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Council and business leaders issue warning over investment in HS2 plans for the north east

Business leaders and local councils have written to the HS2 chairman calling for urgent investment in the East Coast Main Line (ECML), warning that without money for high-speed rail in the north east, HS2 risks harming the region.

In a joint letter the HS2 chairman Allan Cook, business and political leaders have cautioned that significant investment is needed across the ECML to make it “HS2-ready” in order to allow high-speed trains to reach the north east and beyond to Scotland.

They want a single plan developed to upgrade the mainline between York and Newcastle so it’s prepared for HS2 by 2033, which is when the £56bn project is expected to reach Yorkshire and the east of England.

The letter comes from the North East Joint Transport Committee, which is responsible for Tyne and Wear, Durham and Northumberland, and from the local enterprise partnership alongside local council leaders.

They stress that the government needs to commit to funding high-speed rail or risk creating new economical barriers that will hold the region back.

The potential for further government investment is not known, but HS2 has been driving up costs already and risks falling behind schedule, leading to chief executive Sir Terry Morgan resigning from his role amid controversy surrounding another of the government’s major rail projects, Crossrail.

Yesterday it was revealed the new HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston had said that train speeds and the number of services could be reduced in order to keep the project within budget and schedule.

In the letter, the leader of Gateshead Council and chair of the transport committee Martin Gannon said: “HS2 has the potential to either help the north east’s fragile economy to develop and grow through significant investment and transformed rail links, or to create new barriers that will hold the north east back while other parts of the country benefit.

“It is already clear that the government’s commitment to HS2 Phases 1 and 2a, strengthening the economic ties between London, the West Midlands and north west of the country, is encouraging long-term investment in those areas. We urgently need an equivalent commitment to HS2 Phase 2b to give similar confidence to the east of the country. This will add the East Midlands and Yorkshire to the list of beneficiaries.”

He stated this could be accomplished by major investment, and said: “We are calling upon HS2 Ltd, the government, Network Rail and Transport for the North to all work together to produce credible, timely and properly funded plans to upgrade the East Coast Main Line.”

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