North England leaders respond to HS2 study terms of reference
Britain’s high-speed rail project, HS2, is currently under construction between the west of London and Birmingham. Despite the UK government significantly reducing the scope of the project, and cancelling the section that would have served the northern cities of Sheffield and Leeds, a new study is on the table. The joint response from civic leaders in the major cities potentially served is upbeat: there is renewed hope that high-speed trains might reach the north, in some capacity at least.
Not quite an outline of any plans, but the UK government has published a ‘terms of reference document’, basically saying what can and cannot be said when studying ways to bring HS2 to Leeds and Sheffield, or not. Leaders and Chief Executives of Sheffield City Council and Leeds City Council have jointly welcomed the publication, if for no other reason than to maintain the pressure on the government in London, and ensure that the promise of raising the performance of the regional economy through the policy of “levelling up” is delivered, even if the brand new high-speed rails don’t ever reach their cities.
Current rail connectivity is significantly behind
Councillors Tom Hunt and James Lewis, and Kate Josephs and Tom Riordan, Leaders and Chief Executives of Sheffield City Council and Leeds City Council, welcomed the publication of the terms of reference for the study. The intention of the study is to explore how to bring high-speed rail services to Leeds via Sheffield and the East Midlands. It is undoubtedly a response to the withering derision poured upon the government in London for cancelling the so-called “Eastern Leg” of HS2.
“High-speed rail will create a globally-competitive economic corridor between our two cities, providing jobs and opportunities across our towns and communities, removing congestion from our roads, and encouraging the shift to lower-carbon travel”, said Councillor Tom Hunt, the leader of Sheffield City Council.“Our current rail connectivity is significantly behind that of other UK neighbouring cities and does not befit the size of our combined economy, so we remain concerned by the reference to high-speed connectivity to [Sheffield and] Leeds solely via the west as a suggested option, or any option that fails to connect our two cities.”
Further projects may be considered
The HS2 to Leeds study was announced in the government’s “Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands“, said a UK government statement, referring to the extensive document published in late 2021, in the wake of the cancellation of the ‘HS3 project’ to build a dedicated high-speed line connecting the chain of northern cities in England. “It will consider how best to run HS2 to Leeds, assessing optimal solutions for capacity at Leeds station, and support work on the West Yorkshire mass transit system. The study will be undertaken by Network Rail [the government’s infrastructure agency] with support from HS2 Limited and is expected to take two years to complete.”
In the Integrated Rail Plan, the government accepted the recommendation of an ‘adaptive approach’ by the independently appointed National Infrastructure Commission. Government sources explained that this means further projects beyond the core pipeline may be considered in the future should they be delivered on budget. This depends on demand and how economic growth recovers and on the complementary investments being made in areas such as skills. In other words: all good, but no promises that anything will actually happen. Northern leaders continue to keep the pressure on.