The government is facing criticism from small businesses and rail unions over plans to overhaul the designs for HS2.
Transport Secretary Grant Schapps will tomorrow announce changes to the planned HS2 rail routes between major cities in the North and Midlands as part of the government’s £96bn “Integrated Rail Plan.” The rumoured redesign has drawn ire from industry groups after it was widely reported that the government will scrap the Birmingham-Leeds leg of HS2 in favour of alternative routes.
“Confirmation that a significant section of HS2 is not going ahead will come as a big disappointment to small firms right across the country which were banking on its delivery,” said Mike Cherry, national chairman of the federation of small businesses.
“Fundamentally, we need guarantees that the investment being promised will deliver the same benefits as the original plans where passenger and freight capacity are concerned,” Cherry added in anticipation of the government’s announcement.
In a pre-announcement the Department for Transport confirmed plans to introduce routes from London across the Pennines, to deliver journey times which the government claims will be the same as, similar to or faster than the original HS2 and Leeds-Manchester proposals. A total of £360m will be allocated for London-style contactless ticketing across commuter rail networks.
Grant Schapps framed the new plans as a redesign of original plans for the Eastern leg of HS2. “The Integrated Rail Plan is designed to deliver for everyone, much sooner than under previous plans for rail schemes drawn up a decade ago, which no longer fit the way we travel today,” he said.
However, rail unions questioned the government’s commitment to its levelling up agenda. Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, said “this government is not levelling up – as it has repeatedly promised to do – but levelling down. This is not the green, efficient, modern railway of the future we were promised.”
“They have tried today to claim their new plans will deliver comparable benefits more quickly and cheaply. But that’s not true,” he continued.
Rail Union RMT described the government’s anticipated U-turn on the planned HS2 routes as a “great northern rail betrayal.”
“Cancelling these absolutely vital rail projects is not just a kick in the teeth for the people of the North that have been promised mass rail investment for decades,” said RMT general secretary Mike Lynch.