The HS2 project is already in the planning system, to link London and Birmingham and then under phase two to extend to Leeds and Manchester with separate north-south lines. HS3 would run broadly east-west between Leeds and Manchester to reduce journey times from around 55 minutes to between 26 and 34 minutes.
The prime minister and the chancellor described HS3 as part of the government’s long term economic plan for the north of England.
They were responding to a report published by HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins, which sets out proposals for how to maximise the benefits of HS2 in the north and how transport links can be improved in the north of England more widely. In the report, called Rebalancing Britain, Sir David identifies the importance of improving east-west connectivity across the north and considers the central role a high speed rail link could play in reducing the north-south divide.
The report also gives strong backing to the case for Phase Two of HS2 and sets out proposals to maximise its benefits. His proposals include bringing forward plans for a hub station at Crewe to 2027 and a fundamental review of the right solution for Leeds station to allow connections between HS2, existing rail services and improved east west connections. The government will set out its detailed plans for Phase Two in 2015.
Chancellor George Osborne commissioned Sir David Higgins in June this year to explore how to address poor east-west transport links in the north. This call for a new high speed rail link across the Pennines was also backed by the One North report by northern city authorities in August.
The prime minister and the chancellor welcomed Sir David Higgins’ recommendation that co-operation on transport issues should be formalised in the north. The chancellor therefore announced the creation of a new body called Transport for the North made up of the main northern city regions to provide a single voice for big transport decisions as a counterweight to local political opposition that any project is bound to face.
The government, working with Transport for the North, will now produce an overall transport strategy for the region. This will include options, costs and a delivery timetable for a HS3 east-west rail connection. An interim report will be produced next March.
The government is also launching a review into the costs and time it takes to build high speed rail, drawing on international experience to find ways to bring down the costs of HS2 Phase Two and future high speed rail projects.
Prime minister David Cameron said: “Improving connectivity and reducing journey times between our great northern cities is a crucial part of our long term economic plan for the north to boost businesses and create more jobs and security for hardworking people. That’s why we are backing HS3.
“I welcome Sir David Higgins’ report which will help our work to create a northern powerhouse and ensure that HS2 delivers the maximum economic benefits.”
Chancellor George Osborne, whose constituency is in Cheshire, said: “The vision I set out earlier this year of the northern powerhouse we could build is rapidly taking shape. I asked Sir David Higgins to look at how we deliver the better transport links across the north that would make a reality of that powerhouse.
“I’m delighted with the rapid response and the report. Today we take another big step forward in delivering both the HS2 links from north to south and the HS3 link across the Pennines.
“On the back of new transport infrastructure, science investment and civic leadership we are well on our way to turning the Northern Powerhouse into reality.”
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “Our northern cities are on the brink of an economic transformation and today’s report underlines how we can secure this by bringing those cities together to maximise the benefits of good transport links.
“HS2 is crucial to this, and I welcome Sir David’s findings on how we can ensure the phase two route delivers maximum economic benefits throughout the midlands and the north. But as he says, it is only through linking the east and west of the region that we can really unlock these benefits, not just along the route itself but right across the north.
“We have already made great progress towards starting work on this vital project, and I will now give further consideration to Sir David’s comments.”