A HIGH speed rail line between London and Birmingham with a planned branch to Leeds, is the “last chance” to close the economic gap splitting Britain, the Government said today.
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond claimed the controversial £32 billion scheme cutting journey times between the two cities could finally narrow the prosperity divide.
The first phase of the high speed route, known as HS2. is due for completion by 2026. A Y-shaped section taking branches to Manchester, Leeds and possibly further north could be finished by 2033.
Speaking at Transport Questions in the Commons, Mr Hammond said: “I believe that it is not possible for Britain to maintain its prosperity in the 21st century in an increasingly competitive, global economy unless we can close the growth gap between the north and the south.
“Governments for the last 50 to 60 years have wrestled with this challenge and we haven’t succeeded yet.
“This approach, investing in strategic infrastructure, is the last, best chance to achieve it.”
He added: “The Government considers that a high speed rail network between London and Birmingham and onwards to Manchester and Leeds would drive economic growth and prosperity, as well as providing vital new capacity on the west coast corridor.”
Mr Hammond said the most difficult engineering phase would be laying underground tracks so trains could leave London, before scything through the countryside north of the capital.
Labour’s Helen Grant, MP for Maidstone and The Weald, said: “HS2 could bridge the wealth divide that exists between the north and the south.”
A public consultation on HS2 is due to close on July 29.