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Politics

HS2: What is it and which bits have been scrapped?

After years of pledges and investment, the government U-turned on major HS2 plans, and also downgraded the Northern Powerhouse Rail line. Ministers are betraying millions of people, critics say.

The government is under fire for breaking its commitments to deliver High Speed 2 (HS2) and the Northern Powerhouse Rail line – which formed a major part of the “levelling up” agenda in the north of England

Construction began on HS2 a year ago and it promised to create tens of thousands of new jobs in northern cities, boost economies in deprived areas and cut regional inequality.

But only now are ministers admitting it will not serve the areas in the same way as promised.

After finally revealing details of the long-awaited Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), Boris Johnson was accused of “selling out” millions of people living across the north and has been criticised by his own backbenchers.

The project has been mired in controversy from the start. Here’s what you need to know about HS2, the Northern Powerhouse Rail and why the government is receiving so much criticism.

What is HS2?

The high-speed railway proposals were pitched as an environmentally-friendly solution to the poor public transport services between the UK’s major cities. It is part of the government’s levelling up pledge to boost economies and quality of life for people outside London.

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Plans were first given the green light in 2012, with the first phase set to link London to the West Midlands followed by more construction extending north.

The line will begin at London Euston and was promised to eventually connect Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Up to 18 trains per hour will run in each direction to and from London at speeds of around 220mph, and six new stations could be created as well as extensions for London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly.

Journey times are to be cut significantly, including changes from 86 to 51 minutes between Manchester and Birmingham and 86 to 58 minutes from London to Derby.

HS2 has been plagued by delays and soaring costs. Early estimates put the project price tag at £33bn, but recent analysis suggests it could top £100bn.

Which parts of HS2 are being scrapped?

The HS2 line will not extend to Leeds despite years of pledges and investment, transport secretary Grant Schapps said. As recently as February, the prime minister confirmed this section of track would be built.

​​Plans for the east-west Northern Powerhouse Rail – separate from HS2 – have also been downgraded. A new route through Bradford has been scrapped in favour of upgrades to the existing trans-Pennine line.

The government had promised the HS2 line would run from London to Birmingham, before splitting into two separate branches of track: one running north west to Manchester, including stops in Crewe and Wigan.

The other leg would extend north east to Leeds. But ministers have cancelled plans for this line, instead creating a much shorter high-speed route only as far as Toton, situated between Nottingham and Derby. HS2 trains will continue on to Sheffield but only on existing, upgraded tracks.

Schnapps said the track would not have reached the East Midlands and the north until the early 2040s under original plans, meaning “clearly a rethink was needed”. Instead, ministers will “remain open to future additions”, he added.

However, people are pointing out that the new plans aren’t scheduled to be delivered until the 2040s, either.

It means the journey between London to Leeds will take 113 minutes, 32 minutes longer than promised under original plans.

A western track linking Crewe and Manchester will go ahead. Critics said while shortened journey times would be welcome, the plans did nothing to address capacity issues in the area, which are the most pressing problem for people travelling around the north.

What are people saying about HS2?

Boris Johnson called it a “fantastic and monumental achievement and a great day for rail in this country” when unveiling the Integrated Rail Plan.

But the north “has been betrayed,” Keir Starmer said. The Labour leader said the government has “failed the first test of levelling up”.

Jim McMahon, Oldham MP and Labour’s shadow transport secretary, said: “We’re not going to accept crumbs off the table.

“There’s no amount of gloss, no amount of spin that can be put on this.”

The transport secretary “promised the north would not be forgotten,” McMahon said. “He hasn’t just forgotten us, he’s completely sold us out.

“What we’ve been given today is the Great Train Robbery. Robbing the north of its chance to realise its full potential. Robbing the next generation of the hope and the opportunity they are due. And robbing 15 million people across the north of the investment they’ve been denied for 11 years under this rotten government.”

Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, said that at the next election Conservative candidates will be telling voters: “We did you over last time. Please let us do you over again.”

It was not just opposition parties taking aim at the government.

Robbie Moore, a Conservative MP for Keighley, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the announcement.

“The Bradford district has been in my view completely short-changed. We are one of the most socially deprived parts of the UK and we must get better transport connectivity.”

Meanwhile Bob Seely, Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, said the government’s failure to stick to its pledges proved why ministers should be wary of “vanity projects”.

There will be “an economic price paid for generations” as a result of the revised plans, said Kevin Hollinrake, Tory MP for Thirsk and Malton.

The U-turn will impact job creation and pay both in the construction of the track and in the cities which would have benefited under original plans.

By scrapping the HS2 Leeds branch and Manchester to Leeds line, the government has “removed a lynchpin of the Northern Powerhouse,” said Frances O’Grady, general secretary for the Trades Union Congress.

But Boris Johnson defended the rethink.

“Some have demanded that we rigidly stick to the old plans, however long they take, however much they cost and whoever they leave behind,” the prime minister said.

“Some have pre-emptively denounced any departure from those plans as a betrayal of levelling up. But those who say those things are, in effect, condemning the North and the East Midlands to get nothing for ten years or more. Levelling up cannot wait that long.”

What is Northern Powerhouse Rail?

Ministers also promised a new high-speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds, running via Bradford, to improve capacity and make it easier to travel from east to west in the region.

This was in the winning Conservative manifesto in 2019. But the government has now scrapped the plans, pledging £96bn to upgrade existing routes instead, and said a through station in Bradford will now not feature in the project.

Instead, a high-speed track will only run between Manchester and Warrington to West Yorkshire – but not to Leeds.

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “Throwing money at 150-year-old tunnels towards Manchester because it will cost less is not Northern Powerhouse Rail.”

“What Northern leaders had proposed was an economically transformational vision. What we have is, as ever, second class.”

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