New high-speed rail routes to cities in the north of England are unveiled, with David Cameron hoping to boost Britain’s stagnant economy.
The currently planned London to Birmingham HS2 line could be extended to Manchester and Leeds under new plans announced today, in a bid to cut journey times, ease overcrowding and boost regional business.
The £32.7 billion project is expected to create at least 100,000 jobs but may provoke a new backlash from communities the line will pass through and controversy over the location of stations.
The Department for Transport confirmed there will be five stops on the 211-mile extension northwards from Birmingham – scheduled for 2032, six years after the first phase.
The stations will be Manchester, Manchester Airport near the interchange by the M56, East Midlands – at Toton, Sheffield – at Meadowhall shopping centre and Leeds – at New Lane in the South bank.
Journeys from Manchester to Birmingham will be reduced to 41 minutes and from Manchester to London to 1 hour 8 minutes – half the current times. Official projections estimate that Leeds will be 57mins away from Birmingham and 1hr 22mins away from London Euston.
There are also plans for a “dedicated link” to operate alongside the high-speed line at Crewe to link up with standard trains and reduce journey times to Liverpool and Glasgow.
A proposed extension to Heathrow has been put on hold pending the results of Sir Howard Davies’ review of future airport capacity – which is due in the summer of 2015. Passengers heading to the world’s busiest airport will have to change onto the new London east-west Crossrail service for an 11-minute transfer to their terminal.
Conservatives in Chancellor George Osborne’s Tatton constituency have suggested that they will object to any plans to route the line through parts of the Cheshire countryside.
Residents in Lostock Green, a village in George Osborne’s constituency, have gathered for a spontaneous meeting outside their homes after they discovered the route will pass nearby.
Many are angered to have found out through word of mouth and thirty of the village’s 130 homes have turned out, many clutching maps and printouts of the proposed route.
Emma Guy is a local parish councillor who says George Osbourne should have informed local residents and has now invited him to meet with locals to discuss the matter: “As residents we are very upset, we’ve had no consultation, we haven’t been told about what’s been going on.”
The High Court is considering whether the first phase of the project, which will take high-speed trains from London to Birmingham, is legally flawed and needs to be reconsidered.
The legal challenge was launched by campaigners who claim the Government failed to undertake a “strategic environmental assessment” or arrange an adequate consultation process for the project.
Nick Rushton, leader of Leicestershire County Council, has accused the Government of not considering a new freight depot being built in the region and could put thousands of jobs at risk.
Mr Rushton fears the route, which cuts through the county along the A42 corridor, could ruin plans for a project to the north of East Midlands airport because it would travel through a tunnel and re-emerge where the site is planned.
He said: “When it gets to East Midlands airport they were clever enough to look on the map at the airport so they’ve managed to send it through a tunnel, but what they didn’t do was speak to the other end of the Department for Transport, and they don’t seem to be aware about Roxhill.”
“There will be 6,000 jobs once it’s on site, once it’s built there will be 1,000 construction jobs and 3,000 ancillary jobs, and half a billion pounds’ worth of private business could be jeopardised.”
An HS2 Ltd spokesman dismissed criticisms that the HS2 route would halt any developments in the area: “High Speed Two is an engine for growth that will create jobs and boost our economy. It’s simply scaremongering to say that it will hold back development.
Scottish Government Transport Minister Keith Brown has welcomed assurances that Scotland will be part of the UK Government’s high speed rail plans. He has now called for the Department for Transport to produce a concrete timetable for extending HS2 to Scotland.