Transport chiefs leading the high-speed rail development last night issued an ultimatum as they told North East critics to get on board or risk hindering the region’s economic growth.
Douglas Oakervee, chairman of HS2 Ltd, told sceptics in the North East that the new £32bn network would prevent the region from being left behind by business rivals.
Plans unveiled earlier this year showed tracks for the new “Y-Route” would travel to Leeds and Manchester before trains travel further north on existing, slower, lines.
But on a visit to Newcastle yesterday, Mr Oakervee said: “People must realise that if we don’t make this major change in the network then you we will find ourselves in great difficulty in developing the economic growth that is needed.”
Mr Oakervee met civic leaders at the Core Cities cabinet yesterday and said that Central Station would be an important part of the UK’s high speed rail network.
The new development is set to shave just 34 minutes off the journey times from London to Newcastle but help reach key cities including Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Yorkshire.
Mr Oakervee claimed the HS2 scheme was part of a “phase of development” in creating a whole new network that would bid to overcome saturated train lines.
Defending a decision to plough £32bn into the HS2 and not improve the current network in the North East, Mr Oakervee said: “Why would we want to build a conventional railway when all our competitors around Europe and Japan and Asia are investing in high speed rail?”
He added: “My experience so far is the people of Newcastle are anxious to have high speed rail. This is a game changer. Instead of playing catch-up, we want to be in the game and HS2 will help us develop.
“The real benefit to the North East is not just to improve the journey south to London, but about going east to west, from South Yorkshire, Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham. Connections with places like Birmingham, that’s where the economic growth will take place.
“The tracks are not coming here but we’ve got the same trains carrying on from Leeds and I see HS2 as just a phase of developing a whole new network which will replace the existing network.”
Phase one of the HS2 network is expected to be open by 2026 followed in 2032 by the onward legs to Manchester and Leeds.
It’s thought that a £8.6m investment to develop Newcastle Central Station revealed earlier this month will help Newcastle accommodate high-speed trains on Tyneside.
Newcastle Council’s director of policy Andrew Lewis said: “All the city leaders have been very positive and very supportive of HS2 and it’s clear that it will bring strong economic benefit to the region.”