High speed rail inquiry

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PLANS for a high-speed rail link between Sheffield and London have been called into question by influential MPs.

A new parliamentary inquiry will look into the strategic case for the £32 billion HS2 project, questioning the ‘robustness’ of studies that say it will bring economic prosperity to South Yorkshire and the rest of northern England.

The scheme, which will reduce journey times between Sheffield and the capital to 75 minutes, has been threatened by southern Tory MPs who are angry the planned route will carve through their constituencies.

Politicians and business leaders in South Yorkshire have long campaigned for the link, which economists estimate will bring £2 billion to the area.

Their cause was backed by Transport Secretary Phil Hammond, who met civic and business leaders in Sheffield.

He said: “Our proposals for high speed rail present us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to completely reshape the economic map, not just of the UK but of Yorkshire in particular.

“Yorkshire really would be one of the big winners from our proposed network.”

He said journey times between Sheffield and Leeds would be cut to 20 minutes.

Sheffield Council transport spokesman Coun Ian Auckland said: “I believe high speed rail has the ability to change the face of Sheffield’s growth, enhancing our ability to compete while providing jobs for local people.”

Mr Hammond challenged supporters of the project to step up their campaigning.

He said: “Let’s be clear about this. If everybody north of Birmingham stays silent and those in Buckinghamshire keep shouting, then their voices will be heard.

“We have to have a balanced debate where the people who are going to be the beneficiaries of the project speak up.”

The new parliamentary committee will examine what evidence there is that HSR will promote economic regeneration and help bridge the north-south economic divide.

MPs will also re-examine which cities should be included in the rail’s route and the environmental impact.