‘Make no mistake, this is a job half done’: Fears for economy as eastern leg of HS2 falls by the wayside
WINNERS AND LOSERS AS GOVERNMENT UNVEILS MAJOR SHAKE-UP OF ITS RAIL PLANS
THE eastern leg of HS2 has been scrapped and will only go as far as East Midlands Parkway, the government has announced.
Reports had already suggested that plans for the eastern leg, to run from Birmingham through Leicestershire and Nottingham, then continuing to Sheffield and Leeds, were to be watered down.
Confirming the rethink, the government is pinning its hopes on a new rail investment plan designed to be cheaper and quicker to implement than HS2.
Market Harborough is set to benefit massively from the changes, as it will be receiving a fully electrified rail system between the town and Kettering under the electrification of the Midland Main Line.
However, the decision to abandon the eastern leg was heavily criticised by the head of East Midlands Chamber, who said it was a “job half done”.
Under the new plans, HS2 will only go as far as East Midlands Parkway, ignoring Sheffield and Leeds.
The proposed East Midlands hub at Toton would be scrapped and it would instead be based next to the Leicestershire border.
The government says its £96 billion Integrated Rail Plan will deliver journey times that are the same as, similar to, or faster than the original HS2 and Leeds/Manchester routes, while doubling or trebling capacity and delivering the changes faster.
According to the government, the plan will also deliver pricecapped integrated ticketing with local buses and trams. Also proposed is a £360 million fare reform, along with 700 contactless ticketing stations based across the country. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “If we are to see levelling up in action now, we must rapidly transform the services that matter to people most.
“That’s why the Integrated Rail Plan will be the biggest transport investment programme in a century, delivering meaningful transport connections for more passengers across the country, more quickly – with both high-speed journeys and better local services, it will ensure no town or city is left behind.” The chief executive of East Midlands Chamber, Scott Knowles, said: “It’s not just a case of what we could have had. Investment begets investment and the fact that the western leg has been given the green light places the East Midlands at a massive disadvantage.
“It risks further widening the EastWest gap that is emerging alongside the more widely commented upon North-South divide.
“Of course, the proposed improvements within the Integrated Rail Plan, along with the long-needed electrification of the Midland Main Line, are positive developments.
“But these were always a part of our wider vision for HS2 in the East Midlands and electrification was promised many years ago – and has itself been the subject of multiple government flip-flops over the past decade.
“As the Prime Minister himself has said, it should not be an either/or situation. We need these developments alongside HS2 to achieve the full benefits for the region.
“Because, make no mistake, this is a job half done. This has always been so much more than just a transport investment for the communities of the East Midlands and no matter how this is now spun, our joint vision that encompassed economic, environmental and societal benefits has been massively descoped.
“At a time when the Prime Minister is shouting from the rooftops about levelling up and saying no place will be left behind, this is a slap in the face to a region that already receives the lowest level of public expenditure on transport and economic affairs in the UK.”
The MP for Harborough, Neil O’Brien, has welcomed the new electric line to be installed between the town and Kettering.
He said: “I’ve been campaigning for full electrification of the line for years, alongside the leader of Harborough District Council, Councillor Phil King.
“Electrification will make trains faster, quieter and cleaner across the whole of the Midland Main Line. You won’t have to walk through a fog of diesel fumes at St Pancras any more, and the trains will be quieter as they come through Market Harborough, Great Bowden, Kibworth, Newton Harcourt and Wigston.
“Alongside the improvements to Market Harborough Station that I’ve recently been pressing Network Rail and East Midlands Railway to make, the overall experience of local rail users should improve considerably.
“I appreciate how important these services are to my constituents who use the station and trains either for work to commute into London, or Leicester in particular. And it is a big and welcome step towards the country going green as well.
“Making this investment will enable us to get the most out of the hitech new trains that are being built for us at the moment.
“And it complements the other major investments that are being made to speed up journeys between the East and West Midlands too.”
Market Harborough is set to benefit massively from the changes under the electrification of the Midland Main Line