GEORGE Osborne insisted connecting Yorkshire to both London and the North West with high speed rail was “essential” today as he attempted to pitch Ed Balls against Labour council leaders in the North.
Mr Osborne rejected the idea floated by his Labour shadow that priority could be given to improving transpennine rail links rather than going ahead with the second phase of the HS2 project from Birmingham to Leeds and Sheffield.
The Shadow Chancellor is known to have misgivings about the cost of HS2 but any move to cancel or delay phase two risks embarassing council leaders in his own party who have campaigned vociferously for the project.
Mr Balls’s suggestion that delaying HS2 could be linked to investing in high speed transpennine links, known as HS3, appears designed to soften the blow.
Speaking during a visit to a Yorkshire steel stockholder, Mr Osborne insisted the two projects could not be divorced from each other.
He said: “HS2, taking the line up to Leeds, is an essential part of the long term economic plan for our country and for Yorkshire. That’s what I think, that’s what the local Labour council leaders think and under the Conservatives you would definitely see that project go ahead with all the jobs it would create including at steelmakers like this one here in Halifax.
He added: “I think it’s essential you do both, you both connect Leeds and Manchester on the other side of the Pennines down to the Midlands and the South but also you improve the links across the Pennines.
“The [HS2] project I inherited from the last Labour government was just lines on a map, there was no way to finance it or no serious plan for it, was just to do links to the South and I said you’ve got to look at the line across the North all the from Liverpool to Hull.
“We now have a proposal for HS3, we are now doing the detailed work on that I’ve given it the green light, so that we have a much more coherent transport plan.”
Mr Osborne was visiting Pulman Steel, in Sowerby Bridge, with Philip Allott, the Conservative candidate for the marginal seat of Halifax currently held by Labour with a majority of 1,472.
Labour candidate Holly Lynch said: “The Labour Party has made it crystal clear that we support HS2, so I’m not sure why George Osbourne has come all the way to Halifax to suggest otherwise.
“Most local people had hoped that he was going to announce his support for the electrification of the Calder Valley line or possibly to join Labour in committing to get rid of the outdated pacer trains, but sadly not.”
The HS2 project faces opposition from some of Mr Osborne’s own MPs including former Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan and former whip Michael Fabricant.
Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven, the former leader of Sheffield City Council, said “Ed Balls is not the only one who talks about cancelling the project – Tories are lining up to demand it is scrapped, including many of George Osborne’s ministerial colleagues.
“By contrast, Liberal Democrats led calls for high speed rail lines to the North from the very start, have backed it this parliament and will continue to do so in the future.
“As a proud resident of Sheffield I know how much difference a high speed line will make to my city and many others. It should not be put under threat by Labour and the Tories.”