THE routes of high-speed rail links to Manchester and Leeds have been unveiled, in a move Prime Minister David Cameron said would boost Britain’s stagnant economy.
Extending the already-planned London to Birmingham HS2 line as far as Manchester and Leeds is designed to cut journey times, ease overcrowding and boost regional business.
Officials say the £32.7 billion project will create at least 100,000 jobs but the Government is braced for a fresh backlash from rural communities through which the line will pass and some controversy over the chosen location of stations.
The Department for Transport said there would be five stops on the 211-mile Y-shaped extension northwards from Birmingham - scheduled to be completed in 2032, six years after the first phase:
They are: Manchester - alongside the existing Piccadilly station; Manchester Airport - interchange by the M56 between Warburton Green and Davenport Green; in the East Midlands - at Toton, between Nottingham and Derby and one mile from the M1; Sheffield - at Meadowhall shopping centre and Leeds - at New Lane in the South bank area connected to the main station by walkway.
There will also be a “dedicated link” alongside the high-speed line at Crewe to link up with standard trains - reducing journey times to Liverpool and Glasgow. A proposed spur to Heathrow has been put on hold pending the results of Sir Howard Davies’ review of future airport capacity.
The project has been welcomed by many civic and business leaders in the region but the first tranche proved controversial, especially in picturesque Tory heartlands which will be affected, such as the Chilterns, infuriating MPs and countryside campaigners.
Labour backs HS2 but says there are “worrying signs” that the timetable is slipping. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that he intended to bring forward the consultation on phase two to begin this year, not 2014, and has asked officials to see whether the entire project can be speeded up.
Chancellor George Osborne said HS2 would be an “engine for growth” in the North and Midlands, creating tens of thousands of jobs across the country.
He acknowledged widespread opposition to the line from communities along its route which face “very difficult” disruption to their lives, but said the economic benefits were “pretty compelling”.