North East forgotten about as Ministers planned high speed rail scheme

Case for including North East on high speed line and trans-pennine link should have been considered years ago, say MPs

The potential HS2 train design
The potential HS2 train design

Failure to plan ahead meant the Government neglected the North in its plans to spend up to £50 billion on a new high speed rail line, a scathing report by MPs has warned.

Ministers failed to consider how major cities including Newcastle would share in the benefits from the network, MPs said.

They said Ministers should have asked at a much earlier stage whether new line, currently due to end at Leeds, should continue on to Scotland, which would probably mean passing through Newcastle.

Ministers launched an inquiry into this option in 2013 and no decisions have been made.

But plans to build the earlier stages, from London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester have been confirmed, and construction is due to begin in 2017.

The MPs also highlighted plans for a high speed line across the Pennines, based partly on proposals drawn up by Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield city councils which have now been largely accepted by the Government.

This line, known as HS3, should have been considered at a much earlier stage, the MPs said.

The conclusions come in a report by the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, which scrutinises public spending.

The MPs accused the Department for Transport of taking “a piecemeal approach to its rail investment, rather than considering what would benefit the system as a whole”.

Committee chair Margaret Hodge said: “Investment in major rail infrastructure programmes takes a long time and costs a lot of money. It is therefore hugely important to ask the right questions and make properly informed judgements on priorities.

Margaret Hodge MP
Margaret Hodge MP

“Yet the Government takes decisions without a clear strategic plan.”

MPs specifically accused Ministers of failing to take the needs of the North into account.

They said in their report: “Recent proposals for a railway connecting cities in the north of England - a possible High Speed 3 - suggest that the Department takes a piecemeal approach to its rail investment, rather than considering what would benefit the system as a whole and prioritising its investment accordingly.”

They added: “The Department acknowledged that one project can have an impact on other projects and routes, so it follows that programmes should be considered together. However, it did not provide a clear explanation for why an assessment of a high speed rail line between cities in the north of England (so-called High Speed 3) was not carried out before High Speed 2, to test whether improving connectivity in the north was a greater priority.

“We are also concerned that the Department continues to have a narrow geographical focus. For example, the Department is still to publish proposals for how Scotland will benefit from High Speed 2, including whether the route will be extended into Scotland.”

The MPs also revealed that HS2 Ltd, the business set up to manage the development and construction of the line, had told MPs that a study into whether to extend the line into Scotland had been delayed. A report had previously been expected in the summer.

The Committee, which has previously expressed doubts about the high speed rail project in general, also expressed further doubt about whether it offered good value for money.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “It is the role of the Public Accounts Committee to ask questions that major projects like HS2 need to address as they move from planning to delivery. This scrutiny is welcome. The report sets out some of those questions in detail and acknowledges that progress is being made.

“HS2 will have a transformational effect, rebalancing the economy and helping secure the UK’s future prosperity, providing high value for money to the taxpayer.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer