously promising to build HS2 in full, the Government confirmed yesterday the eastern leg of the high-speed rail line will only run to East Midlands Parkway and trains will then continue on an existing line to Sheffield but not reach Leeds.

The Government has also promised £17.2bn for a scaled-back version of Northern Powerhouse Rail, with a 40-mile high-speed line between Warrington, Manchester and Marsden in Yorkshire.

It opted to upgrade and electrify the existing Transpennine Main Line as part of a £5.4bn project, instead of building a new line between Leeds and Liverpool, and cut Bradford from the route.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the plans “go above and beyond the initial ambitions of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail”.

But South Yorkshire Mayor Dan Jarivis said the North has been “sold short” and the Government’s levelling up agenda is now “in tatters”.

He said: “It should have been a landmark moment for the North.

“Instead, I think we’ve seen a package of promises, re-announcements and spin. Be very clear, today’s announcement is bad news for passengers, bad news for businesses, and it is bad news for the North. “

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said the region will benefit significantly from the IRP, as it will be served by HS2 and NPR lines, but the plan “comes up short”.

He said: “We are not prepared to consign our grandchildren, great grandchildren and beyond to being second best when it comes to transport in this country.

“We have got to fight for better for them and we have to do it together, we have to stand together as one.

“We need the plan that we were promised, a plan that would unlock the northern economy.

“We are calling for that free vote. And we’re asking all Northern MPs to put party politics aside and consider what is best for your constituents in generations to come.”

The IRP states that building the NPR line that was suggested by Transport for the North would cost an extra £18bn, open in 2043 and shave just four minutes off the journey between Manchester and Leeds.

But it also states under the new plans, some NPR trains will begin running this decade, and journeys between Manchester and Leeds will be 22 minutes faster.According to the 162-page plan, the upgrades will cut journey times from Leeds to Liverpool to 73 minutes (currently 106) and Leeds to Bradford to 12 minutes (currently 20).