A PLAN to pump the North’s water to the South to combat shortages would harm the region’s economy, business groups have warned.
Businessmen said the billion-pound scheme would only encourage even more firms to create jobs in the South.
The proposals would see a water pipe built alongside the new HS2 rail network, running from London to Birmingham initially. Leeds and Manchester could be connected later.
The pipe, proposed by energy firm United Utilities, could carry 66 million gallons of water a day to the capital.
Its backers said it would help solve future water shortages in the South East, which is currently suffering an officially-declared drought.
By contrast, reservoirs run by Northumbrian Water in the region are 85% full.
But business lobby groups said the pipe would encourage firms to continue to grow the economy in the South, boosted by a secure new water supply.
They said the Government should concentrate on encouraging companies to move to the North instead.
Ted Salmon, regional chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The Government is supposed to be committed to rebalancing the economy. There needs to be a good enough incentive to do that.
“It is an ideal opportunity for them to use this as an impetus to rebalance the economy by encouraging businesses that we need up here to take up the slack from the public sector.
“It would create more jobs in this region if they encouraged the businesses that want the water down South to relocate up North.”
He said there was no good reason to pump water to an overcrowded region with “overloaded” infrastructure and housing stock.
“Why not just do the common sense thing and boost another region which has the capacity and the skills base to deal with it?” he added.
Ross Smith, head of policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce, agreed saying: “I think it’s more a case of emphasis being placed on bringing investment and new business to the parts of the country that have the resources, natural or otherwise, to support growth rather than diverting water from the North as a stop-gap to solve shortages in the South East”.
But Blyth Valley Labour MP Ronnie Campbell said the North East has so much excess capacity it made sense to pump it to the South.
He said the region could use the pipe as a bargaining chip to demand more Government support.
“I haven’t got a problem with it. We’ve got bags of water in Kielder,” he said.
“We should get millions and millions of pounds and more enterprise zones.
“We should negotiate a better deal for us. It is an opportunity to say ‘we’ve got the water. We want to be on a par in terms of inward investment with Scotland’.”