DETAILS of the next phase of the controversial HS2 high-speed rail link have been unveiled — confirming that it will be extended to the North West.
Business leaders in Bolton yesterday welcomed the announcement, but said they had some concerns about the £32 billion cost, timescale and the planned location of the new stations.
The northern routes will be extended from Birmingham to new stations at Manchester Airport and alongside Manchester Piccadilly, while the second will go to new stations in Sheffield and Leeds.
High-speed trains will also stop at Crewe's existing station on route to Preston and Liverpool, and they will also be able to continue to Runcorn and Wigan.
However, building work is not due to start until the 2020s with completion expected in the 2030s. Construction of the first London-to-Birmingham phase will start in about 2017. A third phase will connect Scotland with England.
The government says the scheme will spur economic growth, with many journey times to London cut by one hour.
Emma Antrobus, from Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “HS2 will transform the rail network, providing fast and modern direct services between major cities, and freeing West Coast Mainline capacity to allow many more connections to stations that currently have limited stops.
“It will provide an economic benefit to the whole region, including towns like Bolton, through jobs creation and increased productivity.”
She said businesses would also benefit from having a direct rail link to Europe, with easier access for exporters and inward investors.
However, Bolton businesswoman Holly Bonfield, local secretary of the Federation of Small Businesses, said she was concerned that it would draw investment away from other schemes, including better road maintenance and putting more carriages on existing trains, that would “remove barriers to growth and enable small businesses to become more productive and improve their efficiency”.
Prof Phil Blythe, from the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said some station locations were a worry.
He said: “The government must consider connections to the wider transport network to ensure congestion-free, door-to-door journeys.
“As many proposed stations are on the outskirts of major conurbations, this is crucial to avoid a huge increase in new road users trying to reach stations.”
Earlier this month, Network Rail unveiled £1 billion of improvements to northern rail services over the next few years, including a large-scale electrification programme serving Bolton and stations across the North West.
Cllr Cliff Morris, the leader of Bolton Council, said: “High-speed rail is an opportunity to transform the rail network, creating more capacity in the network and also providing jobs and boosting the economy across the North West.
"While there would not be a direct stop in Bolton, we are confident that the town would see the benefit of the wider economic growth across the region.”