High speed rail will leave North East residents 'lesser citizens', warns MP

MP warns region will suffer while high speed rail brings benefits elsewhere, as Commons backs line

HS2/PA Wire
The proposed HS2 rail link, which Gateshead MP Ian Mearns fears could be a disaster for the North

A high speed rail line approved by the House of Commons could mean North East residents are treated as second class citizens, an MP has warned.

Gateshead Labour MP Ian Mearns said the region had to challenge both the Government and Labour to explain how they would ensure the North East got a fair deal.

MPs have backed legislation authorising the construction of the first phase of the £50 billion High Speed Two (HS2) project, running from London to Birmingham, while a second stretch of line is planned to run from Birmingham to Manchester and to Yorkshire.

But there are no firm plans to extend the line to the North East, although high speed trains will transfer on to the East Coast Main Line and continue to Newcastle.

Newcastle City Council hopes to use the project to boost the local economy, and city council leader Nick Forbes has written to Treasury Minister Lord Deighton calling for Government support for upgrading Newcastle Central station to ensure it is ready to become a terminus for high-speed trains.

But Mr Mearns said that without action to back the region, the North East would find itself sandwiched between Scotland, which enjoys high levels of devolution and could become an independent country in a referendum this year, and cities served by the new line.

He said: “We could be in a situation where Scotland has a greater deal of autonomy through more devolution, if they haven’t gone independent, and they carry on doing economic development.

“Then you have these honey-pots being created in West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, so where will the North East of England lie in terms of competition for inward investment and competition for growth finds when £50 billion is being earmarked for HS2 itself?”

He added: “I think we have to pose the question, are we being treated as lesser citizens in the UK context? And I think at the moment unfortunately we are, so we’ve got to be asking the leaders of all the political parties, including my own, how are we going to redress that balance?”

A new study by the Institute for Economic Affairs has cast doubt on the Government’s promise that HS2 will be “the engine for growth in the north and the Midlands”, a claim made by George Osborne, the Chancellor.

The think tank warned that areas immediately around HS2 stations would benefit, but warned: “Resources will be drained from other areas to fund these showpieces.”

Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle City Council, said: “It is right to demand that costs are controlled in times of tough spending choices, but we must not lose sight of the fact that HS2 will bring massive economic benefits to cities across the UK including the North East.

“Bringing UK cities closer together will improve productivity and attract new business.”

The Second Reading in the Commons means that MPs have agreed to build the line in principle.

However, this leads to a lengthy process in which a committee of six MPs, including Mr Mearns, considers objections from individuals, local authorities and businesses that are directly affected by the Bill.

Petitions can be submitted until May 23 and the MPs will decide for themselves how long to spend considering objections - which means the whole process could potentially continue for many months or even into the General Election in May 2015.

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