Labour divided on High Speed rails plans for the North

Newcastle Council leader Nick Forbes has welcomed calls for work on the new line to be speeded up, but Newcastle East MP Nick Brown has hit out at the continued waste of resources

Coun Nick Forbes, leader Newcastle City Council
Coun Nick Forbes, leader Newcastle City Council

Divisions over the High Speed rail project are continuing in the North, despite moves to bring benefits to the region sooner.

Newcastle Council leader Nick Forbes has welcomed calls for work on the new line to be speeded up, but Newcastle East MP Nick Brown has hit out at the continued waste of resources.

Chancellor George Osborne yesterday backed proposals to bring forward by six years the planned extension to Crewe of the HS2 high-speed rail link between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

The changes, though, would not see any change to direct links to the North East, with high-speed trains being forced into a second-best option North of Leeds, travelling on the existing lines at slower speeds.

A report on speeding up the £50bn project has no mention of Newcastle, with Labour peer Lord Beecham last night saying “there is absolutely nothing in this for us.”

Mr Brown, a former regional minister, said there was nothing in the high-speed plans to help the region.

He told The Journal: “This doesn’t help the North East at all. Nor does it help Yorkshire. It would help more people and be a more genuine regional policy if the money was invested in the East Coast rail network, rather than the already adequate line between London and Birmingham, or for that matter Crewe.”

Newcastle East MP Nick Brown
Newcastle East MP Nick Brown
 

And Durham MP Kevan Jones said he was “at a loss to understand why politicians in the North East think this is a good thing.”

He added: “It will increasingly suck scarce resources from transport projects that are urgently needed in the North East and lead to the region simply becoming a branch line from Manchester and Leeds.”

Their opposition stood in contrast to support for the route from Labour leader Mr Forbes.

He said: “The Higgins report confirms that HS2 can bring significant benefits to the North. We can secure this more quickly, and with bigger impact, by planning the northern sections now.

“High Speed 2 can’t just be about connections to London. By joining up the northern cities, with complementary investments in our existing network, we will drive the rebalancing of the economy which our country so badly needs.”

Last night former Newcastle Council leader Lord Shipley said allowing work to start in the North as well as the South was a welcome move.

He added: “However, we need definite assurances that the new track will join the existing East Coast mainline south of York as soon as the new rolling stock is operating. The North East will benefit from High Speed 2 as long as the trains carry on up to Scotland, because it means existing stations can be used with all the connectivity that implies.”

HS2 Ltd chair Sir David Higgins said a new station at Crewe in Cheshire should be completed by 2027, six years ahead of schedule, and that phase 2 – taking the line north from Birmingham in a Y-shape to Manchester and Leeds could be finished by the end of 2030 – three years earlier than planned.

In response, Mr Osborne said: “Sir David’s proposals would see huge benefits delivered to the North six years sooner than planned through a new hub at Crewe, creating more growth and rebalancing the economy in line with our long-term economic plan.

“I welcome and support this, and that’s why we have asked HS2 Ltd to work up firm proposals for his recommendations. I also support the proposal for significant regeneration of Camden through a proper redevelopment of Euston station.”

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