News broke this week that legislation for the second phase of the UK’s new high-speed rail line will be delayed by a year, although completion is still expected by 2033.
The announcement this week from the Department for Transport (DfT) that phase two of construction of the £56bn HS2 rail line will be delayed by 12 months has been met by concern that it could be an indication of the government’s lack of commitment to transport funding in the north of the country.
While the first phase of HS2, which involves creating a high-speed link connecting London to Birmingham to reduce journey times between the two cities from 1 hour 21 minutes to just 49 minutes, is already well underway and due to be completed by 2026, Phase 2b – extending the line to Leeds and Manchester – is now expected to take an extra year to finalise.
Northern Powerhouse Rail upgrades
The reasons have been put down to allowing more time to focus on Northern Powerhouse Rail, a project being overseen by the newly created Transport for the North, that will see the East Coast Mainline upgraded and connected to the HS2 route.
A spokesman for DfT said: “In order to maximise the huge potential of HS2, it is important to make sure it takes full account of the emerging vision for the other transformative project of Northern Powerhouse Rail.
“Phase 2b of the railway will connect the great cities of the north to boost jobs, housing and economic growth, and remains on track to open in 2033.”
Northern Powerhouse Rail is expected to transform transport between some of the north’s key economic areas and cities, improving journey times, reliability and capacity. It will link Newcastle, Sheffield, Hull, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool as well as other areas – and this is why the government’s decision to focus on getting this aspect right as a priority over Phase 2b of HS2 could turn out to be a positive step towards transport improvements in the north.
Committed to the north?
However, the delay has prompted criticism of the government’s attitude towards the north of England.
Lilian Greenwood, Chair of the House of Commons Transport Committee, said: “It’s yet another potential delay to a large and complex transport infrastructure project and raises further doubts over the government’s commitment and willingness to invest in the Midlands and the north.
“Ultimately, this project was meant to be the ‘great economic conduit’ for the north and part of the plans to rebalance economic growth in this country. Without HS2 Phase 2b, the potential transformation to connectivity across the Midlands and to the great cities of the north and Scotland will be lost.”
Despite the delay in legislation, the government claims that the final deadline of 2033, when the full HS2 line was forecast to be complete, is still on track.