As part of plans to shave £18 billion off the already over-budget, over-deadline HS2 rail improvement plan, Leeds will now be linked to Manchester via a new upgraded TransPennine route rather than a direct high-speed link.
But according to local officials, the move is bound to mean anticipated jobs created by a high-speed connection will now not happen.
The promise of HS2:
Speaking to HR magazine, Martin Hathaway, managing director of the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce said: “The withdrawal of the planned HS2 eastern leg means that there will be less work for businesses to bid for and therefore potentially fewer opportunities for skilled people in the region.”
“These are highly skilled roles that we really need in the area and the reduction or elimination of these opportunities could be incredibly harmful to the region’s growth and overall access to skilled work and people.”
Last autumn, when construction work started on the controversial rail upgrade project, it was estimated more than direct 22,000 jobs would be created in the coming years.
Some say this was an underestimation though.
HS2's main works contractor for the West Midlands, the Balfour Beatty Vinci Joint Venture, said it expected to be one of the biggest recruiters in the West Midlands, while research by Leeds City Region found 30,000 could be employed during the peak of the planned construction phase – some 5% of which would have been previously unemployed people.
This is in addition to the 40,000 predicted jobs by 2050 by new businesses attracted to the area.
Talking to HR magazine Dominic Richardson, rail and infrastructure partner at the law firm, Gowling WLG, said: "I agree that reinstating the electrification of the Midland Main Line and TransPennine routes (projects that were cancelled in 2017), will certainly involve fewer hours worked than the construction of a dedicated high-speed line from Toton to Leeds. However, it is difficult to determine how many of those hours would have been worked by people living in the regions in which these projects were due to be delivered.
“Presumably the government's own expectations around improvements to employment density around Leeds station will not now happen, making the urgency of strategies to address regionalised gaps in the employment market even greater."
Similarly, Brian Stahelin, chair of the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors told HR magazine: “Undoubtedly scrapping HS2 to Leeds will upset many businesses that were planning their own growth on the back of the opportunities the massive planned spend would have created.”
But others argue the sheer length of the 10-year delay to HS2 has meant its main benefit – cutting journey times – is no longer relevant as more people increasingly work from home, or can easily work while travelling thanks to better mobile devices and wifi connections.
Colin Bamford, economist and emeritus professor of transport and logistics at the University of Huddersfield, said: “The cost-benefit analysis for HS2 has never been convincing, but as its cost has gone up the benefit-to-cost ratio has become increasingly unreliable.”