London Tube ‘blackmail’ angers Northern high-speed rail lobby

Leeds Councillor Richard Lewis, Metro chairman Coun James Lewis and chamber of commerce chief executive Gary Williamson make their views known.    Picture: Steve Riding
Leeds Councillor Richard Lewis, Metro chairman Coun James Lewis and chamber of commerce chief executive Gary Williamson make their views known. Picture: Steve Riding
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LONDON transport bosses have been accused of “blackmail” after saying that a new underground line will have to be built if the North gets high-speed rail.

Transport for London deputy chairman Daniel Moylan told MPs that the new line would be needed to run through Euston station in London if the high-speed line comes to Yorkshire and the North West.

But the comments – which came as Yorkshire transport bosses warned that investment in other rail infrastructure should not be neglected because of high-speed rail – have sparked anger from civic leaders in the North after the billions of pounds poured into southern transport projects such as Crossrail, Thameslink and the Jubilee Lines in recent years.

Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said London has had a “generous transport settlement”, adding: ”Now there is a transport investment that helps the whole country including London, it’s quite unreasonable for him to try and use it to seek new funding for a new London-only Tube line.

“Doesn’t he realise how this sort of special pleading looks to the rest of the country?

“All of us deserve transport improvements that will help boost the national economy.

“City leaders in England, Scotland and Wales have united behind HS2 even though some won’t benefit for decades and that means and we should not be undermined by this parochial attempt at civic blackmail.”

Mr Moylan’s comments came during a select committee inquiry into the £32bn high-speed rail scheme, which will see an initial 225mph line from London to Birmingham before branching north to Leeds and Manchester by 2032. The project is calculated to be worth billions to the Yorkshire economy.

But the project is exposing tensions between North and South, with a provocative advertising campaign by the Yes to High Speed Rail campaign – which was holding an event to gather support in Leeds yesterday – featuring the slogan “Their Lawns or Our Jobs?”, a reference to opposition from those living near the planned route in the Chilterns.

Yesterday MPs warned campaigners to tone down the rhetoric amid fears it will alienate potential supporters.

“I would caution you not to polarise the debate in this way,” said Tory MP Iain Stewart. “There are people and campaign groups who back high-speed rail but not this particular scheme.”

Professor David Begg, former chairman of the Northern Way group of regional development agencies and now heading the Yes to High-Speed Rail campaign, defended the campaign, saying that some people opposing the project are in a “very, very privileged position economically” while some benefiting from it are not.

He also warned that the project was not yet a “done deal”, citing opposition from major Tory party donors as being a threat to the scheme. It has previously been reported that David Allen, who gives about £50,000 a year to the party and whose estate in Northamptonshire is on the route, is threatening to withdraw support for the Tories as is Lewis Garfield, an industrialist in Northamptonshire.

Prof Begg said: “History tells us political decision making can be quite fickle. It’s especially challenging for a Conservative Government, a coalition Government, who have a number of big donors to the Conservative party threatening to withdraw funding.

“This is particularly challenging for Conservative members and Ministers who are pushing the scheme. I don’t think it’s a done deal by any means. It’s especially challenging in a difficult economic climate like this.”