Rail upgrade pledge as Leeds HS2 leg to be scrapped

A rail improvement programme will help transform services in the Midlands and northern England, the government has said ahead of the expected scrapping of part of the HS2 scheme.

Local service upgrades, bringing faster journeys, will happen up to 10 years earlier than planned, ministers say.

The plan will cost £96bn, but only half of that is thought to be new money.

It comes as businesses reacted angrily to reports the East Midlands-Leeds HS2 high-speed line would not be built.

However, campaigners against the HS2 have said they are “elated” by the reports.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will unveil the plans this morning.

Speaking to the BBC, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab denied that the government was rowing back on promises to “level up” the country with HS2.

He called the new plan “good for the whole country”, adding: “We are entirely delivering on the aspiration and ambition of the levelling up agenda.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) says its Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) will improve journey times and capacity “from London and across the Pennines” and “strengthen connections between major cities in the North and Midlands”.

HS2 was originally meant to connect London with the city centres of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. But sources have told the BBC that the eastern leg to Leeds is set to be scrapped.

Writing in the Yorkshire Post, Mr Johnson appears to confirm reports that a shorter high-speed route will be created from Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway, with the HS2 trains then running up as far as Sheffield on mainline tracks.

In his article Mr Johnson wrote: “HS2 will come to Sheffield, meaning a trip to or from London will take just one hour 27 minutes – precisely the same as under the old HS2 plans.

“We’ll look at how to get HS2 to Leeds too, with a new study on the best way to make it happen.

“But high-speed rail is grindingly slow to build. Under the original blueprint, first drawn up more than a decade ago, Yorkshire would have not have seen the benefits of our investment until at least the 2040s. Levelling up can’t wait that long.”

The government is also expected to put money aside to explore setting up a tram service for Leeds and spend £360m on contactless ticketing across commuter rail networks.

The IRP was initiated after the 2020 Oakervee Review into major transport schemes including HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR).

But the prime minister has come under pressure recently over claims the government intends to “water down” planned rail upgrades.

There has been outcry from some politicians and businesses in the north of England at reports that there will not be an entire new fast line between Leeds and Manchester, via Bradford. The improvements to the NPR east-west connections are likely to involve upgrades to existing infrastructure.

Tracy Brabin, Labour Mayor for West Yorkshire, told the BBC: “If what we’re hearing is true, it’s a betrayal of the North and a betrayal of the people I represent.

“It’s going to affect our potential and investment and opportunity, and it’s just not good enough.”

Nick Garthwaite, director of chemical manufacturer Christeyns Ltd in Bradford and vice chair of the West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, says he is disappointed by the reports that a new line between Manchester and Leeds may not be built.

“I feel the city and its people have been betrayed – we might not get the through railway station that Bradford so desperately needs and indeed was tacitly promised by government over a long period of time,” he told the BBC.

A key concern for businesses in Bradford is trying to attract more talent to come to work there, so not having good transport links is a problem.

“What I’m worried about is that these young talented people in Bradford will be thinking twice about staying in the city,” he said.

Mr Garthwaite said it was likely that businesses would also consider locating new factories in other parts of England.

His concerns seem to be shared by others. A student told the BBC that many young people were now moving away from Bradford and Leeds to live in cities like Nottingham and Manchester, because the transport links were so poor.

“I’m definitely not going to be staying in Leeds or Bradford because it’s not reliable enough,” she said.

Speaking to the PA news agency on Tuesday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “[People in the North] should definitely feel optimistic.

“Not only are we going to spend a huge amount of money doing this, we are going to deliver it decades before it would have otherwise happened.”

Mr Shapps added that if he had been transport secretary 15 years ago with responsibility for HS2, then “I would have started in the North and moved south, I think that would have made sense”.

He went on: “The Northern Powerhouse Rail, the Midlands Connect – all of those did not exist when HS2 was first mooted, but we are where we are and it’s being built and we need to make sure we connect it all up and that’s what the Integrated Rail Plan intends to achieve.”

“The budget that’s been promised, £96bn, is about £30bn less than the previous plans and what we were being offered. That means real cuts on the eastern leg, real cuts to the new line across the Pennines through Bradford.”

He said it was now vital to ensure better connectivity between Leeds and Sheffield, as the North was “going to lose on that connectivity to the West Midlands and London”.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union Aslef, accused the government of using “smoke and mirrors” while breaking its promises.

“HS2 was meant to be a world-beater… instead, the Tories are letting us down,” he said.

“This government is a government of broken promises. It has announced Northern Powerhouse Rail an incredible 60 times – and I know because we’ve counted – and now it puts the project in the bin.”