HS2 eastern leg scrapped: What it means for Chesterfield and Derbyshire
North Derbyshire has found itself at the centre of the heated debate about HS2 ever since plans were first mooted for the high speed rail link.
Initial proposals for the route caused outrage when it emerged the line would put in jeopardy years of conservation work on the Chesterfield Canal and cut the nearby village of Newton ‘in two’.
Politicians in the area have long trumpeted the transformational economic advantages of the route – and Staveley was identified as the location of a new state-of-the-art depot to maintain the shiny, streamlined trains which would have whisked people to London in less than an hour.
However, while the London to Birmingham section progressed, the eastern leg from Birmingham to the East Midlands, Chesterfield, Sheffield and Leeds has been beset by delays and argument.
Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins said never before had a Government ‘spent so much money with so little conviction’ and many residents doubted it would ever happen at all.
This week they were proved at least partly right – as the Government scrapped plans for the eastern leg and confirmed this section would go no further north than an East Midlands hub.
The news has been branded a ‘betrayal’ and a ‘great train robbery’ by the north's political leaders who say it makes a mockery of the Government ‘levelling up’ agenda.
Mr Perkins described it as a ‘disaster’ for Chesterfield.
“This is a straightforward betrayal of a manifesto commitment by the Conservatives and makes a mockery of their claims to ‘level up’ all parts of our country,” he said.
“So many plans for our town and the region had been built around the expectation – the Government promise – that the eastern leg would be happening.
"We are going to lose out on the major economic benefits that the route would have brought, and the new plans don’t address the capacity problems on our rail network.
“The Staveley depot would have created hundreds of local jobs, but an even bigger impact will be from the potential economic growth and job creation that HS2 would have brought in the long-term but has now been lost.”
Chesterfield Borough Council’s leader, Coun Tricia Gilby, said she was ‘deeply disappointed’ by the Government’s decision.
“We have long called on the government to keep their promises and deliver the eastern leg in full, and without delay,” she said.
"Today’s announcement hits hard our plans for up to a billion pounds worth of investment in Staveley alone, including new skills and jobs for local people."
Despite high speed rail’s claims to be the most environmental form of mass public transport, many green groups welcomed news the eastern leg had been scrapped.
Nikki Williams, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s director for campaigning and communities, said it was time to take a ‘fresh look’ at HS2.
“Wildlife trusts have long campaigned against HS2 – alongside thousands of others – because of the huge damage it will do to nature and communities along the route,” she said.
"Now the Integrated Rail Plan has made it clear that there are alternatives to HS2.
“We support the principle of sustainable transport, but along with other nature charities, we cannot back such an environmentally catastrophic project.
"The first phase of the route is already under construction and we’re witnessing the shocking reality for affected communities and the much-loved countryside that has been destroyed around them.”
The area of Derbyshire which had been set to see the greatest negative impact from HS2’s latest route was Erewash – however campaigners there were not celebrating the Government’s announcement amid fears about future plans.
Stop HS2 East Midlands said the proposal had ‘not been scrapped but put on hold’.
Brent Poland, a spokesperson for the Stop HS2 Erewash group, said: “Keeping communities like Long Eaton on a retainer for future developments has trapped them in limbo and this is an intolerable act of cruelty.”
Volunteers at the Chesterfield Canal Trust also have concerns about what the future may bring.
Trust chair Peter Hardy said: “The announcement from the government about HS2 has mixed blessings for the Chesterfield Canal Trust.
"On the one hand we are disappointed that Chesterfield and Staveley will not see the benefits of the investment that HS2 would undoubtedly have brought to the area, on the other hand it does help us with the design around the two points HS2 would have crossed the canal.“Perhaps the most frustrating part of the announcement, which was hidden in the detail, is that the Government wants to protect (or safeguard) the line of the now abolished HS2 route in case they change their minds in the future.”
However, many Chesterfield residents welcomed the news high speed rail would not be reaching Derbyshire any time soon.
On our Facebook page, Mike Hall said: “The whole project is a waste of money. The only guarantees with it are that it will massively overspend, and the only wealth that will be created is from its construction.”
John Daramy posted: “£100bn to arrive 12 minutes earlier never made sense to me!”
Rail experts have long said HS2 is not about quicker journey times but about the extra capacity created – for both passengers and freight.
Rail enthusiast John Morrissey, from the Steeple Grange Light Railway in Wirksworth, said: “Japan started to build its bullet train high speed lines in 1964.
"Other countries such as Italy, France, Germany, Spain and China followed suit.
"They all now have extensive networks that function well and are pretty green.
“Meanwhile we have indulged ourselves with stop-go policies that gobble up money and result in little improvement—the very opposite of investment."
Business leaders also described it as a ‘bitter blow’, especially for communities in Chesterfield and Staveley.
East Midlands Chamber chief executive Scott Knowles said: “It was also about creating economic prosperity in places such as Chesterfield and Staveley, where economic regeneration planning has hinged around the delivery of HS2.”