Business leaders from the Midlands have urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to build HS2 in full, amid warnings downgrading the project would leave his levelling up ambition “in tatters”.
It follows suggestions last year that the eastern leg of the new high-speed rail line, running from the East Midlands to Yorkshire, could be scrapped.
A letter has been sent to Mr Johnson and signed by more than 100 business leaders from the Midlands and North.
It says: “Amid the covid crisis, there is a decision looming about the most significant infrastructure project ever seen in this country.
“The future of HS2 is critical to the North and the Midlands.
“A failure to deliver it in full, all the way to Leeds via Toton and Sheffield, would be a massive missed opportunity to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, attract major investment and stimulate huge economic growth to create a more balanced, fairer economy.”
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It has been signed by Paul Faulkner, Corin Crane and Scott Knowles, chief executives of Greater Birmingham, Black Country and East Midlands chambers of commerce respectively, alongside Elaine Clark, chief executive of the Rail Forum Midlands.
Phase one of the high-speed line between Birmingham and London is currently being built.
Under current proposals, phase 2b of HS2 would run between Birmingham and Leeds via a new ‘East Midlands Hub’ station in Toton, seven miles south west of Nottingham city centre.
But in December, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), an official body which provides advice to the Government on infrastructure, suggested this eastern section should instead travel to East Midlands Parkway which opened in 2009.
From here, services north would then join existing conventional rail lines.
The construction of a new station at Toton would therefore not go ahead if the NIC’s proposals were accepted by the Government and time savings on journeys to Yorkshire would be lost.
The NIC said it would rather see investment focused on more local improvements to rail services instead.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is due to announce later this year whether he has accepted the commission’s suggestions when he publishes a detailed plan for rail in the North and Midlands known as the Integrated Rail Plan.
The letter went on to say: “These transformational regeneration and growth opportunities do not come along very often.
“Major investment in infrastructure, which the North and Midlands have not seen since the Victorian era but has been delivered in London and the South East, would be the catalyst for a North as prosperous as London, the Midlands rivalling the South East for productivity and job creation.
“As businesses, connections with our market, suppliers and exporters are very important.
“HS2 will link our great towns and cities in the Midlands and North contributing to local, regional and national prosperity that will be at the heart of a strong Global Britain.”
Earlier this month, Mr Shapps said HS2 would be vital for the UK.
He also revealed he had spent 18 months working on a white paper to incorporate the findings and recommendations of the Government-commissioned Williams Review into Britain’s railways and said he was “very keen” to release the review.