A major programme of investment in Newcastle and the North East is needed to ensure the region receives economic benefits from the planned high-speed rail line, Ministers have been told.
Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, issued the warning in a letter to Treasury Minister Lord Deighton, who is in charge of a Government taskforce dedicated to ensuring the controversial new line stimulates economic growth across the country.
Coun Forbes set out proposals to ensure the North East benefits, which include:
Re-opening the mothballed Leamside line between Newcastle and Northallerton, North Yorkshire, to provide extra capacity on the East Coast Main Line;
Further upgrading Newcastle Central station to ensure it is ready to become a terminus for high-speed trains;
Continuing to improve the region’s skills base so North East workers can contribute to building and maintaining the high speed line.
It comes as ministers are preparing a drive to win support for the project in the North by announcing plans to bring forward the construction of the second phase of the new line, known as High Speed Two or HS2.
Under current proposals, 225mph services from London to Birmingham will operate from 2026, while trains from Birmingham to the North East and North West are not due to run until 2033.
But Sir David Higgins, the newly-appointed chairman of HS2, is to present recommendations for speeding up construction in the North.
Newcastle City Council argues that Newcastle Central station will require further upgrades on top of an £8million refurbishment already planned, as it will become the final stop on the North East section of the HS2 line.
Although new track will only run north as far as Leeds, trains will continue to Newcastle using the East Coast Main Line. In his letter to the Minister, Coun Forbes said: “Infrastructure improvement to get the best out of HS2 is not just about investment in signals and track.
“Stations are the gateways to our regions and have an important role to play in the facilitation of economic growth and regeneration.”
Options include lengthening platforms, according to the authority.
Coun Forbes also warned that bringing high-speed services into the city could actually mean existing East Coast Main Line services have to be axed – and called for the re-opening of the Leamside line, closed in 1991, to prevent this.
He wrote: “Currently the route between York and Newcastle is twin-track only, and the introduction of high-speed trains will displace existing services rather than lead to the step change in service frequency that would most benefit the economy of the North East.”
Lord Deighton said: “I look forward to working with Newcastle and the North East on how they will progress their ideas.”