At such a critical time for the Leeds City Region and the Northern economies, the Government should publicly and quickly commit to build HS2East to Leeds at the same time as HS2West is built to Manchester. That is the message I was delighted MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum delivered loud and clear in letters to Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps MP, and to Sir John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission.
There are five compelling reasons why the Government should stick to the original plan and build both east and west legs by 2035, and certainly no later than the currently envisaged latest completion date of 2040.
First and foremost, every year that HS2 is delayed will cost the Leeds City Region’s economy £1.7 billion. Leeds and the wider City Region has already aligned its plans for economic growth and regeneration, skills and transport around HS2 and wider rail and public transport investment. Businesses, investors, educational and other stakeholders in the public and private sectors are already making decisions based on HS2’s arrival in the region with a projected £54bn economic gain. Failing to commit to its construction will critically undermine both investor confidence in our towns and cities and our ability to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Second, I agree with HS2 Minister, Andrew Stephenson MP, who recently told the Transport Select Committee that ‘we cannot delay work on our long-term plan to level-up the country’. The North will be hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis and therefore we need clarity and certainty from the Integrated Rail Plan. The Leeds City Region is key to unlocking the North’s economic recovery and must not be left behind.
That is why I am so concerned that whilst the Government has indicated it will bring forward legislation as soon as is practical on the Western leg of phase 2b into Manchester, but no timetable has been given for the legislation that would be required for the Eastern leg, known as HS2 East, which would link Leeds to Birmingham - and London - via the East Midlands and Sheffield.
Third, the economic benefits of the Eastern leg are in fact greater than those of the Western leg (cost to benefit ratio of 1:5.6 compared to 1:2.6). HS2 East will reshape the UK’s economic geography, bringing together the city regions centred on Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham and Birmingham into an economic zone larger than London – with over 13 million people, 6 million jobs and some of the UK’s most significant manufacturing and business clusters. HS2 is the only credible plan to address East Coast Main Line capacity for current and future generations on this route.
Fourth, the declaration of a climate emergency regionally and the Government’s national net zero target reinforce the case for HS2. The full route of HS2 will reduce car travel by 1.2 million miles every day, cutting carbon emissions by 40,000 tonnes and saving 18 million litres of petrol each year. The carbon emissions of 500 miles of travelling by HS2 is also equivalent to only 29 miles of air travel – providing a very credible alternative to domestic flights and journeys into north west Europe. If we are to stand a chance of creating a zero carbon economy whilst at the same time ensuring economic and social well-being across our communities, HS2 East and Northern Powerhouse Rail should be accelerated, not delayed.
Fifth and finally, the redevelopment of Leeds station to meet future demand and accommodate HS2 and NPR is key to the prosperity of Leeds City Region and to the North. Serving 34 million passengers per year, it is already the busiest transport hub in the North of England. The station has a vital role in linking to the local transport network, including bus services and sustainable travel and it will transform the Leeds, Leeds City Region, Northern and wider economy.
It is therefore vital that the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan for the Midlands and the North states categorically that HS2 east will be built concurrently with HS2 west; and that HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail will be delivered together with Midlands Engine Rail, along with the full Trans-Pennine Rail upgrade. In short, HS2 reaching Leeds at the same time as it arrives in Manchester is key to the future prosperity of Leeds City Region.
Cllr Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City council and Co-Chair of the HS2East Group