HS2 would “be a shot in the arm for businesses and communities” despite spiralling costs and concern over the rail project's future, according to Britain’s largest employers’ group.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Regional Director for Yorkshire and the Humber, Beckie Hart, said it was time to “lift our aspirations and commit to Yorkshire and the Humber by using this project to unlock their economic potential”.
But her backing comes amid reports HS2 could cost up to £106bn, according to a widely leaked Government-commissioned review.
An inquiry led by former HS2 Ltd chairman Doug Oakervee reportedly found there is "considerable risk" that the high-speed rail project's cost will rise by up to 20 per cent.
A report by current HS2 Ltd chairman Allan Cook, published just four months ago, set out an estimated cost range of between £81bn and £88bn.
HS2 was allocated £56bn in 2015.
A decision on whether to go ahead with the project will be made in "weeks rather than months", Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.
But Ms Hart said: “The costs of not building HS2 are far higher in communities that have been left behind – with commuter trains filled to capacity and businesses struggling to grow. HS2 is key to tackling the productivity gap and helping the regions level up.
“Government should listen to the regional demand for HS2 and back it, build it, and benefit from it.”
It comes as newly elected Rother Valley MP Alexander Stafford is preparing to lobby the Prime Minister next week to scrap the scheme, it is believed he will also be joined in the group of MP's hoping to convince Boris Johnson to scrap the project by Shipley MP Philip Davies.
Both critics of the project, Mr Stafford said it felt the mood music around the project was changing, with the simple fact the PM was meeting a delegation of around 12 MPs next week a sign he was open to alternatives.
He said: “It is great the PM, No 10, and the Transport Secretary are actually listening to us, at all levels they are listening to arguments, and it’s great we have that step which I think was not necessarily happening before.”
Mr Stafford said he felt the changing political tides in Yorkshire following the election, where the Tories won nine seats, had contributed to shifting attitudes around HS2.
He said: “What we want as northern MPs is the best deal for the North, we’re not against the investment, certainly I want that £106bn for Yorkshire, but it’s the right money spent where it’s the right investment.”
Mr Oakervee's review recommends that work on phase 2b of HS2 from the West Midlands to Manchester and Leeds should be paused for six months to investigate if it could be a mix of conventional and high-speed lines, according to the Financial Times, which has seen a copy of the paper.
The review concluded that the Government should "on balance" continue with the 250mph railway, which would initially go from London's Euston station to Birmingham and then to Leeds and Manchester by 2040, but that this is subject to "a number of qualifications".
It said "further work" is needed to assess HS2's impact on regional growth, and warned that it is "hard" to say what economic benefits will result from building it.