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What is the purpose of HS2’s Eastern Arm?

The Eastern Arm of HS2 is a critical part of an Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands but its role and function can be significantly strengthened says a new report by Greengauge 21.

The report from Greengauge 21 calls for clarity on the role and function of HS2’s planned eastern arm.

“Ten years ago, the aim was to get an HS2 London-Leeds journey time to match Manchester’s”, says report co-author Jim Steer. To achieve this, trains would pass through the East Midlands and South Yorkshire non-stop. This means that the key intermediate cities of Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield would need to be served by new connections to the HS2 line, to be funded outside the HS2 project.

“The original ambition is understandable in headline terms, but with Government now seeking an integrated rail plan for the area, we have to ask if this is the best approach. With a prospective eastern arm delivery date 20-25 years ahead – the 2040s – it is an approach that risks adding a new east-west imbalance, instead of helping Government’s levelling up agenda”, according to Jim Steer. “It would be 10 years behind Birmingham and the North-West getting the economic boost of HS2.”

A better approach is available, according to the Greengauge 21 report. Four key amendments to current plans are needed to maximise the role the eastern arm of HS2 can play:

  1. Recognise that in this north-east/south-west corridor there is the opportunity to transform the inter-connectivity of most of the English core cities and many key towns too – as well as their links with Cardiff and Edinburgh. This means a focus on better connections cross-country rather than to/from London
  2. Instead of the planned HS2 shuttle services between dead end stations in Birmingham and Leeds, ensure that the North East and South West are served directly by HS2 with services that run through Birmingham and Leeds
  3. Put Nottingham on the HS2 network, linked directly from the south
  4. Plan on building the eastern arm of HS2 in three phases, to get early benefits and stimulate economic regeneration as early as possible.

“This doesn’t mean abandoning the planning work to date at all”, says report co-author Jim Steer. Indeed, developments around an expanded city station in Leeds and at a new station at Toton in the East Midlands should be accelerated.

The three phases would comprise Leeds-Sheffield (so start building part of HS2 from the north); Birmingham-Nottingham (the primary link across the Midlands); and thirdly a central section linking the first two phases. When it comes to the third and final section, there may be a better option to locate it in the East Coast Main Line corridor and increase its benefits considerably, according to the report. Powers can be sought for the first two elements, Greengauge 21 suggests, armed with an improved understanding of the investment and business case.

“Alongside these accelerated and broadened benefits, we have identified where some key savings in  capital costs can be made. Value for money is going to be critical, we sense, in setting rail spending priorities ahead” Jim Steer added.

Places joining the national high speed cross-country network with an adapted HS2 eastern arm

Aberdeen Edinburgh Plymouth
Bradford Exeter Portsmouth
Bristol Glasgow Reading
Cardiff Hull Southampton
Cheltenham Lincoln Wolverhampton
Darlington Middlesbrough York
Doncaster Newcastle
Dundee Nottingham

You can access the full report here: HS2’s Eastern Arm