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Monday, December 6, 2021

Government urged to make a decision on HS2 route


Supporters and opponents of the paused Birmingham-to-Leeds section of the HS2 high-speed rail project are calling on the government for clarity.

HS2 has halted construction on the so-called eastern leg of the £106 billion project.

Businesses and local politicians are concerned because ministers have yet to confirm that this section of the line will be completed as planned.

Opponents of the route want an answer as well, claiming that the uncertainty is causing them stress.

The National Infrastructure Commission has proposed that the line be terminated in Nottinghamshire as one of several options that the government will consider.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said the line will go ahead, but further work is needed on how to integrate it with plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail.

‘Levelling up’

Advocates for the route have argued that it is a critical component of “levelling up,” the government’s policy of providing opportunities for communities that feel they have been left behind to catch up.

“‘It appears that levelling up will be a step back from what we were promised,’ says Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

“It is impossible to progress without fully completing both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

The construction of HS2 has sparked protests over its potential impact on the environment

“Canceling the eastern leg would deprive vast areas of the North and Midlands of jobs, investment, and economic prosperity – and turn away private investment that is waiting for more certainty.”

Many people expected the announcement to come much sooner. The project’s cost has risen to nearly £100 billion.

Living with uncertainty

The first phase of HS2 from London to Birmingham has begun construction. Nearly 300 sites have been identified in the south of England, and giant boring machines have begun to excavate the route’s underground tunnels.

HS2 has stated that it will be one of the most environmentally responsible infrastructure projects ever built in the UK, with the promise of planting seven million new trees and shrubs.

However, environmental protests, including those against the destruction of ancient woodland, continue.

The images of the works are concerning to those who live along the proposed Eastern Leg route.

Sandra Haith, an anti-HS2 campaigner from the village of Bramley near Rotherham, says, “I could cry.”

“Can you imagine how those people down south feel seeing people chopping down trees?” It breaks my heart just thinking about it; I can’t believe the devastation this is wreaking.”

Ms Haith’s village will be next to the HS2 route, which she fears will cause years of disruption. “We get all the pain and none of the gain.” “There are trains passing through, but we can’t get on them,” she says.

The government has stated that its Integrated Rail Plan will soon outline how major rail projects, such as HS2 phase 2b and other projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail, will collaborate.

“The sooner the better,” Ms Haith says. “We’re hoping it won’t happen, but we need to know.”

“The stress that people are living under is just unbelievable.”

Pandemic impact

Supporters of HS2 have stated that while people may be working from home now, the train line will provide capacity for decades to come.

Others, however, believe that the pandemic has harmed the case for HS2. The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a libertarian think tank, has long been opposed to HS2.

The IEA spokeswoman says, “There was never a business case, but whatever justification there may have been has certainly been weakened by the pandemic.”

“Everyone working from home and the Zoom apocalypse were probably exaggerated, but it goes to show the pitfalls of ministers attempting to foresee and forecast the country’s and business communities’ future needs.”

“However, these projects should be on a much smaller scale, with a focus on incremental improvements to existing infrastructure in northern towns and cities, because I believe that will deliver far larger economic gains,” she added.

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