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Andy Bounds in Manchester and Jim Pickard in London FEBRUARY 13 2020 26 Print this page The northern section of HS2 will be built in full, the transport secretary told sceptical political and business leaders at a private meeting on Wednesday, as the government prepared to outline a wider rail strategy for the region. Grant Shapps gave the assurance on a visit to Manchester. He explained the review of the northern part of the high-speed rail scheme announced by Boris Johnson on Tuesday as part of the approval of project was to ensure it was integrated with other rail lines and built as cheaply as possible. One official added the transport secretary had “banned the word review because that implies [HS2] could be cancelled and it will not be”. The government is under pressure to cut the cost of the project after its price tag ballooned from £56bn to £106bn in a decade. Regional politicians at the meeting said they were relieved to hear Mr Shapps make a commitment to HS2, which is due to link London to Manchester and Leeds via Birmingham, as well as the proposed £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) in full. The latter project would link the north’s big cities from Liverpool, Hull and Newcastle via Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. A fully integrated rail system that connects HS2 to the east-west Northern Powerhouse Rail — or High Speed North — is the only way we can truly rebalance the country’s economy towards the north Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City council, The prime minister’s announcement earlier this week that he wanted to review the final and largest stage of the project — the Y-shaped leg that would run on to Manchester and Leeds, known as phase 2b — in order to find cost savings and look at its integration with NPR, had raised fears it could be cut back. Richard Leese, leader of Manchester city council, who attended the meeting, said the transport secretary had “given a categorical confirmation that phase 2b of HS2 will definitely go ahead without the need for further review of the project and to an accelerated project timeline”. He added: “Importantly, we share an understanding that a fully integrated rail system that connects HS2 to the east-west Northern Powerhouse Rail — or High Speed North — is the only way we can truly rebalance the country’s economy towards the north.” Mr Shapps also said he wanted the completion date for phase 2b brought forward to 2035 or earlier, underlining comments by Mr Johnson that the current completion date of 2036-2040 was too late. Judith Blake, leader of Leeds city council, who was connected to the meeting via phone, said she raised the importance of the leg through the East Midlands to Leeds. “The eastern leg has always been of the highest significance. It will deliver the greatest economic transformation from the Midlands right through South Yorkshire to the north-east.” Mr Shapps would not be drawn on whether the speed would be reduced on some sections. The eastern route passes over old coal mines which require expensive reinforcement to reach the highest speeds. Recommended AnalysisHS2 Boris Johnson’s HS2 gamble sends signal on levelling-up But northern leaders have not yet secured all the new rail commitments they are seeking. They are also demanding a new fast line between Leeds and Manchester as part of the NPR scheme to stop in central Bradford. But Whitehall is baulking at the estimated £2bn cost. A joint consultation between Transport for the North, the regional body, and the Department for Transport has been held up by the dispute. Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford city council, said the city of 530,000 desperately needed a fast rail connection. “The wider regeneration benefits are huge. A station in Bradford would build business confidence and attract investment even before you build it.” Barrie White, chief executive of TfN, said it was vital to “right a historic wrong”. He said the station “would turn Bradford into one of the best connected cities in the country”. The government is expected to publish its integrated northern rail strategy later this week.