SCOTLAND’S first minister has told the North East there should be an urgent review of the Government’s high-speed rail plans amid concerns regional and Scottish cities will miss out.
Alex Salmond attempted to form a cross-border transport bond with the region when speaking at the North East Economic Forum’s annual dinner last night.
In a speech before business leaders, Mr Salmond said the UK Government’s £30bn high-speed rail plans are not a truly nationwide project.
Current plans will see a new line built up to Birmingham before splitting into lines to Leeds and Manchester.
Trains travelling further north to Newcastle and Edinburgh will have to travel at a slower speed on existing – and already congested – mainline routes.
The SNP leader, who is hoping to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom in a 2014 referendum, insisted such a move would be beneficial to the North East economy and called for better transport links to help make that a partnership a reality. He said: “The current proposals for high-speed rail are promoted as being for a ‘UK network,’ but we know it is no such thing.
“Neither Edinburgh nor Newcastle, Glasgow nor Liverpool feature in the Department for Transport’s proposals for this link and it is clear there is no urgency from the South East to recognise this gaping need.
“Scotland and the North East have strong economies which could be stronger with better links to each other and a well-developed, efficient and resilient rail network provides our businesses with the certainty they need to invest, and supports the strong bonds we have.
“This is why we need an urgent review of the current high-speed rail plans to ensure it can be delivered faster, and beyond Birmingham.”
Mr Salmond’s visit comes amid continuing concern that an independent or more politically devolved Scotland will pose a jobs threat to the North East.
Already the two sides of the border are competing for offshore energy jobs, with Scotland increasingly winning.
But Mr Salmond said infrastructure investment would help both sides compete.
He added: “We all recognise that competitiveness of places depends on investment in infrastructure and investment in connectivity.
“That is why it is critical that we do not allow our needs to be shelved in favour of a South-centric project which will leave the North of these islands cut off from the rest of Europe.”
Earlier this week, Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said a high-speed railway could connect Scotland’s two largest cities within 12 years as part of a UK-wide link.
The Scottish Government wants to introduce a faster service between Glasgow and Edinburgh before the UK Government has committed to bring its High-Speed 2 project north of the border.
Ms Sturgeon said the proposal would halve journey times between the cities to less than 30 minutes by 2024.