THE North will be condemned to decades of economic failure without the HS2 high-speed rail project, the project’s director has warned.
Sir David Higgins urged Labour to end uncertainty over its position by recognising that “Labour areas” will benefit hugely from 225mph trains to London.
And he hinted his crunch report, next month, will calls for the Northern sections of the line to be built at the same time as the London-Birmingham stretch.
Sir David said, of the current Bill: “If we miss this gateway, then we are basically sentencing the North to underperfoming economically for a long, long time.”
The HS2 chairman also said: “The North is terrified this will be a bypass to Birmingham and then the project will lose momentum. That would be disastrous.”
And, ahead of a report that will set out how the £42.6bn bill can be reduced, Sir David added: “Starting in the North would be cheaper. It helps cost.”
Last week, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls again cast doubt on whether HS2 was the “best way to spend the money”, despite the strong support of Labour’s transport spokeswoman.
Yet a cross-party consensus is widely viewed as essential to push through any expensive and complicated infrastructure scheme that will span many general elections.
HS2 is intended to deliver high-speed trains from London to Birmingham by 2026 – and a Y-shaped network, on to Leeds and Manchester, seven years later.
Through trains will cut the Darlington to London journey time to 1hr 51mins, the department for transport (Dft) says – 32 minutes quicker than at present.
Durham City will be “less than two hours from Birmingham” and the Tees Valley could enjoy new direct rail links to London, by freeing up space on existing lines.
In an interview with a national newspaper, Sir David also urged Parliament to press the accelerator on passing the enormous, 50,000-pages HS2 Hybrid Bill into law.
Transport ministers increasingly fear it will not go through before the general election, in May 2015, leaving it to the next Government to pick up – or abandon.
Sir David said: “The longer you take in committee stage, you take the risk of adding cost. And if it takes three years instead of one, it adds two years of inflation to the project.
“The meter is always ticking. It's the biggest risk to the project - it's an act of political will.”
The HS2 chairman also warned that engineers were in “high demand around the world”, adding: “There are far fewer top engineers who can run this project than there are bankers.”
And he underlined the miserable consequence of failing to build HS2, with passenger numbers on the rise.
Sir David warned: “You won't get on trains. It will be like the Piccadilly Line at peak hour. Usually I stand for three trains before I can get on.”