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Mayor says ‘Scrap HS2’ to dismay of Cambridge campaign group

A call for the government to scrap the controversial HS2 rail project has been branded as shortsighted by the chairman of Smarter Cambridge Transport campaign group.

Edward Leigh believes that HS2, which will link London and Birmingham to Manchester and the East Midlands and Leeds, is key to the future population and growth of Cambridgeshire.

But the project is already over budget, with many politicians fearing the final cost could be as high as £100billion. That prospect prompted calls by James Palmer, mayor of the Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority, for the plan to be scrapped and the money spent on more attainable transport infrastructure goals.

James Palmer, mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough wants HS2 rail project scrapped. Pic - Richard Marsham
James Palmer, mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough wants HS2 rail project scrapped. Pic - Richard Marsham

Mr Palmer believes that a regional share of the £86billion pot so far spent on the project would give the region £9.5bn, that could be spent on new railway stations at Soham and CambridgeSouth, as well as road improvements including the dualling of the A47 and A10.

But the mayor’s ideas have been criticised by Mr Leigh, who believes that, yet again, the HS2 project has been misrepresented.

Mr Leigh said: “It seems that mayor James Palmer has published a personal opinion under the banner of the Combined Authority, of which he is the chair. The business case for HS2 is complex and often misrepresented as being all about speed. It isn’t.

Smarter Cambridge Transport- Edward Leigh. Picture: Keith Heppell. (15881002)
Smarter Cambridge Transport- Edward Leigh. Picture: Keith Heppell. (15881002)

“The speed element is important because it allows trains from the Midlands, North and Scotland to be diverted from the East Coast, West Coast and Midland Mainlines on their way to London.

“That will free up a huge amount of capacity on those lines for more local, cross-country and freight services around the heart of England.

“That means more and faster trains with fewer connections from East Anglia to Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and beyond. It means more freight moving to and from Felixstowe by rail rather than on the A14. This is how HS2 will benefit Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

“It’s a long-term investment for future population and economic growth and for the greater use we will make of public transport as part of reducing the carbon footprint of how we live and work.”

He was responding to the mayor’s comments that continuing with the controversial project would be a case of throwing ‘good money after bad’ and says the cash would be better spent in the region.

Mr Palmer said: “For years, alarm bells have been ringing over the money pit that the HS2 project
has become.

“All around the country, historically under-funded regions like Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have been crying out for cash to link up our key centres and a share of that HS2 pot would be transformational.

“Nobody’s sure of the price tag but the HS2 company chairman has warned that costs could soar by another £30 billion over its £56 billion budget.Former Commons leader Andrea Leadsom has suggested the bill could top £100 billion. It’s eye-watering.

“The big issue holding back England is not how to go north or south but how to get across the country, from east to west.

“So I applaud the courage of the new Johnson administration in putting HS2 back under the microscope – and I won’t be alone in hoping that this particular gravy train is stopped in its tracks – or at least scaled back. Of course, a review does not mean HS2 will definitely be scrapped or downsized, but it raises the possibility.

“New rail stations at Soham and Cambridge South, a new rail link to Wisbech, a dualled A47 and A10, a third crossing over the Great Ouse, fresh ways to reform the bus network, including franchising, and the Cambridge Autonomous Metro are among our priority rail and road projects to change life here for the better."

Meanwhile, Regional Director for Peterborough and the East of England, Richard Tunnicliffe also criticised the mayor's views adding that HS2 is vital to the region's prosperity.

He said: “Our region needs both HS2 delivered and better transport infrastructure. Making HS2 happen, as well as boost rail and road infrastructure in the East of England will help ensure our area fulfils its potential.

“I honestly believe we should move away from arguments that pits HS2 versus other projects in the East of England; all schemes are vital for Britain’s future. This includes the work already underway to deliver better connectivity across the region through East-West Rail.

“We all need to get together and make the case for more investment and better infrastructure.”

The consultation ends on September 27.

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