Newcastle City Council leader urges Labour to back high speed rail

Newcastle's Labour leader Nick Forbes has joined council colleagues from other big cities to urge the party leadership in London to back HS2

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes

The Labour leader of Newcastle City Council has urged the party leadership in London to stop dithering over the planned high-speed rail line linking London, the Midlands and the North.

Nick Forbes wrote to Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh warning that the rail line was “once-in-a-generation infrastructure investment for the whole of the UK, and, in particular, the North of England”.

But he said it needed “ongoing commitment from all the main political parties” to go ahead.

The letter is part of a campaign by Labour leaders England’s major cities who are increasingly worried that Labour’s sudden U-turn over the project known as High Speed Two or HS2 is putting it at risk.

Gordon Brown’s government announced in 2010 that it was committed to building a new high-speed rail line.

But Labour now says it is not convinced the line should be built - even if costs don’t rise any higher than the current budget of £42.2bn, which includes £28.2bn for the line and £14.4bn in contingency funding.

In his letter to Ms Creagh, seen by the Journal, Coun Forbes urged her “to give a very clear commitment to the growth and rebalancing of the UK economy which HS2 will bring”.

He said: “HS2 will bring economic regeneration and opportunity to cities and regions across the UK, in particular driving growth outside of London and the South East - making best use of what cities and regions across the UK have to offer.”

He urged her: “In the Core Cities we are already doing our bit but councils and businesses need to move forward with confidence in the future of HS2.

“So, I urge you to give the clearest commitment that we can all plan for future, sustainable growth supported by HS2 and wider transport investment.”

The HS2 line would run from London to Birmingham and then to Manchester and Leeds.

Trains from Leeds would transfer to the East Coast Main Line and continue to Darlington and Newcastle.

Later this week, Ministers will announce the launch of a study into a potential third phase of the project, extending the new network to Newcastle and into Scotland. But even without this, journey times from Newcastle to destinations such as London and Birmingham would be reduced.

Ed Balls yesterday defended Labour’s position, saying: “My job as the Shadow Chancellor and potential Chancellor at the next election is to be hard-headed about standing up for value for money for taxpayers and the government has produced its fifth report on the benefits today, changing the numbers again.”

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