THE multi-billion-pound benefits of direct high-speed rail from Yorkshire to London are twice that of a potential rival western route to Manchester, new figures have revealed.
A line travelling from Birmingham to South Yorkshire and Leeds via the East Midlands could boost the regional economy by more than £4bn, it is claimed.
The Government’s preferred Y-shaped route for the proposed new network is from London to Birmingham, before splitting to travel north along the west and east routes towards Manchester or Sheffield and Leeds.
The Department for Transport has pledged both east and west arms of the line will be built simultaneously, but sources have suggested such a massive undertaking is unlikely to happen.
Campaigners for the project are currently battling a small group of influential land owners in Buckinghamshire and the Chilterns who are protesting about the impact the route would have on the countryside. Those opposed include Tory donors who have threatened to pull their funding should the line be built there.
The director of the Campaign for High Speed Rail, Prof David Begg agreed that the business case for the eastern arm was extremely strong but warned the North must unite to make sure legislation allowing the first stage the route between London and Birmingham is passed.
Prof Begg said: “The economic case for the east line is twice as good as the west.
“That is partly because of a historical complete lack of investment in the East Coast Main Line, that line is creaking. But we are in a real scrap to make sure that this Bill goes through – it is by no means a done deal.
“If this was a railway going through a poor part of Britain then we wouldn’t have this much opposition to it. This is the time to stand up and be counted, it could close the north south divide.”
Prof Begg said a high-speed rail line could also bring Leeds and Manchester much closer to act as one major regional economy.
“What is really important is that the North sticks together – we have got to get the first Bill through,” he said.
“There would be tremendous benefits, not just for those on the line, but others as well. It will release capacity elsewhere and speed up connections between northern cities.
“If commuting time is reduced by 20 minutes between Leeds and Manchester, research has suggested that travel between the two could increase 40 per cent, bringing these two economic powerhouses of the north together.
Prof Begg added: “If a political party votes against this it will be a slap in the face for the North. I don’t think any party wants to upset 14 million people.”
Southern critics of high-speed rail have claimed business leaders in Yorkshire have been blinded by the project, describing it as a “reckless” £32bn gamble.
The Government has said the network, backed by the Yorkshire Post Fast Track to Yorkshire campaign, could cut journey times from this region to the capital by 45 minutes and be up and running by 2033.
The leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, Martin Tett said most businesses started liking the scheme until they found out the costs when “the rubber hits the road”.
But Tom Bridges, associate director at engineering firm Arup, said the line would “fundamentally transform” the northern economy.
“By 2030 there will be unprecedented levels of demand on long distance travel,” he said. “The most cost effective means of delivering that capacity is a new line, rather than large scale upgrades of existing lines.”