HS2: ‘Urgent’ call for review of development on axed route
Leeds Council has demanded an urgent review of the development protection that remains in place along the former HS2 eastern leg route, which was scrapped last week. The local authority is understood to want the opportunity to develop land in the Yorkshire city’s centre and beyond, which was safeguarded for the delivery of the high-speed rail link. But the government’s new Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) last week revealed that safeguarding would remain in place on the abandoned route until further feasibility work had been carried out on other transport projects mooted to serve West Yorkshire.
On 18 November, transport secretary Grant Shapps scrapped a large part of the eastern leg of HS2, saying that stopping construction at East Midlands Parkway rather than Leeds would save GBP18bn. The development protection means some property owners can still opt to sell up to HS2 even though the line will not go through their land, while developers cannot build on a protected swathe of the East Midlands and Yorkshire without HS2’s permission. More than GBP115m has been spent since 2014 to acquire more than 450 properties on the phase 2b eastern leg.
A Leeds City Council spokesperson said this week: “Confidence in Leeds remains high and we continue to attract a wealth of investment into our city, having developed a plan to accommodate HS2’s arrival so the city could continue to grow around it. “Following the publication of the IRP, and as we await the outcome of the further study into how to bring high-speed rail to Leeds, we are calling for an urgent review of the safeguarded land to bring greater certainty around future development.” The government said in the IRP that it would “look at the most effective way to run HS2 trains to Leeds” and start work on a West Yorkshire Mass Transit System.
“This work will inform decisions […] on safeguarding of the current route,” added the IRP. “However, pending conclusion of the work set out above, the government does not intend to lift safeguarding on the previously proposed HS2 route at this time.” Construction firms reiterated their support for the eastern leg to be built in full, whenever that became possible. Civil Engineering Contractors Association chief executive Alasdair Reisner said he was “disappointed” that the eastern leg of HS2 would not be delivered as planned, but called for future delivery to remain on the table. “Our priority now is to make sure that nothing is done to close off the opportunity to do this work at some point in the future when economic conditions are better,” he added.
A spokesperson from the Railway Industry Association echoed Reisner’s disappointment over the scaling-back of HS2. “The IRP announcement doesn’t change the fact that the full benefits of HS2 are only realised if the full scheme is built,” they said.
Leeds was promised a new GBP200m tram system in the IRP, which Shapps said would deliver benefits to people in the regions “much sooner” than previous plans.
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