City’s high-speed frustration

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LABOUR council leaders in Sheffield this week expressed their disappointment that new high-speed trains from London will not arrive in the city as part of a single track construction programme.

The Government announced on Tuesday that the first phase will be built to Birmingham and indicated that lines to the north, including to Sheffield, will follow as a second stage.

Sheffield City Council welcomed the first phase as a step forward but Labour leader Julie Dore said she was “disappointed” that the Government had not confirmed a single route from London to the north of England.

“To only announce it is going as far as Birmingham is not helpful to anyone,” she said. “We have given our backing to High Speed Rail as we firmly believe it will not only bring much-needed jobs to the region but will also help put Sheffield on the map as a business destination, not only in Britain but further afield as well.”

Coun Dore added: “It is not good enough to give the green light to HSR but for this to only come halfway, cutting off more than half the country, including Sheffield. We have been urging the Government to pursue HSR as one route from London to the north of England, rather than splitting the route in two separate phases.

“We need to fight the city’s corner and stand up for the people of Sheffield to make sure the Government do not renege on their commitment to the entire HSR network. It is only by doing this that they will instill confidence that the entire network will be realised as planned. Both these phases should be implemented simultaneously.”

The Government’s approach is to build a line to Birmingham, then pursue a second stage to the North, with one line running to the East Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds, and the other to Manchester.

It gave the go-ahead for the first phase, despite strong opposition from people living in countryside affected by the route.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening said places such as Sheffield would not miss out on the benefits. “A new national high-speed rail network will offer a step change in capacity and connectivity – and that will help transform the economy of Sheffield once again so it can compete and grow in the 21st century,” she said.

“Sheffield and South Yorkshire will benefit hugely from high-speed rail. Journey times from Sheffield to central London will take just one hour 10 minutes – down from two hours seven minutes today.”

She added: “Links from South Yorkshire to key international gateways like Heathrow Airport and the Channel Tunnel will also be vastly improved. And by moving a significant proportion of current inter-city services from the existing railway onto new HS2 lines, there will be space for additional commuter, regional and freight services.”

Construction of the London to Birmingham stage is set to begin in 2017 and it is not due to open until 2026. Services to the North are due to be running by 2032.

The whole network, including the northern branches, is to cost an estimated £32bn.

Transport Minister Norman Baker was visiting Sheffield yesterday to highlight the benefits to the Sheffield area.

Deputy Prime Minister and Hallam MP Nick Clegg said it was “great news for the whole country, but especially for Sheffield and the great cities of the North. For too long governments have spent too much time concentrating on London and the South East. This is a big investment that will link North and South so that everybody can share in the prosperity of the future. It will take some years to build but this is the right thing to do. It is a long-term investment to help heal the North-South divide.”

Ben Still, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive director of strategy, said: “It will give a tremendous boost to the local economy and help ensure that the Sheffield City Region remains an attractive place for investors to locate.”