Cllr Lewis said the North "desperately needs" better connectivity. Credit: Leeds City Council

Leaders propose three-phase HS2 plan

Leeds City Council leader Cllr James Lewis is among civic figureheads calling for a high-speed rail rethink, promoting a plan costing roughly half the £15bn originally estimated for the eastern leg.

The report, commissioned by the HS2 East Group and led by consultancy SLC Rail, identifies a three-phase process to better connect the North East, Leeds, Sheffield, the East Midlands, Birmingham and London.

The three phases incrementally build on the proposals within the government’s Integrated Rail Plan published in November 2021.

With little progress made on HS2 since by a government struggling to deal with economic headwinds, the group has come up with a plan it estimates at just over £8bn, representing a saving of £7.4bn on the forecasted cost of delivering the full eastern leg of HS2 as initially proposed.

In a statement, Lewis and Nottinghamshire County Council leader Ben Bradley MP, said: “The North and Midlands desperately need the inter-city and inter-regional rail connectivity that will bolster our post-pandemic economic recovery and growth, better connecting our communities and bringing jobs and opportunities within easier reach.

“The Integrated Rail Plan will deliver major improvements to the overall national rail network, but it is the vital inter-city and inter-regional connections within the North and Midlands which will offer the greatest benefits to our communities in terms of economic uplift, along with encouraging use of sustainable travel and reducing our carbon impact.”

The three phases proposed:

Phase 1: Ahead of HS2 / Northern Powerhouse Rail: To be delivered immediately and into the mid 2030s, this has already been budgeted for in existing schemes so comes at no extra cost, said thew group. It would include completion of full Midland Main Line electrification, some new/increased/re-introduced services, including a second hourly fast Sheffield-Leeds service on the existing line. Also includes the addition of the infill electrification from Sheffield to Moorthorpe (South Kirkby) to connect with the East Coast Main Line to Leeds.

Phase 2: Deliver the missing gap: To be delivered between the late 2030s to early 2040s, these improvements would cost £4.1bn and would include the upgraded/new high speed rail line between Sheffield and Leeds along with a new T-shaped station in Leeds, including the delivery of the originally proposed HS2 route between Clayton Junction and Leeds to allow HS2 trains to be extended from Sheffield to Leeds, and an upgraded East Coast Main Line between Doncaster and Leeds and up to Newcastle as per the IRP.

Phase 3: Further increments: Envisioned for the late 2040s onwards and delivered at a cost of £4.1bn, this would include upgrading and electrifying the Erewash Valley line, upgrading Nottingham-Newark, and reopening the Leamside line to enable freight to be diverted off the East Coast Main Line.

Overall, the phases would deliver:

  • Faster journey times from Birmingham to Leeds and Birmingham to Sheffield, York and the North East.
  • Much improved connectivity between the West and East Midlands, Chesterfield, Sheffield, Leeds and the North East.
  • Increased capacity in Leeds station with the potential to transfer some local services into the new T-shaped station, improving performance across the country given the station’s key role in the national network.
  • Improved performance and journey times between Sheffield-Wakefield-Leeds services as a result of electrification.
  • Additional capacity on the East Coast Main Line, leading to improved journey times to the North East and increased capacity north of York for long distance and local services.
  • Improved journey time from the North East to London, as committed to in the IRP.
  • Clarity around safeguarded land. This includes the release of Chesterfield’s Staveley Depot site for development, clarity around safeguarded land in Leeds, removal of safeguarding between East Midlands Parkway and Clayton junction.
  • More flexible infrastructure to accommodate future services requirements.

Leaders of the HS2 East group – which is a body made up of the main authorities governing the key locations on the eastern leg of HS2 – have contacted government to discuss the study and seek agreement on how the proposals can be incorporated into the terms of reference for the Integrated Rail Plan Study looking at both Leeds’ station capacity and how to bring HS2 trains to the city.

The creation of a T-shaped station in Leeds, adding a spur for trains from the south in addition to the existing east-west oriented platforms, has long been a goal for the city.

As reported last week, Bradford’s hoped-for new station could also be revived after the Transport Committee ruled that the proposals had not been fully tested when put forward and rejected in 2021.

Cllrs Lewis and Bradley said: “By delivering these improvements in phases we can also realise the benefits sooner than the original proposals for HS2’s eastern leg, and we hope to work with government to discuss how we can achieve these for the benefit of the 13m people living in our regions.”

The full report can be accessed online.

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