The Duke of Devonshire, whose family have called Chatsworth House in Derbyshire home since the 16th century, has joined forces with a local food bank boss and the former head of the Civil Service to stop the HS2 station at Chesterfield being axed.
Under current plans Chesterfield and Sheffield would be served by a spur off the main HS2 line between London and Leeds, cutting journey times from the former industrial town and the capital to 73 minutes.
But there are fears the Government may decide not to build HS2 any further north than Nottingham after the National Infrastructure Commission recommended prioritising local rail links over the Eastern leg of the controversial route.
A new report produced by Chesterfield Borough Council, in partnership with Connecting Britain - a coalition of business and political leaders - says the town and its surrounding areas could lose out on over £55bn of income, over 10,000 new jobs and the creation of thousands of new homes if the plans are delayed or shelved.
It argues that any changes to the HS2 proposals would leave an already deprived area struggling even further, cut off from future prosperity, instead of helping it to “level up” with more affluent areas in the south.
Government is due to announce its plans for the eastern leg of HS2 from Birmingham to Leeds in its Integrated Rail Plan, expected in the coming weeks.
Though the Prime Minister says he remains committed to the route, the National Infrastructure Commission which advises him has recommended prioritising local rail routes with the Government's infrastructure budget rather than the Eastern leg.
It has suggested that one option would be to shift the proposed station at Toton near Nottingham to a different site which would mean high-speed trains would go no further north – cutting out Chesterfield, Sheffield and Leeds.
The Duke - whose ancestral home was the backdrop to TV and film versions of Pride & Prejudice - has backed the report along with Lord Kerslake, the former head of the Civil Service, and Patrick Evans, project Coordinator at Chesterfield Foodbank.
Local leaders say an HS2 station at Chesterfield would become a tourism gateway to the Peak District, support 30,000 jobs and bring in £2.3 billion to the Derbyshire economy. If it was scrapped other developments like the masterplan for Chesterfield Station would also be threatened, resulting in a lost opportunity to redevelop a major part of the town centre.
The Duke said: “The visitor economy is enormously important to Derbyshire, for the many small businesses across the Peak District and the people they employ.
“There are scores of hotels, restaurants, pubs, cafes and shops across the Peaks, as well as supporting services and suppliers, and their financial health is vital to the region.
“With HS2, we have a chance to establish Chesterfield as a nationally-connected gateway to the Peak District National Park, ensuring economic growth and greater prosperity for the area. It will also enable visitors to arrive in the most environmentally friendly way.
“This matters, because north Derbyshire has not had the easiest of times over the past few decades and it would be good for all of us to see Chesterfield and the areas around it enjoy a more prosperous future.
“So the prospect of HS2 coming here offers real hope for the years to come. That’s important, especially for young people, who we all want to share in that prosperity.”
Lord Kerslake, a former head of the Home Civil service who was previously CEO of Sheffield City Council, said: “In the wake of the pandemic, it’s clear that Government needs to think big and take action at an historic scale.
"Investing in a new infrastructure backbone is a good place to start, and the basic principle behind levelling-up suggests Government’s heart is in the right place.
“By the same token, failing to connect towns and communities like Chesterfield and Staveley to that new infrastructure backbone would seriously compromise those efforts.
“It is simply wrong to view an investment like HS2 as no more than fast trains between cities. The difference it could make to transport-related poverty in places like Derbyshire, South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire should be dominating the thinking of any administration genuinely committed to levelling-up."
And Patrick Evans, project coordinator at Chesterfield Foodbank, said: “What HS2 should bring is not just rejuvenation but finally some hope of better times after all these decades. In particular, the depot that is being planned for Staveley will bring desperately needed jobs back to a deprived area that has been neglected for too long.
“The knock-on effects these good jobs will have on the people who live in these communities is almost beyond measure. Investment in their lives is long overdue and HS2 finally offers them a way forward. But if those jobs don’t come the consequences will be depressingly familiar. It would be devastating.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We’re committed to bringing the benefits of high speed rail to the East Midlands, Yorkshire and beyond.
"Our Integrated Rail Plan will outline how projects, including HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, can work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers need and deserve, as quickly as possible.”