North East Devolution and Levelling Up
Penshaw Monument

MPs re-open debate over high-speed rail

A cross-party committee of MPs is pressing the government to act urgently in reconsidering  its decision last year not to extend high-speed rail from Birmingham to Leeds (HS2b) and to think again about its downgrading of Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) improvements across the Pennines between Manchester and Leeds.

‘We welcome the government’s pledge to look at how the eastern leg of HS2 might be constructed in full to Leeds as originally planned; the city is a key focal point not only of existing rail networks, but of economic value and potential in the north’ says a report published today by the House of Commons Transport Select Committee.

‘The government must conduct its study on how best to take HS2 to Leeds urgently. We ask that a timetable for this work, including a firm date for the final report, be published by September 2022. This is essential for demonstrating that the commitment made to Leeds for high speed connections will be fulfilled.’

Extending HS2 to Leeds would provide a link to the national high-speed network from Newcastle via Darlington and York.

The committee also wants the government to look again at options for NPR in the Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds corridor in order to support its levelling up agenda.

‘It is crucial that the government bases its decisions on how to spend this investment on the fullest possible evidence for what will bring the greatest overall benefit to rail services, to the economy, to the environment and to communities across the north and Midlands,’ says the committee.

‘The failure to calculate an updated benefit-cost ratio (BCR) raises questions over whether the case for changes to the HS2 eastern leg have been properly assessed. It is concerning that the government would make a decision on such an important infrastructure project before having done the BCR calculations to fully understand and substantiate that decision.’

The MPs add: ‘Without having completed a full analysis of the wider economic impacts, it is difficult to see how the government has fully assessed the levelling-up agenda and the case for different NPR options. Leaving out these key elements of analysis means that the value for money and economic return cannot be compared and validated.’

‘The government’s levelling up agenda’ say the MPs, ‘commits it to ending geographical inequality in the UK. However, by underserving the rail needs of the north of England it is letting down those who require change the most. Upgrading lines will undoubtedly bring modest benefits to rail services in the north and Midlands, but not to the transformative extent necessary to end regional imbalances.’