The final day of the Conservative Party Conference saw the Prime Minister announce that the northern leg of HS2 would be scrapped, following much rumour over the course of the last few weeks. Accompanying the announcement, the Prime Minister did state however that the funding will be reinvested into major projects to enhance transport in England’s North and Midlands.
The North West of England will see £19.8 billion worth of transport investment, as part of plans to redirect the savings from the scrapping of HS2 into projects that will benefit “more people, in more places, quicker.” This investment comes as part of the Network North plan, aiming to improve journey times, increase capacity and provide more frequent, reliable transport services.
Links between Liverpool and Manchester will benefit from £12 billion of funding to support the delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), whilst a further £3 billion will be ringfenced for transport between Hull, Leeds, Sheffield, and Manchester. This will not only help deliver faster and more frequent rail services but will also bring Hull into the Northern Powerhouse Rail project, upgrade and electrify the line between Leeds and Sheffield, as well as upgrading the route between Manchester and Sheffield. The nine biggest cities in the North will also be connected via fast, electric services several times an hour.
Bradford will also be given a new through station, with this combining with a line linking to the NPR route near Huddersfield. Alongside this development, Bradford will benefit from faster links to Manchester, with proposals stating that the journey time could decrease to 30 minutes, as well as decreased journey times to Huddersfield.
Capacity across Yorkshire is set to be doubled, as is frequency of service, with the ability to deliver an additional 1,000 seats per hour.
The North East will benefit from the same funding allocation as the North West, with this being used to deliver new stations, reopen railway lines, and revitalise roads to strengthen transport links. This will support economic growth and deliver jobs.
Projects that will come as part of the work in the North East include dualling a section of the A1 between Morpeth and Ellingham, as well as £460 million to ensure that 21 smaller road projects across the North are delivered – this includes the Blyth relief road and the Shipley bypass. As well as new road plans, old railway stations that were closed through the Beeching reforms of the 1960s are to be reopened, as well as building a new station at Ferryhill in County Durham, with this helping to connect communities.
Whilst Yorkshire has been involved in some of the wider Northern plans, the Yorkshire and the Humber region will be given an allocation equal to that of the North East and West regions. £2.5 billion of the £19.8 billion investment will be used to fund a mass-transit system for West Yorkshire, with this helping to further Leeds’ European status. Currently, Leeds is the largest city in Europe without a mass-transit system however this will change as a project to deliver up to seven lines that will link Leeds further to Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, and Wakefield. Similarly to plans in the North East, stations closed during the Beeching reforms are to be reopened, with this bringing the restoration of the Don Valley Line running between Stocksbridge and Sheffield Victoria. New stations will also be constructed at Haxby, Waverley and on the Don Valley Line.
Whilst the decision to redirect funding into northern transport connections shows promise, some northern mayors have been proactive in their support for the northern leg of the high-speed rail project, this has led to anger and disappointment among many in the North. Speaking on Sky News following yesterday’s announcement, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, said:
“There’s a world of difference between a transport plan patched together in hotel rooms at a party conference with no input or consultation with northern leaders or Mayor, and a transport plan that has been worked on for years with northern leaders and mayors.”
Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, released a statement on her X account relating to the scrapping of the Northern leg of HS2, saying:
“This is yet another betrayal of the North which will punish passengers and businesses alike.
“As we have found with this government, the devil is in the detail and we can’t take them at their word.
“Northern transport investment requires long-term planning and conversations with local leaders who know their areas best.”
As part of a statement released on his X account, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, who was said to have considered resigning over the cancelation of HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester, said that “the West Midlands must be at the heart of the UKs modern transport network, and reap all the benefits that will bring. The Prime Minister has today reached out to work with me to make that happen, and to turn my back on that offer would be doing a great disservice to my region.
“I know this decision will make me deeply unpopular in some circles, and indeed many wanted me to resign and make a statement against my arty. But I have always said that I would place before party and his government to continue the revival of the West Midlands is doing exactly that.”
The West Midlands funding that Andy Street referred to follows along similar lines to that seen in the North, however HS2 will still be running between Birmingham and London Euston. This will help to slash the journey times between the two cities to around 49 minutes, whilst also adding further capacity to the West Coast Main Line.
Following the cancellation of the northern leg of HS2, £9.6 billion will be allocated to the West Midlands, with £1.75 billion of this being used to deliver the Midlands Rail Hub. The hub will help to accelerate journey times, increase capacity, as well as increasing the frequency of services across the region. More than 50 stations will see the benefits of this, as seven million people are served by stations such as Cheltenham, Gloucester, Derby, and Worcester.
Alongside the transport hub, services on most of the routes in the region will increase by between 50% and 100%, as trains on the Birmingham Cross-city line will schedule to every 10 minutes thanks to a turn-up-and-go service. The number of trains running between Birmingham and Leicester are also to double from two an hour, to four. Additional trains are also projected between Birmingham and Bristol, whilst Bromsgrove is set to benefit from an additional three services per hour.
For areas in the Midlands that are not within the Mayoral Combined Authority areas, £2.2 billion will be allocated to significantly improve local transport, with rural counties and smaller cities across the West and East Midlands set to benefit. Funding can contribute to smaller buses that are more suited to rural areas, as well as greener bus fleets and new or refurbished railway stations.
The newly created East Midlands Combined Authority will also benefit from £1.75 billion regional rail hub, with journey times on the East Coast Main Line set to reduce. Road improvements are also expected across the Midlands in general, with nearly £650 million being contributed to the Midlands Road Fund. This fund will look to launch new road schemes, including cutting congestion on a number of routes, with some ensuring that freight around some of the most major local employers has a smoother journey around the region.
Despite major funding being given to some of the regions that would have benefitted hugely from the deliver of HS2, it remains to be seen how effective the new plans will be. Long-term planning of these schemes ensures that better value for money is delivered for communities and businesses alike, something that all three of the Mayors who were so stoic in their backing for HS2 alluded to.
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