Heseltine blasts focus on speed
in selling rail plan to the public

A KEY economic adviser to the coalition and former deputy prime minister has delivered a withering assessment of the way high speed rail to Yorkshire has been sold to the public.

Lord Heseltine criticised the focus on shorter journey times rather than the wider economic benefits and lambasted Labour’s threat to end support for the scheme.

A revised business case for the £50bn project is due to be published tomorrow and is expected to offer more detail on HS2’s economic impact.

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Lord Heseltine, who advises the Government on economic growth, praised Ministers for “powerful arguments” in support of high speed rail but is critical of HS2 Ltd, the Government-owned company delivering the project.

He said: “I think it’s been very badly sold. You can’t expect people to believe it’s worth £40bn or £50bn to save 10 minutes time on the journey between London and Birmingham. The issue is much wider. It’s the inter-connectedness of Scotland and the North of England into the European market place. That’s the issue.”

Labour, which first put forward HS2 when in Government, has tempered its support in recent weeks with Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls suggesting the party may drop the project even if costs remain at their current levels.

Lord Heseltine added: “I find it mind blowing that the Labour Party having designed the scheme can now be trying to hedge their bets both ways. The scheme has enjoyed all-party support and I believe it’s in the national interest that it should continue.”

Today, the Yorkshire Post publishes its assessment of the political support for HS2 in Yorkshire as part of its Big Debate.

Leeds City Council cabinet Richard Lewis, said: “Rebalancing the economy and reshaping national geography requires more investment in cities outside London.”

But Peter Box, leader of Wakefield Council, said: “Unfortunately there is still no evidence that this project will improve existing train provision and there are concerns we may end up with a worse direct service to London.

“The growing expected cost of the project also raises some issues as it could have a serious impact on transport investment in our region.”

Train of thought: Page 5.