Video: Notts County Council Leader and Mansfield MP Ben Bradley (Con) on the changes
By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
Plans for a HS2 hub station at Toton in Nottinghamshire have been dropped in favour of the high speed line going to East Midlands Parkway instead.
In a long-awaited Government announcement on altered plans for rail travel in the East Midlands and northern England, there will instead be a new main rail network station in Toton and a disused line through north Nottinghamshire will be re-opened.
But the Toton station will not act as a high-speed hub for the multi-billion-pound HS2 project as originally planned.
HS2 lines will instead go to a new base at East Midlands Parkway, at Ratcliffe-on-Soar in Nottinghamshire, and HS2 trains will travel from there to Nottingham city centre on main rail network lines.
Journey times will still be dramatically reduced – London to Nottingham will be cut from 1hr 33 minutes to 57 minutes.
Nottingham to Birmingham – which will be a journey on a single HS2 train – city centre to city centre – will take 26 minutes. This journey currently takes around 1hr 14 minutes.
The previous plans saw passengers having to get a separate rail service into Toton to change on to HS2.
It comes as part of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Thursday, which revealed drastically reduced commitments to the Eastern Leg of HS2.
Members of the Conservative Government say the changes still amount to a massive investment which will dramatically improve transport and wider infrastructure in Nottinghamshire and the region, more quickly than HS2.
But critics say the changes mean Nottinghamshire will miss out compared with areas and fear its economy could be left behind.
The HS2 high-speed rail project, which has been decades in the making, initially proposed a line from London to Birmingham (Phase 1) before breaking off into a ‘Y’ shape at the West Midlands city.
It would then travel towards Manchester (Phase 2a) and Leeds (Phase 2b), passing through the East Midlands at Toton on its route towards West Yorkshire.
The first two phases have received an almost full commitment, but the Government’s announcement has confirmed plans to scale back its Birmingham to Leeds line.
Two smaller and separate high-speed lines will now be created, with one connecting Birmingham to East Midlands Parkway in Rushcliffe.
The second high-speed connection will be built between Sheffield and Leeds, leaving roughly a 50-mile black hole in the middle of what was planned to be a single HS2 line.
Initial Department for Transport (DfT) projections suggested HS2 could reduce journey times from Toton to London down to just 51 minutes.
At present, the quickest train from Nottingham to the capital takes almost two hours, with HS2 trains travelling at a routine speed of 205mph.
It is unclear whether times will be similar from the East Midlands Parkway hub, but Mr Shapps said the new line to Birmingham is expected to cut travel time between the two Midlands cities from 72 to 26 minutes.
However, concerns have been raised about the IRP omitting the Toton hub in favour of East Midlands Parkway.
Years of planning has gone into the Toton hub, with Nottinghamshire County Council spending £22 million allocating land to unlock thousands of jobs, homes and employment space.
The authority also approved a £30 million link road to serve the development plans earlier this year.
But despite not featuring in the high-speed plans, the Government has committed to investing in a railway station at Toton.
This will connect to the reopened Maid Marian Line – closed during the 1960s Beeching Cuts – to provide passenger connectivity with places like Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Selston and Pinxton.
It comes alongside a commitment to extending the Robin Hood Line out to Edwinstowe and Ollerton, a project long campaigned for by politicians including the Government’s chief whip and Sherwood MP Mark Spencer.
This would connect with the Maid Marian Line in Ashfield to reach the Toton station, and eventually on to HS2 via the light rail connection.
Councillor Ben Bradley MP (Con), Nottinghamshire County Council leader and Mansfield MP, believes the East Midlands has come out as the “big winner” from the IRP.
This remark comes as parts of Yorkshire missed out on connections to other northern cities, with the IRP confirming a significantly cut-back version of the Northern Powerhouse Rail line between Leeds, Bradford and Manchester.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Mr Bradley said: “We’ve seen a massive commitment to the East Midlands.
“The commitment to a station at Toton has been a huge priority for us as that’s our hub to create tens of thousands of jobs.
“The package of transport links around it, with the Maid Marian Line, the Robin Hood Line, road links and tram links, will get people into those jobs.
“That’s a massive opportunity for us over the next eight to ten years to really boost people’s life chances in the region.
“It’s the start of our really positive package of the freeport, the development corporation and devolution, and amounts to £10-£12 billion investment into the region.”
The IRP also includes the full electrification of the Midland Main Line – between London St Pancras, East Midlands Parkway, Nottingham and Sheffield – to reduce journey times for passengers.
However, the overall plan has been met with a lukewarm reception by opposition politicians.
Cllr Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind), leader of Ashfield District Council, welcomed the Maid Marian Line news but criticised the overall HS2 plans.
“We’ve always said reopening the Maid Marian Line to passengers was a no-brainer,” he said.
“Reopening mineral lines like the Maid Marian Line to passengers is incredibly cost-effective and will see between 1.1 million and 1.4 million rail journeys per year.
“With regards to HS2 – it’s been the worst kept secret in Nottinghamshire for years that HS2 would not stop at Toton.
“This didn’t stop the Conservatives at County Hall taking a £22 million gamble buying land in and around Toton, on the basis that the Prime Minister would keep a promise that has unravelled fast.
“It’s HS2 for half the UK but sod all for the rest. They talk about levelling up, yet this looks like it will further exacerbate issues in Nottinghamshire and put us further behind the rest of the UK.”
Lilian Greenwood (Lab), MP for Nottingham South, also criticised the Eastern Leg not being delivered in full.
She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The IRP is a huge betrayal of our region and by spinning this as a good deal, Ben Bradley is simply selling our county and our region short.
“We’ll lose out on massively improved connections to Leeds, the North East and Scotland.
“By scrapping the full Eastern Leg, we won’t get the extra capacity needed to create more local rail services and get more freight on rail – and lorries off our roads.
“It will leave our region in the slow lane when it comes to jobs, skills and opportunities. We needed better than yet more broken promises from Boris Johnson and the Tories.”
But the DfT says its IRP will improve journey times and capacity “from London and across the Pennines” and “strengthen connections between major cities in the North and Midlands”.
Writing in the Yorkshire Post, Prime Minister Boris Johnson added: “[This is the] biggest transport investment programme in a century, delivering meaningful transport connections for more passengers across the country, more quickly – with both high-speed journeys and better local services, it will ensure no town or city is left behind.”
In total, the IRP will cost the Government £96 billion – including commitments to major infrastructure, local service upgrades and faster journeys – which ministers say will happen “up to 10 years earlier” than originally planned.