United Kingdom

MPs warn scrapping HS2's Leeds leg 'could wreck pledge to level up UK' and anger 'Red Wall' voters

Business leaders last night slammed the Government after it emerged that work on the eastern leg of the HS2 rail scheme has been shelved.

Ministers are understood to have quietly ordered HS2 Limited to halt planning work on the route, to Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds, over fears about soaring costs. 

Instead, construction will focus solely on the western leg, to Manchester.

But bosses in the East Midlands and the North told The Mail on Sunday that abandoning the eastern route threatened to undermine Boris Johnson's Election pledge to 'level up' the entire economy.

The Prime Minister was also warned voters in 'Red Wall' constituencies would be furious.

The Prime Minister was warned voters in 'Red Wall' constituencies would be furious at the idea of the Leeds leg being shelved (Pictured: PM Boris Johnson on site of a part of HS2)

Mark Reynolds, chief executive of giant construction firm Mace, said: 'By failing to deliver the entirety of the HS2 route, we risk losing out on improvements to the vital links between our regions and thousands of jobs and growth in the areas that need it most.'

Mark Goldstone, of the West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: 'It's time for the Prime Minister to be honest with communities and businesses across the North about what his intentions for levelling up actually mean. 

'HS2 is a key component of wider infrastructure plans.'

The HS2 eastern leg was set to link the first phase of the project – a rapid rail line from London to Birmingham – with Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds. 

Initially, phase two was set to extend the line from Birmingham to Manchester via Crewe – the so-called western leg. 

Florence - the largest ever tunnel boring machine used on a UK rail project - was unveiled in May this year

The Leeds line would run through the east Midlands and through Nottingham and Sheffield

A separate route would then have been created from Birmingham to Leeds via an East Midlands hub.

The eastern leg, which Ministers call 'phase 2b', is now expected to be mothballed amid concerns about costs: scrapping the expansion would slash billions off the bill. 

The total cost of HS2 has risen from £32.7 billion when the project was approved in 2012 to £107.7 billion.

Maria Machancoses, chief executive of Midlands Connect, said: 'The eastern leg of HS2 is an essential part of the high-speed rail network and must go ahead in full. 

'If this Government is going to deliver on promises to level up, it must invest in those communities that have historically been left behind.'

A spokesman for the CBI, which represents 190,000 businesses, said: 'As the Government looks to build back better after Covid-19, delivery of HS2 in its entirety will be more relevant than ever. 

An artist's impression of the HS2 train on the Birmingham and Fazeley viaduct 

'The construction phases alone will create thousands of jobs and deliver social value in some of the areas of the country hardest hit by the economic impact of Covid-19.'

Businesses called for the Government to publish the much-delayed Integrated Rail Plan, which is expected to reveal intentions for a string of projects including HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Midlands Rail Hub.

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Rail Industry Association, said: 'We need publication as soon as possible. 

'If we are to level up all parts of the UK, it is essential HS2 is delivered in its entirety.'

Ex-Treasury Minister Lord O'Neill, vice chair of the Northern Powerhouse Group, said: 'Given what was said by Boris in the Election campaign about levelling up, sidelining these projects would be taking a big political risk.'

A Department for Transport spokesman said: 'The Integrated Rail Plan will soon outline exactly how major rail projects, including HS2 phase 2b and other projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, will work together to deliver the services passengers deserve.' 

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