Ministers plan to bring high speed rail north as they look for support

Proposals to speed up construction of the HS2 line in the North of England will be presented next month

HS2
An artist's impression of how the HS2 national high speed rail link could look

A bid to win support for the controversial high speed rail line by bringing forward construction in the North is to be launched by the Government next month.

Plans for 225mph services linking the North with Birmingham, currently due to be up and running by 2032, will be dramatically bought forward.

The aim is to convince voters and business leaders in the North and Midlands that the line, known as HS2, will benefit them.

Under the current plans, services between London and Birmingham are due to be constructed first, while the North has to wait.

But Ministers revealed that Sir David Higgins, the newly-appointed chairman of HS2, will present recommendations for speeding up construction in the North in March.

They made the announcement in a response to a report by the Commons Transport Committee, which has urged Ministers to ensure the northern sections of the line are built first.

The Department for Transport said Sir David was considering “how to deliver the extra capacity HS2 will bring as quickly as possible to relieve pressure on commuters and provide increased connectivity for towns and cities in the Midlands and the North”, including how project delivery can be brought forward.

The high speed line will run north as far as Leeds and then connect with the existing East Coast Main Line just south of York, with trains continuing at conventional speeds to Darlington and Newcastle.

However, Ministers insist it will benefit Newcastle, with journey times from Newcastle to London cut from two hours 52 minutes to two hours 18 minutes, while journey times to Birmingham will be cut from three hours 14 minutes to two hours and seven minutes.

The line will also free up capacity on the East Coast Main Line allowing new services to run, including urgently-needed freight services.

Northumberland MP Sir Alan Beith, who has previously expressed doubts about HS2’s benefit to the North East, said bringing forward construction of the northern section could strengthen the case for the line.

The Lib Dem MP said: “I’m concerned that the way we are going about it is not likely to benefit the regions that most need help, unless real active steps are taken to link the North East in particular with the high speed network. We much continue to improve the East Coast Main Line as well.

“HS2 starts to have value to the North East if trains are running continuously at high speed up to Leeds, and are continuing at reasonably good speeds onwards from Leeds up to the North East.

“We only get value out of it if that happens at a relatively early stage in the process.

“If HS2 runs for some years as something that goes no further north than Birmingham then that’s not going to benefit the North East.”

HS2 Director General David Prout told business leaders in Tyneside last month that they must continue to back the line and push for extensions to Newcastle and on to Scotland, saying: “The North East as a whole is big enough to understand that in order to bring benefits to the region you have to get within striking distance.”

The North East Chamber of Commerce also backs the line, arguing the UK rail network needs more capacity.

But the project has encountered staunch opposition, with critics claiming it will damage the North East’s economy by encouraging skilled workers to move to London.

Iain Macauley, of HS2 Action Alliance, said: “For Newcastle, HS2 is the worst thing that could happen anyway: if it goes ahead, it will simply be the start of the escape tunnel for people who want to get to London and the bright lights of opportunity - after all, the Centre for Cities report says London is creating jobs at 10 times the rate of just about anywhere else in the country.

“Result? Loss of talent and jobs from the North East, potential house price crash in the regions and a housing shortage in the South East.”

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