London-based critics of HS2 have a “fatal misunderstanding” of how the controversial rail scheme - and the accompanying Northern Powerhouse Rail - will benefit Leeds, business leaders have been told.
At the Leeds Chamber Annual Dinner last night, Chamber President Amanda Beresford spoke after the Chancellor had signalled he backed the project earlier in the day, giving an indication the Government was poised to proceed with plans.
She said: “There remains much speculation about the delivery of HS2, with concerns about escalating costs.
“I read in the London-headquartered newspapers that the North only needs Northern Powerhouse Rail. That is not correct and demonstrates a fatal misunderstanding of both HS2 and NPR and their inter-relationship.
“The North and the UK needs both HS2 and NPR. We need to press ahead with both schemes to deliver the unprecedented economic and social benefits that will accrue. Indeed, proposals for NPR and HS2 should be considered as one.”
Ms Beresford joins a large contingent of Leeds politicians, councillors, and businesses who have thrown their weight behind HS2, as a decision on the link’s future is expected next week.
Based on the Oakervee Review the Government will decide whether to go ahead with HS2 at all, and may decide to only complete some parts, potentially scrapping the section from Birmingham to Leeds.
But Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn said: “It’s absolutely essential.
“It’s a real test for the Government.”
On concerns about the escalating cost, which some reports now put at up to £106bn, he said: “Andrew Adonis said what do the M25, the Channel Tunnel and Buckingham Palace all have in common? They all went over budget and there were calls for them to be scrapped.
“We need to have the courage to invest for the long term.”
Ms Beresford added: The transformation which great connectivity brings should not be overlooked; it is no coincidence that the great Victorian cities grew as a result of investment in canals, rail and road.
“In his electoral campaign the Prime Minister called for ‘an end to delay and dither’, a view we support very strongly. Our Victorian-era railway network has served the country well but is now desperately in need of investment and improvement.
“We have the opportunity to make a difference not only for today but for generations to come.”
But not everyone is supportive of the scheme, Shipley Conservative MP Philip Davies yesterday told the Government to scrap the "catastrophic" HS2 scheme.
He said: "If the Government were to scrap HS2, which everybody knows is a catastrophic waste of money, we would have a huge amount available for more rail infrastructure in West Yorkshire and across the North."
Meanwhile Downing Street declined to rule out Prime Minister Boris Johnson overruling Chancellor Sajid Javid.
"The decision on HS2 is an important decision for the country and it will be taken based on the facts," the PM's official spokesman said.
Asked whether Mr Johnson could overrule the Chancellor, the spokesman replied: "It's an important decision that will be taken based on the facts and we will announce it when we are ready."