Widespread Dismay over National Infrastructure Commission HS2 Proposals

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has published a report commissioned by the government entitled Rail Needs Assessment for the Midlands and the North.

The report presents five different packages that sit within three different budgets for Government to consider.

Two of the packages that go beyond the baseline budget propose prioritising regional rail links to the detriment of the completion of the full HS2 Phase 2b route, which would take the high-speed line from Birmingham to Leeds via the East Midlands Hub.

HS2 Phase 2b map

HS2 Phase 2b map

Policymakers and rail experts in the region have expressed dismay at these proposals. The central issue of this argument is not about the figures – what can be bought for how much – but a feared underinvestment in the Midlands and the North to the detriment of both the people of the region and wider decarbonisation plans.

The report does not suggest any particular rail infrastructure programmes are not worthwhile per se – it merely offers different priorities depending on investment level. A further option would be to increase the amount of investment in order to fully deliver all of the proposed schemes so that the levelling up and green mobility agendas can be met in full.

The report notes that even the highest budget is insufficient to deliver all of the schemes proposed for the Midlands and the North. HS2 (incl. Phase 1 and 2a), Northern Powerhouse Rail, the Transpennine Route Upgrade, Midlands Engine Rail, as well as other upgrades such as decarbonisation and digital signalling efforts in the region would amount to 140–185 billion GBP in 2019/20 prices between now and 2045.

Maria Machancoses, Director, Midlands Connect, said:

“Some of the options in this report are very concerning. Sacrificing parts of the high-speed network now would short-change millions of people across the Midlands and undermine our efforts to deliver a transport network fit for the 21st Century. HS2 must be delivered in its entirety, including its eastern leg from Birmingham to Leeds. To stall, scale down or delay now will cause irreparable economic damage to communities.”

 

She went on to express her disappointment over what she called the NIC’s moving goalposts:

Maria Machancoses:

“The report was commissioned to examine how HS2's Eastern Leg should be delivered, and how it could best be integrated with the wider network, not whether it should be delivered at all. The Midlands needs both HS2 and Midlands Engine Rail, we will now work with Government to make sure that happens.”

 

The High-Speed Rail Group recently published a report entitled HS2 Midlands Voices on why HS2’s Eastern Leg was central to the country’s levelling up agenda.

Lilian Greenwood, MP for Nottingham South and former Chair of the Transport Select Committee, said:

“This report is an insult to the people of the East Midlands, whose interests have once again been cast aside by Westminster; this time at the hands of the National Infrastructure Commission.

“Downgrading the Eastern Leg of HS2, as suggested in this report, is completely unacceptable, and will condemn a generation, not only to a second class railway, but to a second class future – one blighted by economic inequality and a lack of social mobility.”

 

The Budgets & Packages

Baseline Budget: 86 Billion GBP

This budget is described as “a fiscal envelope consistent with the rail spending in the Midlands and the North proposed in the National Infrastructure Assessment’s fiscal remit table”.

Package 1

  • The package in this budget focuses on upgrades: the completion of the western leg of HS2 Phase 2b (from Crewe to Wigan and Manchester), and upgrading existing mainlines (incl. ECML and MML). The estimated capital cost of this is 44 billion GBP.

A 25 Percent Plus Budget: 108 Billion GBP

This budget “assumes the money available for rail spending is 25 percent higher than in the baseline scenario”.

Package 2

  • Prioritising regional rail links option 1: through major upgrades and some new line on the Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds corridor, addressing the bottleneck between Leeds and York and improving links to Bradford.
    A new high-speed line from Birmingham to the East Midlands with direct services to Nottingham, upgrades to the MML and ECML, better links to Birmingham Airport and other improvements in the Midlands through the Midlands Rail Hub in line with the 25 percent plus budget (capital costs estimated at 69 billion GBP).

Package 3

  • Prioritising long-distance links option 1: a focus on delivering the full HS2 Phase 2b to improve long-distance links; completing the Transpennine Route Upgrade between Leeds and Manchester; Midlands Connect schemes to make use of the eastern leg of HS2 in line with the 25 percent plus budget (capital costs estimated at 68 billion GBP).

A 50 Percent Plus Budget: 129 Billion GBP

The third budget “assumes the money available for rail spending is 50 percent higher than in the baseline scenario”.

Package 4

  • Prioritising regional rail links option 2: new lines on the Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds corridor, which will serve Bradford too. Increased capacity between Leeds and Newcastle; upgrading the Manchester-Sheffield line; a new line into Leeds; upgrades to the Erewash Valley route and MML; a new high-speed line from Birmingham to the East Midlands, better links to Birmingham Airport; improvements in the Midlands through the Midlands Rail Hub in line with the 50 percent plus budget (estimated capital costs 92 billion GBP).

Package 5

  • Prioritising long-distance links option 2: HS2 Phase 2b in full; all the other schemes in Package 3; and additional tracks to the Transpennine Route Upgrade between York and Manchester; upgrading connections and capacity from York to Newcastle, and Manchester to Liverpool; and building the Midlands Rail Hub in line with the 50 percent plus budget.

The government will now consider these recommendations before publishing its Integrated Rail Plan in early 2021.

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