Show some ambition, Burnham tells government over HS2 plans

Photo: PA Media

Andy Burnham has called on the Government to “show ambition for the North” as he panned current plans in the HS2 bill laid in Parliament on Monday.

The mayor of Greater Manchester said the extension of the high-speed rail line to Manchester without an underground station being built was the “wrong solution”.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps described Monday as a “landmark moment” in improving the North’s rail connections.

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Phase 2b, launched in the Bill before parliament, will cut travel times by about 55 minutes for journeys between London and Manchester, and up to 45 minutes for those between Birmingham and Manchester, according to the Department for Transport (DfT).

It will also at least double capacity on those routes, the DfT said.

The Bill will allow HS2 tracks to be installed and new stations and junctions to be built at Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport.

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But Mr Burnham, alongside Bev Craig, leader of Manchester City Council, said the HS2 station at Piccadilly in the heart of the city should be build underground.

Mr Burnham said the planned overground station will use valuable development land and trains going between Liverpool and Leeds will have to reverse out of the station, and also questioned the capacity of the new development.

At a press conference at Mayfield Depot, beside Piccadilly station, Mr Burnham said he would work with the Government but added “the solution on the table is the wrong solution”.

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Mr Burnham said: “And it’s actually wrong for the north of England as a whole.

“What happens here is going to define the north of England for two centuries. Therefore we have got to get it right.

“And my message for the Government today is, show the same ambition for the north of England that we have for this place.

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“This decision about what happens here, this is the heart of the north of England behind us here, the potential of it is massive.

“If we build it right, the benefits will flow for decades and decades, centuries even. If you are going to spend billions on it, get it right.”

Ms Craig said they would be lobbying government as the HS2 Bill went through Parliament to try to get their plans endorsed.

She added: “We are welcoming that high speed is coming to Manchester, we’re simply asking that we get the right plan for Manchester, and that’s what we need for it to be successful.”

A DfT spokeswoman said: “We’ve worked with Greater Manchester partners from the start of this project to deliver the best solution for the region.

“Our analysis found that an underground station would cause major disruption during construction and take passengers longer to reach platforms, cancelling out the benefits of faster journeys, all at an additional cost of up to £5 billion while significantly delaying the introduction of full HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail services.

“A surface station offers the best value for money and supports Greater Manchester’s ambitions to realise the benefits that HS2 will bring to the region.”

High speed rail plans also face opposition from the organisations Stop HS2 North and HS2 Rebellion over the environmental and financial impact of the project.

The programme had a budget of £55.7 billion (at 2015 prices), but following cost increases and delays its funding was reset by the Government in 2020 to reflect a maximum estimated cost of £98 billion.

In October 2021 HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson said the project “remains within budget”

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Shannon Butcher