Senior civic and business leaders in the North have launched an 11th-hour bid to persuade the Government to deliver HS2 in full amid rumours the Leeds leg of the high speed rail scheme is to be scrapped.
An independent report published today says cancelling the major infrastructure project without credible and viable alternatives will not deliver the transformational benefits to the UK economy the country badly needs.
Six regional bosses from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), representing nearly 200,000 firms, today issued a joint statement saying HS2 is vital to the UK's future prosperity.
And 11 West Yorkshire MPs, including Tory Craig Whittaker, have demanded that Leeds is not left behind the cities set to benefit from HS2, urging the Government to back the ‘once-in-a-generation’ investment.
It comes ahead of the publication of the Government-commissioned Oakervee review of the 250mph HS2 project, which is likely to report to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps later this month.
Media reports have suggested the report will recommend saving £10bn on the controversial scheme connecting London to the North by cancelling phase 2b between Birmingham and Leeds.
But the Northern Powerhouse Independent Review - overseen by leaders including Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake, ex-Manchester City Council chief executive Howard Bernstein and Chris Oglesby, chief executive of leading property firm Bruntwood - says HS2 will add £54bn to the regional economy in Leeds by 2050 if 2b goes ahead.
Mr Oglesby said: “Our report highlights that there are a number of significant benefits of HS2 that have been ignored to date in its viability analysis.
"HS2 will be transformational in equipping the North to thrive in the 4th Industrial Revolution. It delivers massive economic benefits by increasing capacity and speed both between our cities and into them on both new and existing lines.
"This, in turn, will increase access the labour markets for high growth industries and drive productivity; as much in enabling new jobs as improving existing ones. It will drive regeneration in our cities and towns around the stations and beyond, whilst the stations themselves will also be economic engines in their own right."
The report recommends the establishment of HS2 North, a special purpose vehicle working with the private sector to integrate HS2 and the Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme connecting the great cities of the North.
The statement issued today by six regional chairs of the CBI says businesses need HS2 to be built in its entirety, linking the East and West of the country as well as bringing the North and Midlands closer together.
They say a scaled-back scheme "will not deliver the improved connectivity across the country that businesses are crying out for".
Yorkshire regional director Beckie Hart said: “HS2 is more than just a railway line, it’s a key that unlocks future jobs, training and regeneration opportunities that will benefit us all.
“It is time for MPs and policymakers to lift their gaze, put the national interest first and back HS2. We cannot have more dither or delay. Britain needs to be bold and I am urging them to back HS2.”
A number of senior Tories have called for HS2 to be scrapped or scaled back. It emerged last month that the project may not arrive in Yorkshire until 2040 - compared with the original target of 2033 - and up to £25bn over budget.
And last month Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen claimed that the entire North East and large parts of rural Yorkshire will not "benefit in any way" from HS2 or the proposed Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR).
In July Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to progress plans for high speed rail between Leeds and Manchester as part of the £39bn NPR project once the HS2 review is complete
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The independent review into HS2, led by Douglas Oakervee with Lord Berkeley as deputy and a panel of advisers, will provide the government with clear advice on how and whether the project should proceed.
“As the Prime Minister recently set out, this Government wants to drive growth across the North including through Northern Powerhouse Rail and giving local leaders a greater say in the running of the railway.
"We will also publish a White Paper on the recommendations of the Williams Review, ensuring we deliver the reforms that will give passengers a punctual, modern and reliable railway.”