Patrick McLoughlin told the Yorkshire Post he is determined to ensure the controversial 250mph rail line has benefits for “the whole of Yorkshire” beyond its largest cities, Leeds and Sheffield, where new HS2 stations will be sited.
His intervention comes at a crucial time for the project, with legislation set to return to the Commons next week and the Labour Party considering withdrawing its support.
David Cameron suggested yesterday that the 20-year project will have to be abandoned if its loses its fragile cross-party consensus.
The Yorkshire Post today launches the first of its Big Debates over the contentious issue, seeking views from across the region on the biggest infrastructure project of the age.
In a bid to shore up support, Mr McLoughlin will next week publish an updated strategic case for the £42.6bn line which is expected to reveal new benefits for surrounding towns and cities.
He acknowledged that some parts of the region fear they may be “losers rather than winners” from HS2, and that it is his job to ensure the benefits are felt in every corner of the county.
“Yorkshire will be among the biggest beneficiaries of HS2,” Mr McLoughlin said. “Yet the fact remains that not all of Yorkshire is convinced by the case.
“Key councils like Bradford and Wakefield have come out against it. In their eyes, their residents will be losers rather than winners. That isn’t right, and it is my job to change their mind.”
The report, published on Tuesday, will set out some of the indirect benefits of HS2 beyond slashing journey times to London from Leeds, Sheffield and York.
It is expected to show how other fast, direct services to London will become possible from towns and cities including Harrogate, Halifax, Bradford and Wakefield, while commuter routes will benefit from the extra capacity.
But Mr McLoughlin suggests he will go further, backing a wider package of rail improvements to complement the new HS2 line.
“We will make sure transport links from the rest of Yorkshire to the high-speed stations in Sheffield and Leeds also improve to make the most of the opportunity HS2 offers,” he said.
Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said yesterday that he believes the benefits of HS2 are “not yet clear” and that the party could withdraw its support even if costs do not rise any higher.
Mr Cameron signalled this would mean the end of HS2.
“These multi-year, multi-Parliament infrastructure projects, they can’t go ahead without all party support,” he said. “You won’t get the investment, you can’t have the consistency.”
Forum for your views on major Yorkshire issues
The Yorkshire Post Big Debate series will give voice to the rich and varied views of the people of Yorkshire on the issues that matter, focusing on key areas that influence the lives of people living here and that impact on the prosperity of our region.
Why start with HS2? Yorkshire Post editor Jeremy Clifford explains: “There will not be a bigger issue with so much resting on a decision to invest so many billions of pounds on the infrastructure of this country than HS2.
“Yet, it is an issue that is dividing the country and the north of England. Politicians in Westminster and the regions have different views and business leaders are also divided about the merits of the project. Many communities, too, are unconvinced of the advantages of such a big spending scheme.
“This is where the Yorkshire Post steps into the debate. With so much riding on the decision, it is our belief that we should take a leading role in shaping the debate, to analyse the issues, and to provide a platform for discussion. There is no other organisation so well equipped to do the job of bringing together, the public, politicians and business leaders to discuss the merits of the scheme and to present them back to the decision makers.
“So we urge you to have your say, to read what the experts have to say and to engage in the debate on any of our media platforms. You will be taking part in the decision about the biggest investment project in this country in our generation.”