Scotland demands high-speed rail pledge

Transport secretary Keith Brown has said Scotland must be included in plans to roll out high speed rail across UK as the main Westminster parties clashed over plans to “scale back” the project.
The SNP wants the high speed rail link extended to ScotlandThe SNP wants the high speed rail link extended to Scotland
The SNP wants the high speed rail link extended to Scotland

The issue dominated the UK election campaign yesterday as Chancellor George Osborne warned Labour was ready to “cancel” the £21 billion scheme amid fears of cost overruns.

Ed Balls warned last week there are “big questions” over the second phase of the project north from Birmingham.

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The Chancellor claimed yesterday this would be a major blow for “Yorkshire and the north-west.”

But Mr Brown, the Scottish Government’s cabinet secretary for transport, said Scotland must also be at the heart of the plans.

“The Westminster establishment have shown a total lack of ambition throughout the development of plans for HS2 and Labour’s threat to scale these plans back even further shows no understanding of Scotland’s needs,” he said.

“Labour has been guilty in the past of saying different things north and south of the Border on HS2. Now Jim Murphy must clarify whether he is happy to see plans diminished even further.”

Mr Murphy said in February that he wanted to see HS2 extended to Scotland.

Mr Brown added: “The SNP wants to see a genuine high speed rail network that includes Scotland in plans for HS2 and a strong team of SNP MPs will make sure that Scotland cannot be ignored in plans for high speed rail and is fully included right from the start.”

Mr Osborne yesterday accused Ed Balls of putting economic growth in the North at risk by “tearing up” plans for HS2.

Mr Balls suggested that the proposals could be delayed or scaled back if he is in the Treasury after 7 May.

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He told regional journalists at a briefing last week that Labour would press ahead with the first phase of HS2, between London and Birmingham, in 2017.

But “big questions” would be asked about phase two, from Birmingham to Manchester and Birmingham to Leeds.

Instead, he suggested “priority” could be given to a new line between the north-east and north-west.

Mr Osborne said yesterday: “Ed Balls is now openly talking about cancelling £21bn of long-term investment in the north and not going ahead with the second phase of HS2.

“That would be a huge blow to jobs in the north and the plans to build a Northern Powerhouse.

“I am challenging the shadow chancellor to reverse his position immediately.

“After decades of the gap between the north and the south growing, it’s now starting to close.

“If that’s going to continue we must invest in projects like HS2. It would be a real blow to Yorkshire and the north-west to tear up the plans, so that HS2 would never reach Manchester and Leeds.”

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But a spokesman for Mr Balls branded the Chancellor “no friend of the north”, insisting he imposed deeper cuts in funding on cities like Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester than elsewhere in the UK.

“Labour’s better plan will back working people and businesses across the north of England,” the spokesman for the Labour shadow chancellor added.

“We support HS2, but as Ed Balls said last week we shouldn’t wait for years before we get on and improve east-west transport links too.

“That’s why we want to work with David Higgins to do everything we can to maximise the benefits of high-speed rail for as much of the country as possible.

“It’s time George Osborne got on and did his job as Chancellor. On his watch the costs of HS2 have spiralled and it’s time he got a grip. Taxpayers deserve the best value for money and the maximum benefit from this project.”

Liberal Democrat spokesman Lord Scriven said his party backed the project, but warned it is also under threat if the Tories are re-elected on 7 May.

“Ed Balls is not the only one who talks about cancelling the project -– Tories are lining up to demand it is scrapped, including many of George Osborne’s ministerial colleagues,” he said.