THE NORTH is to hold its own review into HS2, political and business leaders are announcing today.
The initiative follows fears that the Government will use its own inquiry into high-speed rail – announced last week – to scrap the scheme amid concerns over the £56bn cost.
However the North-South line is said to be integral to the business case for Northern Powerhouse Rail – a new line across the Pennines which has the backing of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
And the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which is spearheading the North’s inquiry, hopes its own study will ensure that this region’s infrastructure needs are not overlooked by Ministers.
It will be overseen by Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake; former Leeds Chamber of Commerce president Paula Dillon; Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes; North West entrepreneur Chris Oglesby and Howard Bernstein, the former chief executive of Manchester City Council.
“The Northern Powerhouse is of critical importance to the future of UK prosperity,” said Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership that was set up by George Osborne, a former Chancellor. “Without improving connectivity it will be difficult to address the underlying reasons for our lower productivity.”
Mr Murison added: “In the coming weeks, this group of distinguished leaders and experts from across the North will be addressing the key evidence to ensure that the importance of economic rebalancing is fully understood by those undertaking the Oakervee review.”
The announcement comes after Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester’s metro mayor, clashed on national televisiob on Sunday with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps over the national inquiry being led by former HS2 Ltd chairman Douglas Oakervee.
This led to Mr Shapps confirming that “any outcome is possible” on HS2 amid fears the project could be scrapped following extensive lobbying by Tory MPs in the Home Counties who are fearful of the impact on their constituencies ahead of a probable early election.
“Just because a project has already taken a lot of money, and even if the projections continue to rise in terms of the costs, it cannot be right not to stop and take a look at it,” he added.
“We are spending taxpayers’ money and that money can only be spent once, so you have got to spend it wisely.”
However Mr Burnham says that he is sceptical about the Government’s intentions – and that the North needs to make the strongest possible case for HS2 if the proposed lines from London to Leeds and Manchester are to be built in their entirety.
“If this review is about building the right railway for Britain in the 21st century at the right cost and minimising waste, that’s okay, I will support that because I still have some concerns about the design and the cost of HS2,” he said. “However, if this review is about scrapping it, then the Government had better get ready for an almighty fight with the big cities of the North and, I understand, the Midlands too.”