Deleted transport schemes ‘just examples’ of how HS2 savings can be used, minister claims

Mark Harper says swiftly deleted announcements for Network North projects showed "the sorts of things" HS2 savings could be spent on
The Victoria Viaduct, part of the old Leamside Line. Photo: Stuart Lawton/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

09 Oct 2023

Transport schemes announced by the government last week and then swiftly deleted were just “examples” of what savings from scrapping HS2’s northern leg could be spent on, a minister has claimed.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak confirmed last week the government would not go ahead with the northern leg of HS2 last week, announcing plans to instead spend the money, around £36bn, on a new Network North project to improve transport across the country.

Network North documents, published by the Department of Transport after Sunak’s speech at Conservative Party Conference, initially mentioned £100m of funding for a mass transit “underground” project in Bristol and outlined plans to reopen Transport North East’s Leamside line. These were deleted the same evening.

Transport secretary Mark Harper has now claimed these were illustrations of what the money could be reinvested into, rather than concrete commitments.

“We gave some examples to people about the sorts of things – and we know these things are priorities locally – the sorts of things that that money could be spent on, and to bring it to life for people,” Harper told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire on Sunday.

Network North communications from the DfT now says the £1.8bn being invested into the northeast – £1.2bn from the second City Regional Sustainable Transport Settlement budget, and a further £0.7 billion from HS2 savings – "could part fund the reopening of the Leamside Line". 

Harper told Sky News ministers would “develop the business case” for restoring the line.

North East Joint Transport Committee chair Martin Gannon has asked DfT for "urgent clarification" on how the Leamside Line and the other schemes will be funded. 

“The northeast needs to see a reversal of a long history of under investment in transport for the benefit of generations to come. This must include a commitment to fund the reopening of the Leamside Line not yet another broken promise," he said.

A DfT spokesperson told the BBC its £1.8bn investment in the northeast “will empower local leaders to fund the transport projects that matter most to their communities – including funding for the Leamside line if they choose to”.

"We are working closely with Transport North East as they work on the business case for the re-opening of the Leamside line,” they added.

The government also removed an entire page where it had pledged to “revolutionise mass transit in Bristol”, replacing this with a pledge to give the west of England combined authority £100m to spend on projects in the region.

Asked if Bristol will still get a new mass transit system, Harper said: “My department published a document which set out very clearly what we are going to spend the £36bn on that we are saving from cancelling the second phase of HS2.

“The money that was promised for Bristol is for £100m extra for the elected mayor of the west of England combined authority and that is money that he will have available to spend on his projects including on a mass transit system... some of those things are already being delivered.”

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh slammed the “fantasy promises” by the government.

“They can’t hide from the fact that they released a document that looked like it had been scribbled in crayon by advisers that had never left London,” she said on Twitter/X.

The Network North package promises  that "every region of the country will benefit from more transport investment" as a result of the high speed rail line between Birmingham and Manchester being cancelled. CSW found much of it appears to repeat existing plans, however.

Read the most recent articles written by Tevye Markson - Senior MPs urge civil service to 'break cycle of siloed, short-term thinking’

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