Published on 4 Nov 2011

HS2 rail line could start in Manchester and Leeds

On Tuesday the Commons Transport Select Committee will publish its report on HS2, the controversial high-speed train line proposed between London and Birmingham (which, it is planned, will be extended later, in a Y shape, to Manchester and Leeds, and eventually on to Scotland).

The project has encountered stiff opposition, particularly from Conservative voters and party activists at the southern end of the route – in Buckinghamshire and around north-west London.

The new Transport Secretary Justine Greening, is expected to confirm the project before Christmas, possibly with a modified route.

I understand that the select committee will give a broad thumbs-up to HS2 next week, but with an intriguing twist.

MPs on the committee will say that if ministers continue to face opposition at the southern end of the line, they ought to think about switching the project round, and start instead in the north.  Rather than build first from London to Birmingham, and then proceed north, the committee will suggest that the government should begin with the y-shaped phase two – from Manchester and Leeds down to Birmingham.  Then Birmingham to London could be done as the second phase.

This, they say, might involve fewer planning and environmental problems, and more important, would be a much bigger boost for regional regeneration in northern England where it’s more urgent.

This idea’s not surprising perhaps when you consider that six of the eleven members of the Transport Committee are North West MPs.

The chairman Louise Ellman is MP for Liverpool Riverside, and while her colleagues geographically are: Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton), Judy Hilling (Bolton West), John Leech (Manchester Withington), Paul Maynard (Blackpool North) and Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton).  Another member, Julian Sturdy of York Outer, would also have an interest in HS2 coming to Leeds pretty soon.  The rest of the UK has just four MPs on the transport committee.

And geography matters hugely, of course, when it comes to transport policy.   This huge North West (and northern) bias looks like an unintended side effect of the new system, brought in last year, whereby MPs now elect select committees in secret ballots.

Elections may be more democratic, and boost the independence of Parliament, but they also mean select committees can lose balance in terms of things like geography and sex.  In the old days the Government and Opposition whips might conspire to exclude trouble-makers, but they would usually ensure that each committee had a good spread of members in other respects.

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9 reader comments

  1. Stephen Colebourne says:

    If the TSC report suggests this then it simply means they didn’t understand the problem HS2 tries to solve, which is primarily one of capacity on the south end of the West Coast Main Line. Building first in the North would send more trains onto a line that is full, which is clearly nonsense (its such nonsense that I doubt the report says what you suggest). Personally I’ve argued that the line in the South needs to have benefits to those along the route in order to mitigate the downsides, and I’ve proposed the M1 HC-Midland http://ukrail.blogspot.com/2011/07/hc-midland.html route as the soluton, built in smaller stages rather than one big project. I’ve also pointed out that routing via Heathrow may look pretty stupid if the UK chooses to go with Thames Hub!

  2. Patrick says:

    Upgrades to existing cross country routes would go great lengths to solve our transport problems.

  3. FreeNW says:

    The route beginning in the North-West might usefully link with Eurostar at Ebbsfleet, avoiding London, as anyone with any sense does.

  4. HJS says:

    I’ll be surprised if the Transport Committee goes for HS2 as it’s currently proposed. Liverpool would lose out significantly to Manchester, with journey times to London from Manchester cut to 80 mins, while Liverpool-London will still take 1hr40m after HS2 is built. And it won’t be possible to fit double-length HS2 trains onto the platforms at Lime Street, so Liverpool will get single-length HS2 trains which are actually smaller than the trains coming into service next year.

  5. Saltaire Sam says:

    So are they saying that whatever you build you can’t spoil the northern countryside unlike the devine acres so beloved of tories south of Birmingham?

    Nay, lad, it’s already grim up t’north. What difference will another railway line make especially when it will bring Birmingham ten minutes closer to Leeds?

  6. HenryHall says:

    Double length (even international) HS2 trains can terminate at Edge Hill. Just add a big car park and start a frequent Lime Street to Edge Hill shuttle.

    Classic WCML to HS at Birmingham Airport to HS Manchester Airport to classic lines somewhere near Warrington (for Liverpool, Manchester and trans-Pennine) would be a great first phase.

  7. SDW says:

    Before spending money on the HS2 rail network the committee ought to be looking to reverse the government’s decision to abandon the upgrade to the A1 between Thirsk and Darlington .It was due to be upgraded to motorway and was halfway to being finished when the government pulled the plug,leaving the last 15 miles or so still to be done.The North East must be the only place in the country which doesn’t have motorway links to the rest of the country. Is it any wonder it’s suffering economically? If this was the situation in the South there would be an outcry

  8. padav says:

    Bit of a storm in a teacup here

    If the advance rumours are correct the TSC will provide two main talking points

    1. Broad support for the principle of HS2
    2. A recommendation to begin with phase 2, rather than phase 1

    But their report, whilst influential, is only a recommendation and the Minister is also very likely to treat said recommendations re scheduling of construction phases with the same large dose of pragmatic cynicism outlined in this article.

    So come December when the Minister stands up in the House, I think we can clearly expect a thumbs up to the current proposals, with some relatively minor route modifications.

    This will doubtless elicit howls of anguish and threats of legal action/judical reviews etc. etc. from Chiltern based protest groups, all of which will ultimately come to nought.

    When the dust has settled, effectively it will be full steam ahead for HS2 (if you can call a construction timetable lasting until 2032, full steam ahead?)

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