Nottinghamshire County Council leader denies East Midlands is being 'levelled down' by 'disaster' HS2 cancellation
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The move, announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the Conservative Party Conference on October 4, has been labelled a ‘disaster’ for the East Midlands – and some local leaders have claimed the region will be ‘levelled down’ as a result.
But Coun Ben Bradley (Con), Nottinghamshire Council leader and Mansfield MP, said separate projects planned by the Government instead of HS2 show a ‘commitment to the region and to improving transport links’.
Mr Sunak said cancelling the second leg of HS2 would enable him to divert £36 billion into regional transport projects instead.
But this will not soften the blow for areas like Nottinghamshire which has already seen the planned HS2 East project scaled back with the planned hub at Toton and plans to divert high-speed trains to East Midlands Parkway both scrapped.
The East Midlands will now get a share of £9.6 billion instead, the Department for Transport (DfT) has said.
But the news has led to some business leaders and politicians suggesting the East Midlands has been ‘let down’ by the Government in its ‘levelling up’ ambitions.
Scott Knowles, chief executive of the East Midlands Chamber, said: “This latest embarrassing u-turn is another nail in the coffin for the Government’s levelling up mantra.
“It damages confidence and has real-world impacts in terms of job creation and business investment.
“Forget levelling up, it feels like we are being levelled down in the East Midlands – again.”
However, Coun Bradley, while admitting a physical high-speed line into the region is no longer in the pipeline, said rail improvements for the region still include a £1.75 billion Midlands Rail Hub to improve journey times, capacity and frequency between the east and west midlands.
Coun Bradley says this potentially opens up a connection for high-speed trains with Nottingham, Derby and Chesterfield via an upgraded Midland Mainline.
“I’m still comfortable high-speed trains – not a new line but high-speed trains – will come to Parkway, Derby, Nottingham and Chesterfield.
“I don’t agree we’re not going to get high-speed travel through the East Midlands.”
The DfT also says links will be upgraded between Newark and Nottingham, and it will extend the existing London-Leicester-Nottingham trains to Yorkshire and the north east.
The DfT added that £1.5 billion in additional cash has been pledged for the new East Midlands mayor to spend on local transport funding in the region.
A report suggests one project this could be used for is to re-open the Maid Marian Line between Kirkby and Derbyshire.
But Coun Matthew Relf (Ash Ind), another candidate for the East Midlands mayoral role, who represents Sutton Juction and Harlow Wood on Ashfield Council, says the wider announcement is ‘pittance’ compared to what had initially been offered.
He said: “This represents catastrophic political leadership.
“The list of projects the government has announced with this are not new and should have been funded anyway.
“The East Midlands needs these projects now, not in 10 years.
"It is time to stop dithering and start delivering.”
Claire Ward, Labour’s East Midlands mayoral candidate, added: “It shows the Government doesn’t take the East Midlands seriously.
“This is a disaster for us and worst of all, for businesses who have invested in that route over the years.
"Why should they listen to this Government anymore?”
Other projects included in the announcement include £2.2 billion to remove the ‘scourge of potholes’ across the east and west midlands.
The two regions will also get £220 million to improve the frequency of buses alongside £100 million for London-style contactless ticketing on public transport.