The East-West high-speed rail link to connect cities across the North, dubbed Northern Powerhouse Rail, is rumoured to be at risk of being scrapped in favour of cheaper improvement works on existing lines to mitigate spiralling costs of HS2.
The Sunday Express newspaper reported that the high-speed link across the Pennines connecting Liverpool and Manchester with Leeds, Hull and Newcastle, has fallen out of favour with the Prime Minister, despite investment in the North’s rail connections having formed a key tenet of promises to ‘level-up’ the region and bridge the North-South divide in infrastructure spending. Instead of a new line, services would be improved through existing plans for electrification of the Manchester to Leeds Transpennine route that would be rebranded with the Northern Powerhouse Rail moniker.
A Sunday Express source said that the £43 billion budget proposed for the Northern Powerhouse Rail route had been swallowed up by spiralling costs for the accelerated delivery of the HS2 London to Manchester and Leeds route, and that the Department for Transport (DfT) would prefer money spent on Crossrail 2, a new North-South route across Greater London. The DfT did not comment on the claims and refuted the alleged £158 billion costs of HS2.
The upcoming Integrated Rail Plan is due to published in the coming weeks that will outline large-scale rail investment, including Phase 2b of HS2 (from Crewe to Manchester and Birmingham to Leeds), and Northern Powerhouse Rail, in addition to other major infrastructure investment, such as electrification. Transport for the North has submitted its preferred route for the high-speed line to the DfT for consideration earlier this year.
The rumoured move that the government plans to roll back its ambitions for the North’s infrastructure comes following the Conservative Party’s defeat in the Chesham and Amersham parliamentary by-election last week. The commuter belt Buckinghamshire seat elected a Liberal Democrat MP for the first time in the seat’s history, overturning a significant Conservative majority of over 16,000. The HS2 route passes through the rural constituency and has been met with considerable opposition from the local community; as such, Boris Johnson’s support for the high-speed line has been touted as a factor in the election result.
The alleged scrapping of plans for the high-speed route across the North has been met with consternation in the region. Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, commented:
In the Prime Minister’s first major policy speech in Manchester, he committed to building Northern Powerhouse Rail across the Pennines.
“Rumours that this commitment will be broken are deeply concerning for Northern leaders who are working towards rebalancing the economy.
“The North was promised HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail in full – to be abandoned now, just as we begin a recovery from the pandemic, would be a hammer blow.”