Sixty-three industry leaders have dispatched an open letter calling on the prime minister to deliver on his levelling-up promise and commit to the completion of HS2’s Eastern Leg in full, amid mounting speculation as to the future of the route that will run from the West Midlands through to Leeds.
In the letter to Boris Johnson, leading rail, construction and engineering firms from the High Speed Rail Group (HSRG) and Railway Industry Association (RIA), including the likes of AECOM, Jacobs, Waterman, Ramboll and WSP have called on the prime minister to offer clarity and certainty on the Eastern Leg, which will transform national connectivity by linking Yorkshire, the north-east and east-midlands into the HS2 network.
They note that “businesses have invested millions in people, in skills, in technology and in hardware to deliver HS2. To date, 16,000 people have been employed on the project, including over 500 apprentices. We had expected this to grow to 34,000 at peak construction, including 2,000 apprentices, over the coming years.” Whilst cities like Leeds have built their economic and spatial strategies around the project. All of which is at risk should the Eastern leg be curtailed or, worse still, cancelled.
The letter also urges the prime minister to consult with regional leaders before taking a decision, stating that “leaders in the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East – irrespective of political party – are near-unanimous in their backing for HS2. As you will know, those very regions were critical to your victory at the last general election. And it is the communities in those regions who will be most let-down should the Eastern Leg not move forward.”
Whilst the question is often asked as to why infrastructure projects in the UK seem to cost more than elsewhere, the letter argues that little thought is seemingly given to the impact of the UK’s propensity to review and re-open questions which had already been settled. Having taken the decision in February 2020 to deliver HS2 in full, changing that now would have a devastating impact on confidence in the sector and drive higher costs as other elements of the programme would have to be redesigned.
Tom Wadsworth, director at the High Speed Rail Group, said: “Last year the prime minister promised that HS2 would go ahead in full, including from the West Midlands to Leeds, and his own MPs have asked what he is going to do to level up if he doesn’t build the Eastern leg. So before taking any decision to delay or cancel the Eastern leg, the prime minister should talk to the businesses employing the people up and down the country who will deliver HS2; talk to the apprentices learning their trade who will build the line to Leeds; talk to the regional leaders in the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East who – irrespective of political party – are near-unanimous in their backing for HS2; and talk to his own MPs who are committed to levelling up Britain.
“Failing to deliver HS2 in full would undermine the prime minister’s commitment to levelling up and to net zero. So we are calling on the prime minister to reaffirm his promise to deliver HS2 in full, including the eastern leg.”
Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: “To unleash the benefits of HS2, increasing rail capacity, reducing carbon and boosting the UK’s connectivity, the scheme needs to be delivered in full, including the Eastern Leg. Only with the whole scheme can we truly unlock the jobs, investment and economic growth the new rail line will provide to cities, towns and communities across the country.
“UK businesses around the country are backing this scheme, and as shown by this letter, rail companies up and down the UK require clarity on the future of the project. We therefore urge the government to publish the Integrated Rail Plan soon, commit to the full HS2 scheme, including the Eastern Leg, and to get on with delivering this crucial project, for the benefit of passengers, freight users and the UK as a whole.”