Osborne set to give green light to HS3 high-speed rail link

George Osborne

George Osborne

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George Osborne is set to give the green light to major rail developments in the north of England and London in his Budget on Wednesday.

The Chancellor is expected to confirm Government backing for the HS3 high-speed rail link between Manchester and Leeds, and the Crossrail 2 project to connect Surrey and Hertfordshire via stations in central London like King's Cross, Victoria, Chelsea and Clapham Junction.

The developments came as the National Infrastructure Commission - set up by the Government in 2015 to advise on long-term projects to boost the economy - released a report calling for "immediate and very significant investment" in transport for the North of England, and a plan for longer-term transformation to cut journey times, raise capacity and improve reliability.

The new report followed last week's launch of a similar NIC study into Crossrail 2, which urged ministers to "get on right away" with the south-west to north-east cross-London line.

In a £300 million Budget package to boost transport links in his cherished "Northern Powerhouse", Mr Osborne is expected to commit the Government to taking forward HS3 between Manchester and Leeds, with £60 million to cut journey times to 30 minutes from their current 49.

A full blueprint for HS3 will be drawn up by next year.

He will also announce £75 million to develop plans for a trans-Pennine tunnel between Sheffield and Manchester and explore options for improvements to the M60 ring-road around Manchester as well as the A66 and A69 coast-to-coast trunk roads further north.

Highways England is set to be given £161 million to accelerate upgrades to the M62 Liverpool-Hull motorway.

And he will launch a new £1.2 billion fund to release brownfield land to build more than 300,000 starter homes across the country.

The NIC report identified the construction of HS3 and boosted capacity for the M62 as key ingredients for the Northern Powerhouse programme to improve the economic prospects of the north of England.

The high-speed rail line should eventually be extended to connect Liverpool in the west with Hull and Newcastle in the east, and its route should link in with the HS2 line joining London, the Midlands and the North, said the report.

Commission chairman Lord Adonis said: "If the North is to become a powerhouse it has to be better connected.

"Leeds and Manchester are just 40 miles apart but there is no quick and easy way to travel between the two.

"In rush hour, it can take more than two hours by car, by train it can be almost an hour. So we should kick-start HS3 across the Pennines and slash journey times to just 30 minutes.

"But we must not wait decades for change - journey times should be cut to 40 minutes by 2022.

"A transformed northern rail network should include high-speed connections to HS2 and the dramatic redevelopment of Manchester Piccadilly to deliver jobs and investment across the centre of the city.

"By road, major improvements should be brought forward to transform the M62 between Liverpool and Leeds, cutting journey times by up to 20% and increasing capacity by a third, alongside the development of a major strategy to enhance the entire motorway network including access to Britain's third busiest airport - Manchester Airport.

"A better connected north will be better for jobs, better for families and better for Britain. The work should begin as quickly as possible."

Meanwhile, the Chancellor will announce £80 million for Crossrail 2 to proceed to the next stage of planning and will ask Transport for London to match that contribution with the aim of introducing legislation to Parliament before the 2020 election.

His announcement marks the first time that the Government has identified the project as its priority scheme for London.

Mr Osborne said his decisions would drive forward the UK's largest investment in rail infrastructure since the Victorian era.

"With the difficulties we see in the global economy, we've got to make Britain fit for the future," said the Chancellor.

"Now is the time us to make the bold decisions and the big investments that will help us to lead the world in infrastructure, and create jobs, push up living standards and boost our productivity for the next generation.

"That's what my Budget this week sets out to do."

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin added: "We know that good transport doesn't just help get people around, it helps them get on.

"The National Infrastructure Commission has rightly identified these projects as transformational schemes that have the potential to further strengthen our economy.

"This is a major step forward for the Northern Powerhouse and Londoners alike."

Lord Adonis said the package involved immediate improvements in the north of England as well as a longer-term plan and insisted that London was not getting the lion's share of transport investment.

"It's not just jam tomorrow, we have recommended immediate action on the M62, on the railways linking the northern cities, but of course you also need a longer-term plan to bring about transformation," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Putting those two together - immediate improvements on the M62 and the railways - and then also what's called HS3 which is producing much faster links, half-an-hour between Manchester and Leeds, and the possibility of significant new roads in the North too, for example linking Manchester and Sheffield with the possibility of a tunnel under the Peaks, which would be a hugely ambitious project."

Pressed on the scale of investment in London compared to the North, Lord Adonis said: "The biggest single infrastructure project in Europe is HS2 and most of that spending is going on the Midlands and the North, to link the cities of the Midlands and the North together and then with London.

"So it's not the case that all this investment is going in London, there is massive investment going in the Midlands and the North too. What's needed is to join it up so the short-term investments lead to longer-term ones and people haven't got to wait another 20 years before they get transformed services between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Hull, which is essential."