By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
Concerned council leaders in Nottinghamshire have called on the Government to make a decision on HS2 after the high-speed rail line was again left out in the Chancellor’s budget and spending review.
Councils were waiting with bated breath ahead of Rishi Sunak’s address to the Commons on Wednesday, hoping some clarity would be provided on the future of HS2’s eastern leg.
Work on Phase 2b of the multi-billion-pound project, which could pass through Nottinghamshire at Toton, was quietly put on hold in the summer ahead of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP).
This document, the Government says, will outline the future of HS2 and other, major rail infrastructure projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail.
But there was again no mention of the IRP’s contents in Mr Sunak’s address to MPs, with the Department for Transport and the Chancellor insisting it will be published “soon”.
The Government has said the announcement will come “soon” for several months, and many councils hoped it would coincide with the Spending Review.
However, as two council leaders said in a joint letter to Whitehall, it is now “10 months overdue”.
Councillor Milan Radulovic (Lab), leader of Broxtowe Borough Council, says the situation is “not fair and not right”.
His borough would be the host of the HS2 hub in Toton if the full scale of the plans did come to fruition, though many now believe Phase 2b will be drastically scaled back.
Cllr Radulovic told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “What does ‘soon’ mean? This has all been going on now for more than six years.
“Are we being led down an empty path? The Government needs to give us clarity and let us get on with our plans.
“It needs to become what it always has been, a powerhouse to level up the whole of the country.
“If ‘Levelling Up’ means anything, if the Government is honest in its intentions, it needs to make the decision as soon as possible and give us the opportunity to provide for a future generation.
“We have a variety of different plans waiting there on the table for them to make the decision, it’s not fair and it’s not right.”
Official council figures show Nottinghamshire County Council has spent more than £22.1 million buying land to support HS2’s overall growth strategy in Toton.
A further £30 million, funded mainly through the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership, was provided to create a link road between Toton and Chetwynd.
The link road, approved in the summer, could unlock up to 4,500 homes, new schools, medical facilities and an innovation hub, which could bring thousands of jobs to the area.
But concerns over the contents of the IRP have thrown some plans into doubt, with it still unknown whether the Eastern Leg will even arrive in Nottinghamshire at all.
It comes after the Chancellor announced a £5.7 billion package for ‘London-style’ public transport settlements, in which the East Midlands missed out at the expense of other neighbouring regions.
Cllr Jason Zadrozny, leader of Ashfield District Council, says it’s “as if the East Midlands doesn’t exist”.
He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The uncertainty over HS2 has hung over Nottinghamshire and the Midlands like an albatross. We have residents and landowners in limbo.
“The reality is the East Midlands has been shafted again by Government.
“The Government has announced major public transport infrastructure projects in every other region but ours.
“Year on year, we have the lowest identifiable public transport infrastructure per head in the country.
“This budget was meant to be about levelling up but it has done the opposite – it’s as if the East Midlands doesn’t exist.”
Cllr Ben Bradley MP (Con), leader of Nottinghamshire County Council and Mansfield MP, is co-chair of the HS2 East campaign.
Following the budget, he co-wrote a letter alongside Cllr James Lewis, Labour leader of Leeds City Council, calling for the Government to act.
In the letter, they said: “The Integrated Rail Plan for the north and Midlands is now 10 months overdue.
“This continued uncertainty is undermining business confidence and we need clarity now that we will get what we were promised.
“If the Eastern Leg of HS2 is scaled back or cancelled, the North East, Leeds, Sheffield and the East Midlands will pay a heavy price.
“We’ll miss out on jobs, investment and opportunity while the west of the country becomes better-connected, through the high-speed rail network acting as a spur for growth and regeneration.
“Levelling up requires full delivery of HS2 [on] both sides of the Pennines.”
In his Budget address on Wednesday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak again reaffirmed the line that the IRP will be published “soon”.
However, no information was provided on what its contents will include.
He said: “To connect our towns and cities, we’re investing £21 billion on roads and £46 billion on railways.
“Our Integrated Rail Plan will be published soon, dramatically improving journey times between our towns and cities.”
The Department for Transport provided a statement to the Local Democracy Reporting Service which has not changed since before the summer.
A spokesperson said: “The Integrated Rail Plan will soon outline exactly how major rail projects, including HS2 phase 2b and other transformational projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, will work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers across the North and Midlands need and deserve.”