THE Government Minister tasked with improving the North-East has turned his back on plans to bring a high speed rail link to the region.
Nick Brown MP yesterday told business leaders that he was not prepared to use up his “political goodwill” with the Prime Minister by pushing for a new rail link when there were “bigger priorities for the region”.
The prospect of a 311mph Maglev train link between Newcastle and London has previously been hailed as essential to the North-East economy.
But the Newcastle East and Wallsend MP backed a Government Transport White Paper which shelved any plans for high speed rail, labelling plans as “too risky and costly”.
Speaking at a meeting of the North East Economic Forum yesterday, Mr Brown said he would no longer back the Maglev proposals.
He said: “I have stepped back from being the North-East advocate for the high speed rail link.
“I think we should focus on the East Coast Main Line rather than a scheme which could consume billions of pounds worth of public money.
“I am painfully aware that there are much more pressing needs for our region. We need to look at GNER and the East Coast franchise, because what happens there is crucial to the success of the North-East.
“We cannot use up our political good will, we need to use it on projects which are much more pressing.
“If we imagine a situation where I go to Gordon and say, here is my list of things the North-East wants, several pages long, and here is my begging bowl then you can imagine the response.
“But if we focus on a list of priorities we can achieve a lot more.
“I’m afraid we have a number of high profile problems that are immediate and I have to prioritise what I do have and what we can realistically work on.
“The priority is to deal with the existing franchise and improving the quality and reliability of service, that is crucial to the region and that is something we need to work on now.”
Mr Brown’s priorities have being cautiously welcomed by the North East Chamber of Commerce.
Andrew Sugden, director of membership and policy said: “I think Nick has recognised that high speed will have to become a long term aim as we focus on the short and medium term priorities.
“But it would be unfortunate if we lost any opportunity to invest in high speed rail.”
But his assessment has attracted criticism from transport pressure group Railfuture.
North East chairman Martin Murphy said: “It’s a backwards move and it does not say much for the future of the region.
“Yes, we should do all we can to improve the East Coast Main Line, but that does not mean we should not be ambitious and consider the future.
“By November it will be quicker to go from London to Paris by train than it will be to go from London to Newcastle.
“The rest of Europe is way ahead of us on this, we are the only major European country to not have a high speed rail network and this lack of ambition will not bring us any closer. When people say they are going to prioritise one thing they mean they are not going to do something else.”