Plans for HS2 have come under fire for 'cut price' station and disrupting tram services

Northern leaders have reacted to a Bill that confers the powers required to construct a part of the second phase of High Speed 2, with the aim of linking Crewe to Manchester with a new railway line.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps described the plan as a “landmark moment” in improving the North’s rail connections.

The scheme will contribute towards sustainable growth in towns, cities, and regions across the country, spreading prosperity and opportunity more widely

The second phase will cut travel times by around 55 minutes for journeys between London and Manchester, according to the Department for Transport (DfT).

It will also at least double capacity on those routes, the DfT said.

The predicted cost for the Crewe-Manchester leg is in the range of £15bn -£19 bn (2019 prices).

As Grant Shapps formally introduced the bill to parliament this week (January 24) a voice was heard shouting, “He was meant to be in Manchester!”

Indeed, Mr Shapps had been scheduled for a visit to Manchester but didn’t manage to make it this far north. Instead, he was needed in Westminster to defend Boris Johnson against further party-gate accusations.

Instead, Andrew Stephenson, MP for Pendle, was at Piccadilly Station to mark the announcement. He didn’t appear to meet anybody. Perhaps he was worried an impromptu work event might happen if other people were involved.

In a published speech the MP said: “This next stage of HS2 from Crewe to Manchester will increase passenger capacity, improve connectivity, and reduce journey times. It is integral to delivering on the government’s commitment to level up the country. HS2 will join up the North, Midlands, and London by effectively halving the journey times between the centres of the UK’s three largest cities. 

"The scheme will contribute towards sustainable growth in towns, cities, and regions across the country, spreading prosperity and opportunity more widely. It will act as a catalyst for job creation, the development of new homes and ultimately, the regeneration of major cities and towns along the HS2 route."

High speed rail would cut travel to London by 55 minutes Image: Confidentials

Extending HS2 from Crewe to Manchester was included in the Government’s £96 billion Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) published in November. 

The most controversial aspect of the IRP is that the eastern arm of HS2 from the Midlands through Sheffield to Leeds will be scrapped. So while Manchester will still get the HS2 connection from Birmingham it won't get a high-speed link (equivalent of HS2) over the Pennines to Leeds. Instead, the reduced journey times will come from upgrades and a new track but not a new line. 

The most recent Bill allows HS2 tracks to be installed on the line, and new stations and junctions to be built at Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport, but it is this aspect that is worrying northern leaders, who had petitioned for the new HS2 station to be built underground. The current plans for the station have been dubbed "cut-price" by critics.

Manchester Piccadilly Station
Leaders want an underground station at Manchester Piccadilly Image: Confidentials

Meanwhile, over at Mayfield, GM Mayor Andy Burnham and leader of Manchester City Council Bev Craig were holding a press conference. Mr Burnham said, “The solution on the table is the wrong solution. It’s actually wrong for the north of England as a whole."

“What happens here is going to define the north of England for two centuries. Therefore we have got to get it right. My message for the Government today is, show the same ambition for the north of England that we have for this place.

“This decision about what happens here, this is the heart of the north of England behind us here, the potential of it is massive.

“If we build it right, the benefits will flow for decades and decades, centuries even.

“If you are going to spend billions on it, get it right.”

Bev Craig said: “We welcome progress on bringing HS2 to Manchester - we've always been clear that increased capacity and connectivity is key to unlocking the potential of the city, the region and the North as a whole.

"However, we believe there is a compelling case for having a new underground station at Manchester Piccadilly to accommodate it - rather than the overground option currently proposed.”

While Andy Burnham and Bev Craig welcome HS2 as a whole, the plans face more trenchant opposition from the organisations Stop HS2 North and HS2 Rebellion over the environmental and financial impact of the project. 

20180917 Maf Mcr Central Tram 800Sq
The new line will mean disruption to the tram service Image: Confidentials

Andrew Gwynne, MP for Denton and Reddish, added his voice to the dissenters, calling plans to suspend Metrolink services on the Ashton Line – which runs through the Audenshaw and Ashton Moss parts of his constituency – as "disastrous for Tameside".

A little-noted detail of the plan means that as part of the major construction involved in the project, it is likely that Metrolink services on the Ashton line will be suspended for a significant period of time, with a replacement bus service providing access from Ashton to New Islington on the affected line.

Andrew Gwynne has pledged to table an amendment to the plan to prevent this from happening.

Then yesterday (January 25), Transport for the North met in Manchester to discuss the Integrated Rail Plan among other topics. The members criticised the government's plan for lack of detail and evidence. The new chair of the board, Lord Patrick McLoughlin, said: "The government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) goes against the best interest of people in the North and fails to deliver the step-change in rail services that is the only sustainable, long-term solution.” He will press these points at the upcoming transport select committee.

Find out more about the Government's announcement of the HS2 Bill.

Read next: The billion dollar Manc: Burnham gets his Bee Network bucks

Read again: Ten reasons the Conservative Party Conference was great for Manchester

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