Branch to Manchester recommended to be developed

The National Infrastructure Commission has recommended downgrading the eastern route of HS2, giving it a lower priority than other projects.

The independent advisory body suggested the government should push ahead with the western side of the railway into Manchester, but delay completing the eastern side to Leeds.


Speaking today as he unveiled an NIC report chair Sir John Armitt said while it recommended a long-term phased approach to the eastern arm of the northern part of HS2 - it did call for faster progress on the section from Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway. 

He said this phased approach would mean benefits would be felt at a regional level sooner, given it was unlikely this section of the railway would be fully delivered until the 2040s.

Armitt said: “We have found that the propositions for regional development come out about 20% ahead of the long-distance plans in terms of delivering the levelling up agenda.”

NIC commissioner Bridget Roswell said that recommending this phased approach for this section did not mean the commission opposed it being fully developed over time.

She said: “Delivering in phases is actually a very sensible way of delivering major projects.” 

The commission argued that the case for increasing capacity into Manchester through HS2 along the western side made sense because the start of that route, from Birmingham to Crewe, is already under development.

Maria Machancoses, director at Midlands Connect, criticised the report, saying it should not be a case of either regional or national projects being funded.

Machancoses said: “It’s reassuring to see Midlands Engine Rail feature strongly in the report, however, it’s disappointing that the NIC seems to have moved the goalposts, pitching the HS2 against local improvements.

“The report was commissioned to examine how HS2’s eastern leg should be delivered, and how it could best be integrated with the wider network, not whether it should be delivered at all. The Midlands needs both HS2 and Midlands Engine Rail, we will now work with government to make sure that this happens.”


HS2 northern route map

In its final report on rail needs assessment for the Midlands and the North, the NIC put forward plans prioritising both regional links and long-distance routes at three different price points; £86bn, £108bn and £129bn.

These figures also needed to include the remaining costs of completing HS2 phases 1 and 2a, meaning the packages of works recommended could cost £44bn, £69bn and £92bn.

The baseline figure was the original budget remit given to the NIC when it carried out its National Infrastructure Assessment, but Armitt said it was simply not enough money to deliver any real progress on levelling up the regions of the UK.

Armitt said: “Very simply put we are saying if you want to make some significant improvements you need to increase the budget by 25% in the first case and 50% if you’re feeling generous.”

The report also suggested that Northern Powerhouse Rail be delivered using a mixture of new and existing infrastructure, something that is at odds with requests from Northern leaders earlier this month.

A decision from the government is expected to be announced in the early part of next year as part of its Integrated Rail Plan.