Work on the East Midlands and North East sections of HS2 has stopped

Work on the eastern leg of the High Speed Two rail line has stopped, the project’s chief executive has admitted. Officials are busy preparing plans to extend the HS2 line north west to Manchester, but they have been told by the Department for Transport to halt work on the planned section between Birmingham and the East Midlands, and onwards to Leeds. HS2 Chief Executive Mark Thurston said: “We wait to be guided by the Department on what we do with the eastern link.”

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, one of the project’s most vocal champions, has predicted the eastern section of the line will be postponed indefinitely. He said: “I believe the Government will still commit to doing it but will not be specific about the timing of when.” : Call to give low-income families higher benefits[1]

The HS2 network will run between London and Birmingham, with track continuing north west to Crewe and into Manchester. The original plan also included track running north east from Birmingham to the East Midlands and into Yorkshire. High speed trains were due to switch to conventional track north of Leeds, running to Newcastle in the North East.

But the Government has ordered a review of the scheme, with a decision to be published in a document called the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands. This was due to be published by the end of 2020, but has been delayed. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted the Government will build the whole of HS2.

He told the House of Commons in February: “I can certainly confirm that we are going to develop the eastern leg as well as the whole of the HS2.”

Mr Thurston told a House of Commons inquiry that High Speed Two Ltd, the Government-owned company building the network, had initially worked on the North West section and North East sections of the line as a single project. They are known collectively as phase 2b of the network. But he told the Commons Transport Committee: “At the moment we are only working on phase 2b west.

We are only focused on that. The company has been asked by the Department to focus on the route into Manchester and the eastern leg will play out in the fullness of time. We expect it to be part of the Integrated Rail Plan.

“We are focused on producing a budget and a plan, working on the hybrid Bill to get Royal Assent somewhere around 2024 or 2025, subject to parliamentary timetables, for the section to Manchester. That is where our focus is at the moment. The company is not doing any work on anything else at the moment.”

He said the original plan “was that phase 2 was going to be done as one integrated project – the whole railway north of Crewe into Manchester and from here in the West Midlands all the way through the East Midlands to Leeds. That is not now playing out that way.

“We are taking the western link now as a very discrete project and we wait to be guided by the Department on what we do with the eastern link.” Asked what he expected to see in the Integrated Rail Plan, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street told the inquiry: “An absolute commitment to the western leg of phase 2b.

I am realistic that there will probably be a serious delay in the eastern leg of 2b. I believe the Government will still commit to doing it but will not be specific about the timing of when.” The mayor has campaigned vocally in the past for the whole of HS2 to be built, but he appeared to admit defeat as he told the MPs: “Let’s be honest, we all know that the Government have to make an incredibly difficult decision about priorities.

“I think I have been as vociferous as anybody in this kingdom in arguing for the full HS2. People have accused me of all sorts of things, but we have to face the reality that we now have, which is that difficult decisions have to be made.” He said he expected the Government to approve the proposed GBP2bn Midlands Rail Hub, which will create additional rail services between the West Midlands and East Midlands destinations such as Leicester, Nottingham and Derby.

The first phase of HS2, running between London and Birmingham, is due to open by 2033 and will be within its budget of GBP35 billion, including GBP10 billion contingency, Mr Thurston told MPs.

Get the latest politics news direct to your inbox through our daily newsletter[2].

References

  1. ^ : Call to give low-income families higher benefits (www.birminghammail.co.uk)
  2. ^ our daily newsletter (www.birminghammail.co.uk)