West Northamptonshire Council asked to lobby against curtailed HS2 route with new transport minister

Artist visualisation of a HS2 train on the railway.
-Credit: (Image: HS2/PA Wire)

A Northamptonshire councillor has spoken out against the 'benefits' of HS2 on the local rail network and asked to lobby the government, during the authority's presentation of its new 'local transport plan'.

The second phase of the high speed rail network tasked with improving links between London, Birmingham and the north was scrapped at the end of last year due to spiralling costs of the project. If completed, this would have seen the rail route go through Crewe and terminate in Manchester.

Phase one, which connects the West Midlands to London passes through West Northamptonshire for a distance of 20.7km, past Brackley, Greatworth and Chipping Warden. Construction of gigantic 'green tunnels' along the route is currently ongoing in these locations which has had a knock-on effect on the immediate area.

The cancellation of the second phase has led to promises to reinvest the £36bn into roads and projects across the country.

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Cllr William Barter (Cons, Deanshanger) told West Northamptonshire Council's (WNC) cabinet: "The October 2023 decision to delay Euston and cancel the West Midlands to Crewe section has made reaping these benefits much more difficult. That doesn’t mean there are no benefits for us, but they are more limited and must be worked for potentially in competition with other stakeholders.

"Having committed to the most expensive and disruptive part of HS2 through our area, by tacking an inadequate terminus on at one end and feeding trains straight into a bottleneck at the other, the previous prime minister’s decision will prevent the new infrastructure from being used to its full potential."

The high speed trains will terminate in Birmingham, where HS2 trains will join the West Coast Main Line to Manchester- an existing route that runs from London Euston through Northampton. Trains on the HS2 route will also initially run from a newly-built London station at Old Oak Common.

Cllr Barter continued: "Not having Euston for HS2 trains limits the number of trains that can be run on the new line, capacity constraints south of Crewe where the new line joins the existing will limit the number of extra trains that can be run on the existing line.

"I can’t see that that’s any comfort to those who are actually affected by it and it's against the interests of West Northants as a whole."

He asked the authority to work through the county's newly-elected MPs to seek a meeting with the rail minister and lobby for the earliest possible availability of Euston and ultimately for reinstatement of the new infrastructure past the Staffordshire bottlenecks through to Crewe.

Last week Labour MP Louise Haigh was announced as the new Transport Secretary following her party's victory. Lord Hendy, the Chair of Network Rail, has also been announced as Transport Minister- an appointment which has stoked hope in the revival of the project in some form.

Cllr Phil Larratt cabinet member for highways and transport replied: "We were sold the benefits of HS2 capacity wise and now we’ve ended up with a curtailed HS2 that does nothing to enhance rail capacity or improve rail services for West Northamptonshire.

"To stop HS2 at the Staffordshire bottleneck just does nothing whatsoever- a far more sensible thing to have done would have been taking it onto Crewe if they were going to curtail it.

"I totally agree with what Cllr Barter says and I’m happy to endorse the points that he makes. I don't care how far they extend it as long as they extend it to Crewe and that will certainly help West Northamptonshire."

The Local Transport Plan also sets out a series of key interventions to improve travel across West Northants, from short-term goals by 2030 to long-term visions for 2050. Notable schemes include:

  • Maximising the benefits from High Speed 2 – including released capacity on the West Coast Main Line as well as the Strategic and Major Road Networks.

  • Assess the case for new railway stations and capacity on the West Coast Main Line.

  • Improvements in the active travel and public transport networks.

  • Bus priority corridor programme in Northampton and reduced local bus fares.

  • Northampton Bus and Coach Station Upgrade.

  • A45 junction upgrades and A43 dualling.

  • Measures to support decarbonisation of the transport network.

The cabinet has agreed for the plan, which is still in its draft form, to be sent out for public consultation later this month, running for a period of 12 weeks until October. This will be the first time the plan has been updated since the former County Council published the document in 2012.