Giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee during her visit to Leeds this morning, Ms Brabin said the Integrated Rail Plan’s decision to cut the Eastern Leg route would have major consequences for the city’s economy.
It had been planned that Leeds station would be redeveloped into a T-shaped station designed to handle HS2 services and local trains.
The land around the original station has been preserved for the planned arrival of HS2 – and despite the November cancellation decision, it remains so. The government has asked for the safeguard to continue while it carries out a £100m study into how to possibly connect HS2 services to Leeds – including the possibility of reviving the original Eastern Leg plans.
Ms Brabin said: “The protected ground is as big as 700 football pitches in the city centre.
“It’s been saved for 10 years with the promise of HS2, so it’s deeply, deeply disappointing and frustrating.”
With existing Leeds station currently over capacity and passengers facing frequent delays as a result, Ms Brabin said the most sensible solution to bringing HS2 services to Leeds is to relaunch plans to run the route to the city and build the new station.
“The reason the T-shaped station has become the preferred option for many years is that we need that extra east-west, north-south capacity.
“You can’t put a pint in a half-pint jar. We need this new station.”
Ben Still, chief executive of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, said of the land currently earmarked for the HS2 development: “The city and the combined authority will work extremely hard to continue to encourage the investment and success we have seen in the past, we very much hope to replicate in the future.
“But this is an opportunity that has been passed over in the short term and we will have to work even harder.”
Ms Brabin said earlier in the hearing that she was ‘puzzled’ at the Government’s decision not to build HS2 in Leeds and suggested it was due to financial considerations.
“We are losing those thousands of jobs, those thousands of homes that we were planning on. HS2 and Leeds station was going to be part of the added value for this area of deprivation and for foreign investment.
“The less optimal option has been chosen. One can only give the impression that they are strapped for money, because the added value is so enormous and also corresponds so clearly to the objectives of the government in terms of leveling and climate emergency. We can only assume that’s the cost.”
She said it would be “extremely useful” to have an official government analysis of how the decision on both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail affects upgrade targets, as the technical annex to the white paper integrated revealed that the work had not yet been done.
Ahead of evidence from Ms Brabin and Mr Still, MPs heard from Mark Thurston, chief executive of HS2, who admitted it is currently unclear what the savings will be from downgrading to the HS2 East stage.
He said there was “work to do” with the Department for Transport on what the revised route for the Eastern leg would cost.
Instead of reaching Leeds as originally planned, the Birmingham track will now end at the existing East Midlands Parkway station.
Mr Thurston said the revised route would be around 30 miles, compared to the original line that was intended to be 120 miles long.
He said there would be “physical and technical” challenges to overcome to get HS2 to work at the existing East Midlands Parkway station.
Labor MP Ben Bradshaw said the committee had spoken to local business leaders in Leeds who had warned the decision to cut HS2 would be ‘catastrophic’ to efforts to get to net zero in the region .
Mr Thurston said that although he could not comment specifically on the area, there was evidence that, more generally, high-speed rail encouraged people to use public transport rather than private motor vehicles.
“If you look at where countries around the world have invested in high-speed rail, they’ve seen this change,” he said.
“Even in Kent, with High Speed 1, cars and trucks have been taken off the motorways as people increasingly use the rail network.
“We know that traveling by train is seven times greener than driving; 17 times greener than flying. So I certainly think once the route from London to Manchester is connected and you can do that journey in an hour and as we have seen, for example, going from London to Paris that you would see a time lag and that in turn impacts the governor’s broader commitment to net zero here 2050.
“Our transportation system is now the biggest carbon generator in our economy, bigger than our energy system. And I think rail travel is a big part of our plans to decarbonize the wider economy.”
Huw Merriman, chairman of the transport select committee, asked Mr Thurston if he agreed that the decision to scrap HS2 represented a “massive missed opportunity”.
He said: “If you look at the community here, the eastern leg is said to have improved connectivity for 13 million people, or 20% of the population. Currently 72% of all journeys are made by car in this area.
“It feels like a huge missed opportunity.
“Does it sadden you that the grand scheme you thought would be the Y connection to the two major northern cities, Manchester and Leeds, is no longer happening?”
Mr Thurston replied: “The government has made a difficult decision on the IRP.
“The work we need to do around Manchester means that the journey time between Manchester and Leeds will be significantly reduced in the fullness of time.
“Obviously the journey time between the West Midlands and Leeds will be significantly reduced when we have built the Eastern Leg. We will have to work out how we will fly trains to Leeds.
“The government has made the decision. Our focus now is how do we organize and resource ourselves to support the department in delivering the Eastern Leg?”
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