HS2 review could put Sheffield station revamp in 'major jeopardy', warns MP

A review of HS2, which could see the controversial project scrapped, places the promised overhaul of Sheffield railway station in 'major jeopardy', an MP has warned.

Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 10:44 am
Updated Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 15:17 pm

Transport secretary Grant Shapps yesterday announced details of a Government-commissioned review of the £56 billion high-speed rail scheme which would slash journey times between London, Sheffield and other cities in the north.

An expert panel will be led by former HS2 Ltd chairman Douglas Oakervee, who said it would consider 'whether and how HS2 should proceed', before reporting to Mr Shapps by the autumn.

The news throws into doubt not just the future of HS2, which would enable passengers to travel between Sheffield and London in less than an hour-and-a-half, but the major revamp of Sheffield's Midland railway station planned in preparation for the arrival of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) services.

How Sheffield railway station could look after a major upgrade ready for the arrival of HS2 services

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A consortium of architects and engineers was appointed last year to draw up a masterplan for the station's transformation, which it has been claimed could benefit from up to £800 million of public funding and improve not just the station itself but the surrounding area, potentially attracting new investment.

Clive Betts, MP for Sheffield South East, said he remained confident HS2 would go ahead in full given the level of support it has, but should it be scrapped, scaled back or delayed that would be a 'real knockback' for Sheffield and the wider region.

"Sheffield is firmly committed to HS2, with cross-party political backing and strong support from the business community, and I think we'll be arguing a very strong case," he said.

"It's not a case of one or the other with HS2 and NPR. It has to be both, because it's about rectifying the imbalance of so much money being spent on transport in the south and so little in the north.

"If HS2 doesn't happen, Sheffield would be left with an inadequate mainline to London and slower trains than all the other big cities. It would be a real knock back.

"It would also place the planned improvements to Sheffield station, which it's taken a long time for us to persuade the Department for Transport are needed to address capacity challenges, in major jeopardy."

Mr Oakervee will be assisted by Lord Tony Berkeley, a former chairman of the Rail Freight Group and long-term HS2 critic, with ex-Transport for the North chairman John Cridland among the panel of experts.

The review will consider, among other things, whether pressing ahead with the £39bn NPR scheme to speed up rail links between the north's big cities should be prioritised over delivering the southern sections of HS2. It will also look at possible changes to phase 2b of HS2 connecting the Midlands with Leeds and Manchester, via Sheffield.

Mr Betts said he felt it was too late to be looking at the former, given work has already started in the south, but there was no reason construction of the northern and southern ends of HS2, and of NPR, could not happen simultaneously.

Peter Kennan, who sits on the board of Sheffield City Region's Local Enterprise Partnership, said: "It was clear we were going to have a review, and at least it's a short one so we won't have long to wait to know where we stand.

"There's widespread support in the region for HS2, though we know the route it will take is a sensitive matter, and we will be working hard to ensure the project proceeds.

"The view is that HS2 and NPR are equally important, because we need the former to deliver north-south connectivity and the latter to improve connections between Sheffield and other cities in the north.

"I'm very pleased that John Cridland is on the review panel, because he's very well respected and will ensure the north is well represented.

"If HS2 doesn't happen there would need to be a review of the planned improvements to Sheffield station because some of the work being advocated there was as a result of HS2 and NPR."

Councillor Bob Johnson, Sheffield Council's cabinet member for transport and planning, claimed it would be a 'betrayal of the north' were HS2 scrapped or curtailed.

"It is vital that this review supports delivery of all of HS2. It would be hugely damaging to the north of England if HS2 was scrapped or only the line to Manchester but not Sheffield and Leeds was built. This would be a major betrayal of the north," he said.

"Sheffield has consistently supported the HS2 project because of the economic benefits it can bring the city and to the UK as a whole. We have long argued that it is essential that HS2 is part of an integrated rail strategy for the north of England that includes radically improved links to Leeds and Manchester, not just London, and that this is matched with a comprehensive transport strategy for transport at a local level across Sheffield City Region.

"The economic benefits of high-speed rail come not just from faster journey times but also the regeneration that it enables and the access to jobs and opportunities for people across Sheffield. HS2 is a once-in-a-generation investment and it’s essential that government commitments to investment in the north are delivered."

Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis said: "it is vital that this review does not consider HS2 as a stand alone project. It is linked with NPR, especially in the Sheffield City Region, and therefore proceeding with both projects is important to helping to rebalance the economy.

"We don't need one or the other. The North needs both. That is why I recently set out in my Integrated Rail Plan the need for a full network approach to achieving the improvements rail passengers and businesses require.

"I particularly welcome part of the review’s remit to look at whether and how sections of the HS2 route which link to NPR could be prioritised over delivering the southern sections. I believe that building from the North presents the greatest opportunity to maximise the economic benefits of the scheme. I have already discussed these points with Doug Oakervee, and have invited him to South Yorkshire in the near future."

Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield said: "Boris Johnson's threat to HS2 says everything about his priorities as Prime Minister.

"We need to be boosting investment in northern infrastructure, not slashing it.

"The Government already spents six times more per person on rail infrastructure in London than in Yorkshire.

"This is completely wrong. We need the extra capacity HS2 offers. It will play a vital role in tackling the climate emergency by taking people off the roads."

HS2, which would use trains capable of travelling at 250mph, is due for completion in 2033 but the legislation for the northern leg of the route has yet to be placed in the Commons.

Announcing the review, Mr Shapps said: "The Prime Minister has been clear that transport infrastructure has the potential to drive economic growth, redistribute opportunity and support towns and cities across the UK, but that investments must be subject to continuous assessment of their costs and benefits.

"That's why we are undertaking this independent and rigorous review of HS2."

Mr Oakervee said: “I looking forward to working with my deputy, Lord Berkeley, to advise the government on how and whether to progress with HS2, based on all existing evidence.”

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), said: “HS2 is a vital project to help rebalance the economy and make us more productive, alongside linked interventions including most notably Northern Powerhouse Rail.

“The NPP will be engaging positively with the review to make the case for why HS2 is so necessary, for cities like Leeds and Manchester, but also for those like Newcastle, Preston and Glasgow, which all benefit from significantly better connections under an integrated plan for a new railway to take city to city traffic off our largely Victorian network which we need for commuters and freight.”