The Labour Leader of Rotherham Council has welcomed the announcement of changes to the Eastern leg of the HS2 rail link, following a five-year battle to stop the project wrecking local countryside, homes and livelihoods.
Large parts of Rotherham, including Bramley, Aston and Wales, were set to be directly impacted by the proposed M18 route, with thousands of residents in surrounding areas affected by years of construction works. Any benefits to the area from improved rail services and economic benefits were severely curtailed when the Conservative government scrapped the planned route via Meadowhall, leaving only a fraction of trains planned to travel into Sheffield, back in 2017.
Council Leader, Councillor Chris Read hailed the Government u-turn as a “victory for common sense at last”, but he urged Ministers not to simply slash and burn the scale of investment in northern rail services they were previously promising.
The Council first formally lodged its opposition to HS2 in September 2016 through a Motion to Full Council following a decision to re-route the line and in so doing put local communities at risk, whilst making any economic benefit for Rotherham virtually non-existent.
The plans outlined in the government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) seem to suggest that HS2 capacity into Sheffield Midland from London will be the same under this new plan as it was under the M18 route, with journey times remaining around 90 minutes.
The plan also names Rotherham as an area that could benefit further from the new route “depending on decisions beyond the IRP”. The government has recently indicated a commitment of £20 million through the Towns Fund and City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements (CRSTS) programme to support the development of a new mainline Rotherham station at Parkgate.
Worryingly for households that expected to be impacted, however, the government is not at this stage lifting the “safeguarding” rules around property purchases.
Councillor Read said: “There is strong opposition to HS2 from communities across Rotherham because of the damage it threatened to do to local communities while offering next-to-no benefit for our residents or economy. I always said this was a fight we could win, and so it has turned out to be. It is a victory for common sense at last and local campaign groups should take huge credit for their steadfast opposition – it is them I am most happy for today, and the government must give them cast iron guarantees that their nightmare is over.
“The reality is that this was a mess of this government’s own making, which has hung over our communities for far too long already. The government have finally landed on a solution which hinges on electrifying the Midland Mainline – a scheme they shelved years ago despite lobbying from South Yorkshire. Now they must keep their wider ambition for rail in the North, not just slash and burn. That means supporting us to bring Rotherham rail services back onto the mainline for the first time in a generation, ensuring no local journeys between Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster and Leeds are lost, and creating enough capacity on the network north of Sheffield to ensure Midland station isn’t the end of the line.”