Transport for the North estimates that delivering the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) plans in full could create 100,000 new jobs. This includes lots of well-paid, skilled jobs and apprenticeships. Now there will be many fewer jobs – lost not only from the cancelled rail projects but from the new industries that increased rail capacity would have supported.
The NPR plan was designed with local expertise to support the transformation of our regional economies with modern, high-capacity connections from east and west, and to neighbouring industry and communities in the Midlands.
Transport minister Grant Shapps has cut back the plan dramatically. He tried to soften the blow by promising that journey times will be at least as fast as they would have been with the HS2 Leeds branch. But this was always about much more than journey time.
Despite the name, the main benefit of the High Speed 2 project is not speed, but capacity. High-speed services currently share lines with slower services and freight. This limits the number of high-speed trains that can run.
The cut back plan focuses on improvements to existing tracks, like electrification and signalling technology. This can take the current tracks closer to their limit, but no further. Our regions need a plan to break through those limits. We need HS2 in full.
Putting high-speed services on a separate line would allow them to run much more frequently. And it would release capacity on current lines for much more freight.
This major expansion of passenger and freight capacity would create the conditions needed to attract business investment, create new jobs, and put our regions on a faster growth path, with a greener transport network.
We don’t lack the talent in the Midlands and the north to compete with anywhere in the world. But we need the infrastructure to match. And without the HS2 Leeds branch, many of the Northern Powerhouse promises are impossible to deliver.
Along the HS2 route would have been a new East Midlands hub station, which could help Nottingham and Derby develop into a single economic area. That development plan, and the prosperity it could have brought, now lies in tatters.
HS2 is a north-south connections project. Northern Powerhouse proposals have also recognised the long-important need for much better east-west connections. But here, plans have been cut back too.
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The trans-Pennine NPR line from Manchester to Leeds would have opened up a new direct route from Liverpool to Leeds. But this vital backbone of Northern Powerhouse Rail has been ditched. And the government has blocked plans for a new underground station at Manchester Piccadilly.
Bradford – a city of half a million people – is still not on a major line. It needs a new train station with a mainline connection. But this victim in the cutback plan is emblematic of the prime minister’s failure to deliver his promise to “spread opportunity” to northern communities.
This is more than just people in the north and Midlands being fed up with being treated like the poor relations again. As the prime minister has noted, the UK’s success depends on all our regions achieving their potential.
Working people across the country need the economic prosperity that restoration of the full HS2 routes and Northern Powerhouse Rail plans will bring to the UK.
Liz Blackshaw is TUC northern secretary, Lee Barron is TUC Midlands secretary, and Bill Adams is TUC Yorkshire and the Humber secretary