HS2 uncertainty is a kick in the teeth for Leeds
New research shows residents of the north of England city of Leeds believe the UK government’s ability to handle major infrastructure projects is inadequate. They say the city is falling behind other comparable regions in the south of England.
The focus groups, undertaken by Field Research on behalf of the High Speed Rail Group, a professional association representing companies with experience and an interest in high-speed rail, were commissioned following the publication of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan which cancelled the building of the “Eastern Leg” of Britain’s High Speed Rail project, HS2, and effectively cut several cities in the north of England out of the picture, including Leeds.
On top of lengthy delays to the HS2 project, the UK government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) confirmed that the full “Eastern Leg” of the will not now proceed to Leeds, but instead committed to an options study to look at how HS2 could eventually reach the city.Despite the promise, the research shows Leeds’ residents are deeply cynical about major infrastructure projects as a result of “regular over-promising and under-delivery” from the government in London. Despite a stated aim of “levelling-up” the economic imbalance, which favours the South East, the results of the focus group survey show that participants felt there is still a strong North-South divide when it came to transport investment, and many viewed that: “It should be the number one priority for Government” to connect up, and address the divide.
Largest city in Europe without mass transport
In the face of spiralling costs and delays, the government has made significant cut backs to the HS2 project. An indefinite delay has been placed on the Euston terminal in London, and doubts remain over when, if ever, the line will extend north from Birmingham to Manchester. However, the so-called “Eastern Leg”, which would have directly served Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield and Leeds has been dropped entirely. From the point of view of the West Yorkshire city, the exclusion of Leeds from the HS2 project is perceived to be indicative of a wider disregard for Leeds and the North. Participants in a focus group highlighted the government’s inability to deliver on promises made to northern towns and cities and few expressed surprise regarding the plans to limit HS2’s reach to Leeds, arguing: “It wasn’t surprising, but what a kick in the teeth for the North when they said HS2 wouldn’t reach Leeds.”
Not only did participants feel as though there is a divide between comparable cities in the South, but they also noticed the stark difference between rail services in the UK and other European countries. These views are only supported by the fact Leeds is the largest city in Europe without a mass transport system – various tram and metro schemes have been rejected over the years, and the existing heavy rail infrastructure is a shadow of the former network that served the city. The study found the majority of participants relied on driving as their primary mode of
transportation, expressing a reluctance to switch to public transport due to concerns about its reliability and inadequate services. Some participants drew a contrast with transport services in the South, and suggested the disparity is symbolic of broader economic issues.
Government rhetoric stacked against
Leeds is becoming an outlier in public transport provision argues the research for the High Speed Rail Group. “With encouraging modal shift away from our congested roads and towards rail widely accepted as being pivotal to meeting the UK’s decarbonisation goals, the exclusion of HS2 from Leeds risks reinforcing the city’s dependency on cars”, says the report. “Our findings show the impact delays to HS2, and the wider lack of transport investment in Yorkshire, has had on those in the region”, added a High Speed Rail Group comment. “The way to get HS2 back on track is for politicians to recognise HS2 for what it is: a vital increase in green transport network capacity for the century ahead. This research sends a clear message that without significant investment in transport across the North, and in high-speed rail, those in the region expect they will continue to fall further behind the rest of the UK, and Europe.”
The report concludes that high-speed rail is one of the best ways to drive meaningful economic growth in the North. “We call on the Government to commit to delivering HS2 to Leeds and invest in a truly national high speed rail network”, says the report. “The cheapest way to deliver HS2 and garner its expected boost to the national economy is quickly.” However, with the weight of government rhetoric stacked against the point, it seems that Leeds will miss out. Then again, a series of u-turns have been the most unlikely of manoeuvres performed by the UK government at the helm of HS2.