The North East cannot afford to let southern opposition defeat plans for a high speed rail network, the man behind the new plans has told the region.
David Prout has insisted that even though his new railway line will not reach Newcastle and the North East, the economic benefits it could be bring are simply too vital to ignore.
On a visit to Tyneside he told business leaders they must continue to back the line and push for extensions to Newcastle and on to Scotland. The route faces growing opposition in the South as opponents challenge the cost of what they see as a disruptive railway line.
Under current plans the £42bn route travels from London to Birmingham before heading in a Y-shape to Leeds and Manchester. The new trains then switch to existing, slower, lines to travel further north.
The end result is a half hour saved off journey times, though this benefit shrinks by at least 10 minutes when planned improvements to the current route are included.
Mr Prout said the economic benefits from improving capacity on the route could not be ignored. Asked why the North was being asked to lobby for the route despite not being on the railway line, Mr Prout said you could not plan a major infrastructure project on a basis that everyone must immediately benefit directly.
“We are spending £42bn over 20 years. If you start thinking oh what is in it for Norwich or Penzance you never get anywhere, because you think you can’t benefit everyone from day one,” he said. “The North East as a whole is big enough to understand that in order to bring benefits to the region you have to get within striking distance. The region has been very supportive. I won’t say that has surprised me, but it is very, very refreshing.”
He added: “Bringing you closer to London is absolutely essential to your economic future. The North East gets that and that is why it support this. With HS2 with have a much, much better chance of spreading the benefits of economic growth throughout the country. Without this you do not get that growth.”
The North East Chamber of Commerce has backed the new high speed line, pointing to research suggesting it could create 22,000 construction related jobs in the next five years, and deliver local economic output productivity gains of £15bn per year by 2037.
Policy and research manager Mark Stephenson said: “The Northern chambers are united in support of the project because of the impact HS2 will have on our members and the ensuing economic uplift this will generate in the North of England.
“Future business success depends on infrastructure networks that meet demand. Rail is no exception. The UK rail network must have the capacity to meet rocketing business demand – for long-distance services, for commuter rail services, and for the transport of freight.
“It is indisputable that the scheme is costly. But so was the roll-out of the railway system over 100 years ago, which was the last significant investment in the UK rail network.
“The channel tunnel, HS1 and countless other rail schemes all stand as monuments against those that said they were too expensive and too difficult: they have delivered and continue to deliver for UK plc.”