Labour MP Ed Miliband has dismissed as “simply illusory” claims that rerouting High Speed 2 (HS2) away from the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield would save £1bn.
In a late night House of Commons debate on Monday, the MP for Doncaster North questioned plans to reroute the line along the M18 motorway approximately 11km to the east of Sheffield.
“We have called this debate because HS2, having supported the Sheffield Meadowhall route year after year, has changed its mind and is now recommending what is called the M18 route through my constituency, with a spur to Sheffield Midland,” said Miliband. “In my remarks, I want to take on the issue of whether that makes sense.”
Miliband said that the new route increased the journey time from London to Sheffield from 79 minutes to between 85 and 87 minutes. He claimed that the number of trains per hour would fall from five to two. In addition trains travelling from HS2 into Sheffield would run on existing “classic” tracks, and so would be subject to the delays and problems that already exist.
The MP also doubted HS2 Ltd’s claims that the new route would save £1bn and argued it had left out a number of important costs.
“Unfortunately, it turns out that the claimed savings are simply illusory. This £1bn of so-called savings excludes a whole number of costs,” said Miliband.
He said that the figure had excluded the electrification of track to take HS2 trains between Sheffield and Leeds. He put this at £300M, and said the cost of a parkway station would also have to be included. This, he said HS2 Ltd was suggesting could cost between £200M and £300M. Re-engineering work at Sheffield Midland and electrification of the Sheffield spur line would also have to be factored in.
“When we look at the so-called £1bn of savings, we found that it disappeared. I ask the minister to come back to me on that if he disagrees,” he said.
Transport under-secretary Andrew Jones defended the decision by saying that HS2 was long overdue would create thousands of new jobs.
Speaking at a Commons transport select committee meeting in December last year, HS2 Ltd chairman Sir David Higgins said that Sheffield had been, ”without a doubt, the hardest of any solution”. He explained that Sheffield City Council and the city’s chamber of commerce were strongly opposed to the Meadowhall route, preferring a city centre connection. He also said that there were strong objections to the size of the station to be built at the shopping centre hub.
“The more work we did on the proposed Meadowhall route, the more difficulties we found. It was a huge civil structure, 4km long, 25m up in the air and 60m wide in places,” said Higgins. “A lot of people started to criticise the size of the structure and the impact it would have on the environment and the community.”
Miliband, who supports the original route, asked Jones whether the Meadowhall option was still “on the table”. Jones replied: “Yes. We have not ruled options out, although the government have said that they are minded—but only minded—to go ahead with the proposal from Sir David Higgins.”
However, despite the reassurance on the Meadowhall option, it is understood that the government is unlikely to revert back to the original plan. Consultations on this section of the Phase 2B route are due to close on 9 March and a decision on the chosen route is expected from the government later this year.