A multi-billion high speed rail link to connect northern cities - slashing journey times between Sheffield and Leeds by up to half - has been unveiled.
HS3 is a plan for an east to west link between Leeds and Manchester as part of the HS2 project and has been backed by the Government to help boost businesses, improve transport links and create jobs.
A report from HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins says commuting between northern cities is currently ‘limited’, services are slow and low in frequency, while congestion on roads is regular.
Under new proposals trains from Sheffield to Leeds could take 17 minutes rather than 41 now, to Birmingham 38 minutes, and to London one hour nine minutes, to stimulate economies.
However, those times apply if the trains leave from a station at Meadowhall - and Sir Higgins says his view is the South Yorkshire hub should be there, despite a campaign for it to be located in the city centre as part of a wider regeneration plan.
He said a city centre station would be more expensive, and add six minutes to journey times, to ‘disadvantage’ the north east compared to the north west.
Further work will be carried out before a final decision, but Mr Higgins said: “I remain of the view that Sheffield Meadowhall is the right answer for the South Yorkshire hub.”
But Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore said the report was too focused on journey speed, not economic growth, and that other cities were to have stations in their centres. The Government had ‘failed’ to move away from rhetoric about HS2 transforming economies.
Coun Dore said: “Given the overwhelming evidence and basic common sense supporting stations in city centres and not out of town, it is astonishing in Sheffield we are still facing the prospect of a station at Meadowhall.
“When we’re talking about a 21st century economy defined by job growth concentrated in city centres, a station four miles outside the centre of Sheffield isn’t going to cut it.”
One aim of the proposals is to boost the idea of creating a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ of cities working together and competing globally.
Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam Nick Clegg said: “I strongly welcome the fact this report lays to rest, once and for all, claims made by those who don’t believe high speed rail should pass through South Yorkshire.
“Detailed analysis shows this is vital for the Yorkshire economy and it must now be delivered. As a Sheffield MP, it is essential to me this is not just confined to improving connections between Manchester and Leeds, but helps us in Sheffield and the whole of the north of England too.”
The report was ‘open minded’ about the final decision on a station location, and the ‘best basis’ for one was consensus between councils, Mr Clegg added.
A new body called Transport for the North is now to be set up. It will also work on options, costs and a delivery timetable for HS3 with an interim report due in March.