High speed rail plans to connect northern cities met with a mixed reaction amid claims the £7bn scheme could starve the region of transport investment for decades to come.
Plans for the second phase of the Government’s HS2 project ‘HS3’ which were unveiled today could see a high speed line stretch up to Leeds and between Leeds and Manchester by 2030.
But the plans were derided by North Durham Labour MP Kevan Jones as a “vanity project”.
The report by HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins outlined how journey times would be cut between Newcastle and Manchester by 30 minutes in a project “as important to the North as Crossrail is to London.”
Mr Jones said: “This is more about positioning the Tories before next year’s general election. It will mean nothing for the North East, and in fact will starve us of much-needed rail investment and transport investment for decades to come.
“If you were really serious about investing in the region then you would start HS2 from the North East and build downwards.
“But the real issue is the cost, which will suck down money for years to come, so that any infrastructure we need in the North East has no funding.”
He added the plans were aimed at targeting North West marginal seats, adding: “It is a vanity project and people in the North East should not be conned that it is actually going to benefit the region.”
Shadow Treasury spokesperson and Newcastle North MP, Catherine McKinnell, said: “What we now need is a Government committed to making both HS2 and HS3 work for the North East if we aren’t to end up left behind. Given we have a Chancellor who appears to think the North stops at Leeds, it’s hard to see this happening under the Coalition.”
Sir David’s report also recommended five northern cities - Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield - team up to form one body called Transport for the North that would speak for the region.
Newcastle Lib Dem councillor Greg Stone said: “The challenge for the North East, and especially the North East Combined Authority, will be to ensure the region doesn’t end up as just a ‘side-line’ off the east-west main line.
“Increasing trans-Pennine capacity is vital between Leeds and Manchester, but the East Coast Main Line will also need attention between Newcastle and Northallerton if we are to get real improvements in connectivity and journey times between the major Northern cities.”
Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne were at Leeds Civic Hall to trumpet the plans, key to Tory-led aims to create a ‘Northern powerhouse’ to rival London.
Mr Cameron said: “These sort of decisions - decisions about our country and the future of rail - matter. They are not always popular. HS2 is not always popular. But I profoundly believe they are right.”