THOUSANDS of business leaders across the region will today call on the Government to deliver HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail – a move they say will “eradicate the North-South divide” and make the region “as prosperous as the south”.

5,000 businesses of varying sizes were surveyed on their view on the benefits of Northern Powerhouse Rail and their response was overwhelmingly supportive.

The Northern Echo:

Respondents said linking NPR, the proposed £39bn east-west connectivity route, with HS2 would provide "a significant step to rebalancing the UK economy", making the North as prosperous as the South and eradicating the North-South divide.

The findings, which will be published today in the Backing Northern Powerhouse Rail report, found 99 per cent of businesses surveyed believed NPR would raise productivity in the Northern Powerhouse, whilst 85 per cent believed NPR would increase inward investment.

75 per cent of respondents also said a commitment to deliver NPR would allow them to make future investment decisions.

But Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said the looming Conservative leadership election could "herald a change in the Government’s transport priorities", adding leadership contenders might "double down on their support for HS2, try to avoid the issue all together, or scrap the whole thing".

He added: "I support bringing high speed rail into the North, not just because I want Teessiders to have better transport links, but because I want good manufacturing jobs in the UK. Whether HS2 is delivered or not, there is another project that can bring both of these and much sooner.

"Northern Powerhouse Rail could be game changing for the North West, Yorkshire, the Tess Valley and the rest of the North East.

"My decision on who to support in my party’s leadership election will, in part, be based on the candidates’ attitude towards Northern Powerhouse Rail, and their understanding of its benefits for my region."

The Northern Echo:

Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson gave his backing for HS2, saying even if the scheme stopped at Leeds, it could bring job opportunities and investment to the North-East, especially if Hitachi secure the contract to build the trains.

"They have an excellent design and I think they have a very good chance of securing the work.

"It is a really important contract for Hitachi and I hope these trains can be built in Newton Aycliffe."

Rail Minister Andrew Jones said: “It’s brilliant to see widespread business support for NPR, and a recognition of the importance of linking it to HS2.

“When it comes to NPR and HS2, it isn’t an either/or situation – the North needs both to increase capacity, transform connectivity and unlock economic potential.”

Transport for the North Chairman John Cridland added: “To have the North’s business voices clearly backing Northern Powerhouse Rail is extremely encouraging, but ambitions on this scale aren’t delivered overnight. We need the communities and businesses of the North to continue championing the critical need."

Andy McDonald, MP for Middlesbrough and Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, said: “The survey highlights the importance of Northern Powerhouse Rail to the business community across the north of England.

"I regret that the Conservative government have let down the north on rail. Only Labour’s plans for rail, including our commitment of at least £10bn, will provide the upgrades and improvements needed to boost the economy of the north and create jobs.”