Midlands transport bosses have reacted with dismay to a report that suggests that HS2 could be scaled back to pay for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR).
The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has published its Rail Needs Assessment for the Midlands and the North, which will feed into the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan.
The NIC said improving rail links between cities in the North and Midlands should be ‘the first priority of a new approach to end stop-start investments and help level up the UK as part of a wider economic strategy’.
The assessment sets out how ‘different mixes of schemes could fit together to deliver strategic objectives within certain budget envelopes’, including ditching the eastern leg of HS2 Phase 2b in favour of building NPR.
Its starting point is that HS2 Phases 1 and 2a should be built, as should the western leg of HS2 Phase 2b, ‘in order to realise the full benefits of HS2 Phase 2a’.
However, two sets of options include either scrapping the eastern leg of the high speed line or or scaling it back so that it runs from Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway. The NIC stressed that ‘this does not rule out the further development of options to complete the HS2 Phase 2 eastern leg’.
Another set of options, which includes building the Birmingham to Leeds HS2 route in full, would leave ‘only enough funding remaining to deliver the Transpennine Route Upgrade as proposed currently and some of the smaller Midlands Connect schemes’.
A package 'focusing on upgrades' would only run HS2 beyond Crewe to Manchester
NIC chair Sir John Armitt said: ‘Major rail schemes will be an important component in levelling up the country’s economic geography, but we should ensure public money is carefully spent where it can make the most difference.
‘The number and scale of rail schemes currently being proposed for the North and Midlands mean that some form of prioritisation will be necessary.’
Maria Machancoses, director of Midlands Connect, described options that would scale back HS2 in favour of building NPR as a ‘divide and conquer approach to infrastructure investment’ and ‘completely nonsensical’.
She said: ‘HS2 must be delivered in its entirety, including its Eastern Leg from Birmingham to Leeds, alongside Midlands Engine Rail. To stall, scale down or delay now will cause irreparable economic damage to communities across the region – especially the East Midlands, which has suffered from a chronic underinvestment in infrastructure for decades.'
Ms Machancoses added: ‘While Northern Powerhouse Rail is an important part of the UK’s future connectivity, alongside Midlands Engine Rail, it is still being developed and in fact, relies on parts of the new high speed network to run.’
She also criticised the suggestion that East Midlands Parkway could become a base for HS2 in the East Midlands, instead of the planned hub at Toton:
‘East Midlands Parkway was assessed as a possible location for HS2’s East Midlands hub back in 2015. The evidence was as clear then as it is now: this is not the best option,’ she said