Region’s business leaders criticise decision to scrap HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail

Proposals risk future investment and do not meet the needs of West Yorkshire, says LEP Board

The region’s business and political leaders have criticised the government’s decision not to build the eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds, at the latest meeting of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Meeting at the University of Leeds Nexus Innovation Centre, LEP Board members expressed their disappointment at the government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), published on 18 November, arguing that the proposals would deter investment into the region and saying they had caused anger and disappointment across the North.

The IRP canceled plans to build the HS2 in full, with the line only extending as far as Sheffield, with a £100 million study to examine future options to get high speed trains to Leeds.

It also replaced plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail - a proposed new high speed line connecting Northern cities from Leeds to Liverpool with stops in central Bradford, Manchester and Warrington - with upgrades to existing Victorian infrastructure.

Sir Roger Marsh OBE DL, Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and the NP11 group of Northern LEPs, said: “At a time when we need bold action to deliver levelling up and create a productive, high-wage, green economy, not going ahead with HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail is short-sighted and unsatisfactory. It will have an enormous negative impact on not just on West Yorkshire and the North, but the UK economy for many years in the future.

“Its impact will be felt by businesses that will see their potential for growth stifled, the individuals losing out on opportunities, and in poorer economic links across the North and with the rest of the country. 

“It also means that Bradford, England’s sixth largest city with one of the youngest and most diverse populations, is still cut off from the mainline strategic rail network, making it harder to access skills, jobs, and essential services. 

“It is small consolation that the IRP has funding for the TransPennine Route Upgrade. This is more about patching-up our Victorian infrastructure than planning for the future and does not address the fundamental issues of connectivity across the North.

“Together with businesses across the North we will continue to make the strongest case to government for the transformative investment we need in our railway network. Rail is an economic issue not just a transport issue, and must be seen as part of levelling up. We need the government to reconsider this decision and we are ready to work together so they deliver on the promises that have been made.” 

At the meeting, LEP Board members said the plans published by government do not meet the needs of West Yorkshire and could not be accepted in their current state.

The region’s business and political leaders, which include Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, said they intended to continue to make the case for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail to government.

They said the IRP needed to be more ambitious for the region, with a new stop in Bradford city centre being an essential part of connectivity plans for the region.

Members also raised concerns that many future plans for growth and development across the region were based on the assumption that HS2 would be delivered in full, so would need to be revised – and Government should fund this. 

LEP Board members were also updated on the recent COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, at which the Mayor of West Yorkshire showcased the action being taken by the Combined Authority and its partners to transition to a net zero carbon economy by 2038 at the latest. 

With official estimates showing that local government is directly responsible for delivering 32% of the emissions reductions needed in the UK and able to influence 82% of the UK’s total emissions, Tracy Brabin said regional Mayors had a vital role to play in tackling the climate emergency, and need to be given the funding and flexibility from Government to implement carbon reduction programmes.

Since 2005, Leeds City Region has reduced its carbon emissions by 38%, compared to 27% nationally. While more needs to be done in order to meet its net zero targets, the West Yorkshire Climate and Environment Plan launched in October is designed to create a cleaner, greener transport network, energy efficient homes, improved air quality and more green spaces.

In doing so, the West Yorkshire Climate and Environment Plan aims to deliver the Mayor’s pledges of tackling the climate and environment emergency and delivering new green jobs, for the benefit of everyone who lives and works in West Yorkshire.