HS2 Sheffield: Comment - Northerners taken for mugs by rail downgrades and terrible spin

‘Northern Powerhouse Rail will be optimised as a result of our improved plans’.

Friday, 19th November 2021, 4:21 pm
Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves goodbye to HS2 through Yorkshire.

This is one of many weird phrases in the Integrated Rail Plan that attempt to convince the reader it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

In fact it does the opposite. It comes straight after the section axing HS2 through Yorkshire and is so obviously a late addition aimed at polishing the truth.

But this week was full of such attempts to take Northerners for mugs.

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The Star's business editor David Walsh.

The government claimed its new plans were the biggest ever public investment in Britain’s rail network and would deliver journey times ‘the same as, similar to or faster than’, the original proposals while ‘doubling or trebling’ capacity. Breathtaking.

Then there’s re-announcing things, such as Northern Powerhouse Rail 60 times, according to Labour.

The IRP mentions completing upgrades to the Hope Valley Line. But why, since that was announced in March, was it even in the document? Unless it was to pad the Sheffield section with good news.

On that score you could feel pity for Sheffield’s sole Conservative MP Miriam Cates. She did a U-turn on supporting HS2 last month.

And as leaders from across the North united in criticism of the plans, she had to be seen to support them.

Sadly, her justifications only served to show how awful they are.

She says savings from cancelling HS2 through Yorkshire and Northern Powerhouse Rail can be spent on local rail services like reopening the Stocksbridge line from Sheffield city centre, upgrading the Penistone line and improving links between Sheffield and Leeds.

But the first two projects are separate from the IRP - the first is a bid into the Restoring Your Railway competition, the second is a bid into the Levelling Up Fund - and the third has no date. The report simply says proposals for improvements between Sheffield and Leeds ‘will need revisiting’.

Many had hoped Yorkshire’s two biggest cities would be linked by high speed rail. That was the promise anyway.

A bad week made worse by terrible spin.

People have spent years devising plans at the behest of government. Now they have had them scrapped - while being urged to be grateful.

Where do we go from here?