George Osborne is expected to promise almost £300m for road and rail improvements in his Budget today – after a report he commissioned warned the North needs ‘immediate’ transport investment to unlock its economic potential.
The cash will help develop plans for high-speed trans-Pennine rail services between city centres – dubbed ‘HS3’ – and a trans-Pennine tunnel between Manchester and South Yorkshire.
The Chancellor asked the National Infrastructure Commission to look at transport projects to transform the North’s economy.
In its report, the commission says fast trains between city centres are key to a ‘high speed north’ – and HS2 should be used to help create the network to enhance connectivity between Leeds and Sheffield.
It adds: ‘Route decisions on the northern sections of HS2, to be announced later this year, should support enhanced high-speed connections.’
Commission chairman Lord Adonis said: “A better connected north will be better for jobs, better for families and better for Britain. The work should begin as quickly as possible.”
The news is a boost to campaigners, including The Star, calling for an HS2 station in Sheffield city centre – a switch from the Government’s choice of Meadowhall.
Figures from HS2 Ltd show it would create 6,500 more jobs.
Sheffield city council leader Coun Julie Dore welcomed the NIC report, saying it threw further weight behind the campaign.
She said: “It puts forward a lot of the points we have been arguing for a long time. The 30-minute city-centre-to-city-centre connectivity for Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester, will be transformational to our economy, delivering the crucial links we need between our major cities.
“The Leeds HS2 station location has been reviewed to take account of HS3 and connecting our city centres – that’s exactly what we need for Sheffield as well.
“Not only is there an overwhelming economic case for an HS2 city centre station, but it essential for delivering HS3 to link Sheffield city centre with cities across the North of England.”
A trans-Pennine tunnel is seen as a key part of improving east-west transport links which are hampered by the Peak District National Park.
A feasibility study has shown it would be possible to build a road and rail tunnel under the narrowest section, along the route of the Woodhead Pass between Glossop and the moors above Barnsley.
Of the £300m funding boost, some £75m is set to be earmarked for developing the trans-Pennine tunnel plans.
Penistone MP Angela Smith, whose constituency covers part of the Woodhead road and rail routes, has campaigned for the last decade for improved cross-Pennine links.
She said: “These announcements should be welcomed, and I would like to congratulate the Chancellor and the government for responding to the long-running campaign I, and many local groups, have fought for a long-term sustainable solution to bringing the city regions of Sheffield and Manchester closer together.
“We need to make sure these major infrastructure improvements designed to bring the north’s road and rail capacity into the 21st century are built before that century ends.”
n See The Star tomorrow for a full analysis of the Budget and how it will affect people in our region.