But Mark Harper reiterates government commitment to HS2

The new government will not be held to Liz Truss’ promise to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) in full, the transport minister has suggested.

Mark Harper said the promise was among a “number of mistakes” that were made by the short-lived prime minister and indicated a return to the trimmed-down proposals for NPR that were outlined last year.


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Bradford had been promised a new rail station under initial plans, revived momentarily by ex-PM Liz Truss

Plans for a high-speed link from Liverpool to Leeds via Manchester, with links to other northern cities, were a 2019 manifesto commitment for the Conservatives. But the Johnson government’s November 2021 Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) saw the scheme replaced with upgrades to existing lines. A new £500m station in Bradford was also ditched.

During her short tenure as prime minister, Truss said this decision would be reversed, promising to deliver the full line with a station in Bradford – an upgrade which would have cost £25bn in total according to the IRP.

Harper acknowledged the manifesto pledge to get high speed trains to Leeds and stressed that “no decision” had been made on the Leeds to Manchester link.

“What we’re doing in my department, and what I’ve been briefed on, is we’re looking at all of the options that are available to do that.

“I will be looking at all of the options to do that in light of the decisions we take in the autumn statement,” he told Sky News.

The transport secretary also noted that the government “remains committed” to delivering HS2, after levelling-up secretary Michael Gove hinted at the possibility of a review on Sunday.

At a transport select committee hearing on the same day, Clive Maxwell, director-general of the High Speed Rail Group in the Department for Transport, said he was “not going to speculate” on the Treasury’s decisions on spending cuts, but said the government was committed to the project.

>> Also read: Government urged to review scaled back northern rail investments

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Mark Thurston, HS2 chief executive, admitted that the uncertain fiscal environment, and speculation over the security of the project’s funding, could give contractors cold feet.

“Inevitably that uncertainty can be unsettling for the supply chain […] I suspect as we go into procurements, getting some certainty from government will be really important because inevitably contractors and consultants will be sort of pricing some of that uncertainty and that wouldn’t be value for money,” he said.

Maxwell also informed the committee that “no decision has been taken” on developing an alternative for the Golborne link, a proposed 13-mile section linking the HS2 line south of Manchester to the West Coast main line, and that he could not share a timescale on when that work would be done.

“The government hasn’t yet put out a set of plans or options and consulted on those,” he said.

“When it comes forward with plans to consult, it needs to be quite cautious about how it does that to make sure it’s not creating undue concern or blight to areas. It needs to progress its work to a certain stage of readiness to be able to do that rather than create those sorts of worries.”

Thurston added: “There are some options [in the Union Connectivity Review] which would need to feed into any work that the department would commission to us, because the existing Golborne link route is safeguarded and, to Clive’s point, we need to be careful about that when we start looking at alternatives.”