High Speed Rail – fading from the North

In yesterday’s Budget Speech, one thing conspicuous by its absence was any comment on railways, apart from a passing mention of Crossrail and Crossrail 2 in London.

It was not entirely unexpected that HS2 itself was not in the speech, but what might be surprising is where and how it was mentioned in the budget document itself.

While the Chancellor’s catch phrase of “Northern Powerhouse” was in the document, HS2 was only mentioned in connection with the Midlands. This contrasts to previous Treasury documents. For example, the Autumn Statement 2014 made much of how HS2 and HS3 were going to be vital parts of the Northern Powerhouse. This theme was continued in the ‘Budget 2015’ published in March.

But in the ‘Summer Budget 2015‘, discussion of HS2 was limited to extending the Midlands Metro light rail to New Street Station (no mention of Curzon Street, the intended site of the HS2 station) and a bland statement about the Birmingham Enterprise Zone.

A fortnight after rail electrification projects were booted into the long grass by Patrick McLoughlin, because Network Rail projects are going over budget (not that that project ever actually had a budget), there was some information about the restructuring of Network Rail, but no mention of any electrification projects, whether dropped or continuing.

HS3 made a ghostly apparition, with a definition in the glossary, but no reference to it in the text itself. However Transport for the North will be looking at ‘plans to transform east-west rail and road connections via TransNorth and options for a new TransPennine Tunnel’ with an interim report due for the 2015 Spending Review.

It should be pointed out that the announcement of the route of Phase 2 of HS2 was due last year: instead ministers have been talking about announcing ‘the way forward’ in the autumn.

From the Summer Budget Statement:

1.308 Andy Street, Chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP (GBSLEP), has championed the opportunity to maximise the local benefits of HS2 for the area. This includes the extension of the Midlands Metro. Work on the next phase of the extension, taking it to New Street Station, is currently in construction and due to be completed by the end of the year. Further extensions to the east and west of New Street Station are in the programme for delivery over the next few years. The ambition to extend the Metro even further is a key part of the GBSLEP HS2 Growth Strategy and the government looks forward to considering proposals when they have been developed further….

1.310 The government supports the extension of the Birmingham Enterprise Zone, which will support Birmingham to build on the government’s investment in HS2 to generate further benefits for the city of Birmingham, and will consider a business case as part of the Spending Review.

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