Nr. 10 says rail links are still a priority, but the eastern part of HS2 needs to be scrapped

Improving rail links in the North and Midlands is an “absolute priority” for Boris Johnson, Downing Street insisted despite growing anger over plans to scrap key projects.

In a major rail review on Thursday, the government is expected to scrap the eastern part of the HS2 high-speed rail route between the Midlands and Leeds.

There is also frustration that plans to increase east-west rail links across the region, known as the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), are likely to involve improvements to existing infrastructure rather than a new line between Manchester and Leeds.

RAIL HS2
HS2 route. Infographic PA graphics

The Prime Minister is facing opposition from northern MPs, including tories in “Red Wall” seats in the former Labor heartland, over measures to weaken the commitments made to the regions.

Tory MPs pointed to promises that Mr Johnson has personally made about the NPR project.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman: “Grant Shapps will provide the full details on Thursday. But we are fully committed to strengthening rail links in our cities, across the Midlands and north.

“He recognizes the importance of improving travel times across the country.”

Asked if the plans had been reduced due to the Ministry of Finance’s opposition to the costs, the spokesman said: “These are ambitious plans which will involve significant public money.”

Newspapers across the north of England: Manchester Evening News, Gazette on Teesside, The Journal and The Chronicle in Newcastle, Huddersfield Daily Examiner and Hull Daily Mail, have joined forces to call on Mr Johnson to deliver what was promised railway investments.

In response, Downing Street said: “We recognize the importance of improving transport links across the North as a way to increase the country, and that is why it is an absolute priority for the government.”

Members of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs said they were “deeply concerned” about the reported “dilution” of commitments.

A spokesman said: “NRG reserves its verdict until the integrated railway plan is published later this week.

“NRG has, however, reminded the government of the repeated commitments it has made, including the Prime Minister’s own commitment to the Northern Powerhouse Rail.”

But Tory Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, said the reported plans were a “reasonable compromise”.

Speaking at a Department of Government event on Tuesday, he said: “I was a big proponent of HS2 being fully built.

“We know the West Midlands will benefit from that. We can already see that in terms of investment coming through.

“But the reality is that the economic situation for the country has changed since the decision was made in February.

“So if what the government announces on Thursday is that HS2 will only be built in the east for as far as Nottingham as far as the West Midlands is concerned, it would still be a really good result because it gives us high-speed connections to London. , to Manchester.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is set to announce the results of the integrated rail plan
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is set to announce the objectives of the integrated rail plan (James Manning / PA)

He added: “I would consider this to have been a reasonable compromise given the situation the government is in with public finances.”

Steve Rotheram, Labor mayor of Liverpool’s urban region, said anything less than the whole NPR project would be a “complete betrayal”.

“If leveling is a serious policy, the government needs to deliver NPR,” he said.

The measures will be announced when the government announces its integrated railway plan on Thursday.

The Ministry of Transport will claim that HS2 trains will still serve Leeds, but on the main line instead of HS2 tracks, saving tens of thousands of billions of pounds.

It will insist that its plan to invest £ 96 billion on the existing network will deliver benefits faster and more cost-effectively.

The expected decision comes despite the Prime Minister promising his “commitment to the Northern Powerhouse Rail” shortly after entering Downing Street in 2019.

As recently as at the Conservative Party’s conference in Manchester last month, Mr Johnson said in his leader’s speech that the government “will make the Northern Powerhouse Rail, we will connect the cities of the Midlands and North”.

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