As reported in The Independent on Sunday, Chancellor George Osborne intends to put more meat on the bones of the HS3 plans he first raised in June last year in his budget statement, in what he hopes will be a potential vote winner in the upcoming election. However, whilst he may claim that better Transpennine links are essential to create a ‘northern powerhouse’, the reality is that the current £440m project to electrify the current Transpennine link via Huddersfield was put on hold by Network Rail “Pending clarification of the project’s scope by the Department for Transport” (Download, Row 16, Column M) last week, with only 4% of the project completed.
In addition, the DfT will launch a business case for HS3, in response to previous statements from Stop HS2, that HS3 has “No plan, no route, no budget and no timescale”.
Electrification of the Transpennine route had been due to be complete by 2018 at a cost of £290m when Mr Osborne announced it in his 2011 Autumn Statement (See overlap of pages 31-32): , but a Network Rail report last November put the completion date back three years to 2021, with the cost spiralling to £440m. In his budget statement, The Chancellor is expected to put the cost envelope of the Trasnpennine HS3 at £7-10bn.
Additionally, a report from consultants ARUP showed the 11 miles missing between Skipton and Colne could be restored with four tracks at a cost of £110m, creating a new Transpennine link, whilst reopening the Woodhead Tunnel linking Manchester and Sheffield could cost less than half a billion, and according to The Northern Way, would bring £10bn of benefits to the economy.
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said:
“As part of a pre-election gimmick, the chancellor is going to re-announce HS3, in the same way HS2 was re-announced just before the last election. Whilst we have always said the way to create a Northern Powerhouse is to spend the money in the North instead of blowing well over the official £50bn budget on HS2 and sucking more economic activity to London, like HS2, HS3 is the highest cost option on a white elephant which delivers the least benefit for the travelling public, but the most benefit to those with vested interests in building it.”
“The Chancellor is talking about spending £7-10bn on one fast railway line which will only benefit the richest who can afford to use it, and wait for it to happen. For just £1bn, you could have not only the electrification which he promised it four years ago, which had been delayed and is now on hold, but also you could have another two brand new reopened links across the Pennines, which would give the capacity for both passengers and freight and deliver more benefits to more people more quickly for less money. It is amazing in supposed times of austerity that a Chancellor is advocating the least benefit, most cost option when so much more can be done, quicker, for less money.”
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 said:
“Numerous council and business leaders have said they want better transport links in the North more than HS2. But the Government appears to be picking a single showy vanity project rather than looking to see if a variety of improvements which could be brought in more quickly than HS3.”
“While £7billion or £10 billion on HS3 does not sound like much compared to £50billion on HS2, the expected HS2 costs has increased massively over the last 5 years and simultaneously descoped. Originally Phase 2 was going to include Liverpool, but that was ditched even earlier than the HS2 links to Heathrow and the Continent.”
“We are really concerned that the HS3 proposals might be slipped out before the election, just like the flawed plans for HS2 were before the 2010 election. If the proposals are so necessary, then they can wait until after May and be announced then. Doing it now shows that the high speed rail lobbyists in the Department for Transport fear the next government will drop the plans.”
Penny Gaines added
“HS2 is a £50 billion white elephant. The economic case uses outdated assumptions about business travel, and building it will be hugely environmentally damaging. The case for HS2 collapsed years ago, but the Department for Transport seem determined to push forward none the less. We call on all Parliamentary candidates to look closely at the plans, and for the incoming Government to cancel it as soon as possible.”