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Yorkshire’s High Speed rail plans get real

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The idea that HS2 should be built from the north southwards took a useful step forward last week as plans to create an integrated station for HS2 and other rail services in Leeds were announced. See George Osborne’s announcement on 5 February 2015 that Sir David Higgins is to draw up plans for a major redevelopment of Leeds station.

A year ago, we published a summary of stakeholder responses to the consultation by HS2 Ltd into the second phase of the high speed line – the limbs of the Y network stretching from the Midlands to the North West and Yorkshire. See HS2 Phase 2 Consultation A Summary Assessment by Greengauge 21 from 31 January 2014.

There were four recurrent points made in the consultation response:

  1. The ambition that HS2 should be developed ‘from north to south’ – rather than as some see it ‘from London northwards’
  2. Related to this, a wish to see an earlier implementation of Phase 2 than 2032/3 – either the whole project or parts of it
  3. An ambition for there to be more connections with existing lines so that services can be provided to/from existing city centre stations onto the high-speed network. A particular aim is that there should be fast connections and more capacity provided using HS2 for travel between regional cities (where the existing network is often particularly weak). This would supplement high speed rail services to/from London, and make fuller use of the new line capacity
  4. A concern – especially along the eastern limb of HS2 – that the chosen station sites require significant complementary investment to provide good access – including in the case of Leeds, where fuller integration of the HS2 station with the existing station was sought.

Well, the One North Proposition published six months ago by the major cities of the North called for the Leeds – Sheffield segment of HS2 to be brought forward. That way a fast and frequent 30 minute connection between the two cities could be achieved – as part of a wider plan to join up the North. If adopted – and the Chancellor of Exchequer welcomed the One North Proposition in August 2014 – this would deliver for Yorkshire on the first and second of the four stakeholder consultation concerns over Phase 2 of HS2.

Until now that left unaddressed concerns 3 and 4: provision of extra connections from HS2 direct into city centre stations. With a Government commitment made on February 5th asking Sir David Higgins – head of HS2 Ltd – to develop plans to expand the existing station at Leeds to accommodate HS2, another key step has been taken – to meet the third and fourth stakeholder concerns.

All that remains is for the Government to adopt the One North plans to bring forward the Yorkshire section of HS2 and for it to be connected directly into the existing city centre station at Sheffield – rather than leaving an awkward connection from Meadowhall. That way longer distance journeys between a whole host of cities – Newcastle, Darlington, York, Bradford and Leeds to the north and Sheffield, Derby, Nottingham, Birmingham and Bristol to the south can be offered a major journey time saving. And the argument that HS2 is a London-centric project would be further undermined.

This is a new approach to thinking about HS2 – looking for much quicker wins, while keeping the long term plan in place. It may mean a change in thinking at HS2 Ltd, but the reality is that project benefits would be accelerated and increased.