Politicians and business people say anything other than delivering high speed rail in full would be ‘deeply damaging’ to the North and the Midlands, and seriously undermine the government’s flagship ‘levelling up’ agenda.
They spoke out after the National Infrastructure Commission published its Rail Needs Assessment which said the focus should be on linking cities in the North and Midlands first.
It did not ‘rule out’ the completion of HS2 through the Midlands and Yorkshire to Leeds.
But campaigners fear the eastern leg will be kicked into the long grass and eventually wither due to other pressures on government funding.
In a joint statement Dan Jarvis, Metro Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council and Kay Cutts, leader of Nottinghamshire County Council said: “We are hugely disappointed by the publication of the Rail Needs Assessment today.
"Let us be clear: the alternative options put forward by the National Infrastructure Commission would be deeply damaging to the North and the Midlands, and would seriously damage attempts to close the divide between London and the South East and the rest of England.”
The National Infrastructure Commission states £86bn now only provides enough for upgrades and some new lines, which is ‘unlikely to meet the strategic objective of levelling up in the North and the Midlands’.
And it said the Transpennine Route Upgrade, Midland Main Line electrification and some Midlands Engine Rail schemes, could be done earlier as work is underway already.
Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said: “Major rail schemes will be an important component in levelling up the country’s economic geography, but we should ensure public money is carefully spent where it can make the most difference.
“The number and scale of rail schemes currently being proposed for the North and Midlands mean that some form of prioritisation will be necessary, and we think there are ways of bringing forward benefits for communities and businesses while keeping options open for additional investments if the circumstances are right.
“Our independent analysis offers government various ways of targeting spending depending on the precise economic and social outcomes it wants to achieve.”