HS2 Meadowhall option still on table, minister tells debate

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Transport minister Andrew Jones says the planned Meadowhall route for HS2 still remains on the table, after questions in parliament early today.

He was quizzed over the option in a debate called by Ed Miliband on the Yorkshire stretch of the high speed rail link, for which the currently proposed option would take trains through the Dearne Valley and involve the demolition of homes in Mexborough.

Mr Miliband told MPs that the Dearne route, which involves a spur into Sheffield city centre, would provide fewer benefits for South Yorkshire.

He said it would mean slower travel times to London from Sheffield city centre than the Meadowhall option, and disputed claims that the Dearne route would be £1 billion cheaper.

He said it would also mean fewer trains serving the citym, with two rather than five.

He added: “The other thing I would say about the challenges and constraints is that we are not comparing like with like. We are comparing three or four years of work on the Meadowhall route with, frankly, back-of-a-fag packet calculations in relation to the M18 route.

“Already, my constituents with houses that are going to need to be demolished have not had letters saying that their houses would need to be demolished. There is a whole range of issues. A whole new housing estate, the Shimmer estate in Mexborough in my constituency, is threatened with demolition.

“Some of the most distinctive countryside around villages in my constituency such as Hickleton, Barnburgh, Clayton and Hooton Pagnell is under threat. Our argument is not simply about the local effect—it is a wider argument about the benefits to South Yorkshire. However, I do think that that is relevant, and proper work has not been done on the constraints of this route.”

The Dearne plans could include a parkway station in the area. It had been said that there were nine possible locations, pending consulation.

But Rother Valley MP Kevin Barron, who also opposes the Dearne route, said he had now heard that only two possible sites in the Dearne were now being looked at.

Minister Mr Jones said the proposed M18 route has additional benefits, in that it affected fewer properties, generated less noise pollution than the Meadowhall alternative, was less congested, and avoided businesses and the risk from the mining legacy.

He said he could see many attractions to a city centre location such as Leeds, Birmingham or Manchester.

He added: “On the parkway station recommendation, the Government have commissioned HS2 Ltd to conduct an options study that will review rail demand in the ​South Yorkshire region, and alternative options for meeting that demand, including the parkway station, as well as potential service extensions to places beyond Sheffield Midland, such as Meadowhall, Rotherham and Barnsley. That work is under way. We look forward to the results in the spring. Alongside the route refinement and property consultation, the study will be used to inform a decision on HS2 in South Yorkshire later this year.

“I agree with everybody here that we want to secure the benefits of HS2 in South Yorkshire and right across our country. It will be a major challenge to get the scheme right for South Yorkshire, but already we can see some benefits, including funding to help with the development of a growth strategy. The region can start to benefit from HS2 even before it is built, through long-term plans for regeneration. Several contracts have been let, and further major contracts worth up to £11.8 billion for civil engineering work between London and Birmingham are expected to be let this year.

“HS2 is going ahead. The programme is moving at pace. The question is how to minimise the disruption during the build and, most importantly, maximise the benefits when HS2 arrives. I want people to be thinking about that, including in South Yorkshire. I have met colleagues from South Yorkshire, and I will meet them again—I think that dates are already in the diary; I am happy to receive all representations. I think that we can take this debate as part of the consultation exercise, and I hope that we can achieve a consensus around the proposal in South Yorkshire.

Asked by Mr Miliband if the Meadowhall option was still on the table, he added: “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. HS2 Ltd has run the largest public consultation in British Government history. We have sought to listen to communities and to take on board their comments and concerns at every stage, and that will continue, but HS2 is not just about improving transport; it is about exactly what the right hon. Gentleman said—building a better Britain and creating a legacy of prosperity for future generations. That especially applies in Yorkshire, which stands to benefit enormously from the new line, which is why I, as a Yorkshire MP, am proud to be part of this fantastic scheme.”