The government is reportedly poised to scrap the proposed eastern leg of the High Speed 2 rail link between the Midlands and Leeds.
The controversial high-speed railway line was originally designed to connect London with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Construction on phase 1, London to Birmingham, formally started last September after years of planning, and transport secretary Grant Shapps is expected to update on the next stages when he unveils the government’s long-awaited integrated rail plan on Thursday.
The plan is likely to involve £96bn of funding for new routes for the north and Midlands, £40bn of which will be new money, according to the BBC.
But according to multiple leaks, including reports in the Sunday Times, Mail on Sunday and BBC, while Shapps is expected to commit to building HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester, the leg to Leeds will be scrapped.
Instead, two shorter routes will be announced, created in part through the upgrading of existing lines. One will run between Leeds and Sheffield, and the other from Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway, about 10 miles south of Nottingham.
The announcement is likely to be a blow to Leeds, which had already earmarked part of the city centre to accommodate a new station. The BBC said money will be put aside to explore establishing a tram service for Leeds in compensation.
The government will likely argue that the new plans will deliver similar benefits to HS2, but will be achieved more quickly and will be cheaper. The government has a total budget of £44.6bn for phase 1 of HS2, including a contingency. The official budget for the entire line, in 2019 prices, is £98bn.
However, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership criticised the alleged decision to scrap the eastern leg. Director Henri Murison said: “The reported loss of any of the new line on the eastern leg of HS2 is damaging, reducing the benefits of the section being built now between Birmingham and London.
“Without benefits to areas such as Yorkshire and the north east, HS2’s status as a project to drive the whole of the UK is undermined considerably.
So far the government has neither confirmed nor denied the reports. A Department for Transport spokesperson told The Guardian that work was continuing on the integrated retail plan, which would be published “shortly”.