A PROPOSAL to deliver the high-speed rail project six years earlier on the West Coast – but not on the East Coast – raised alarm today.
Business leaders in the North-East criticised a call by the HS2 chief to speed up the scheme on only one side of England, between Birmingham and Manchester.
Sir David Higgins proposed a 43-mile stretch to Crewe should be built by 2027, rather than 2033 – something Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin immediately vowed to investigate.
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It is the first time the Government has suggested building one leg of the ‘Y-shaped’ network before the other, between Birmingham and Leeds and on to York.
Through trains will then cut the Darlington to London journey time to 1hr 51mins, say HS2 supporters – 32 minutes quicker than at present – but not until 2033.
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.
The North-East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) said it feared greater priority was, once again, being given to the North West over Yorkshire and the North-East.
Mark Stephenson, the NECC’s policy team leader, said: “This continuing focus on the west side of the country, rather than the east side, is not sustainable.
“The West Coast line has already received ten times more investment over the last 15 years than the East Coast, which is now under huge pressure – not least from freight.”
Mr Stephenson said the report, called 'HS2 Plus', also had nothing to say about bringing 225mph trains all the way to the North-East, adding: “That’s the important thing.”
Publishing his long-awaited study yesterday, Sir David was under fierce pressure to speed up work across the North, as well as cut the £42.6bn cost of the project.
The HS2 chairman did call for preparatory work on Phase Two – north of Birmingham – to be speeded up, suggesting the entire scheme could be completed by 2030.
But his only specific proposal was to get to Crewe by 2027, “allowing faster journeys sooner to Manchester and the rest of the North-West”.
It falls far short of the call, by the all-party transport select committee, for building work to start from the North, as well as from London.
Meanwhile, Mr McLoughlin backed Sir David’s call to drop a planned link between HS2 and HS1, the Channel Tunnel high-speed link, as too disruptive in north London.
The decision means it will not be possible to get on a train in the North and travel seamlessly to the Continent, as originally proposed.
Sir David also challenged politicians – including high-profile Labour sceptics – to get behind HS2, saying: “This project is too big to become a political football.”
If done correctly, the project would “address the issues of congestion in the South and lack of connectivity in the North”, he said.