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Union leaders urge Labour to give full backing to HS2

The leaders of some of the country’s most influential trade unions have urged Labour’s shadow chancellor Ed Balls to show a firmer backing for HS2, saying that failing to build the new high-speed line would be “disastrous for the British economy”.

The letter comes from the leaders of Unite, Aslef and the TSSA. The other biggest transport union, the RMT, also backs HS2 – but is no longer affiliated to Labour after having been kicked out of the party in 2004.

Mick Whelan, Diana Holland and Manuel Cortes called on Ball to show “vision and commitment” to a long-term transport policy and rail infrastructure.

Balls has not come out against HS2, but has sounded consistently sceptical this year, accusing government ministers of acting as mere “cheerleaders” for the project.

The union leaders wrote: “As the representatives of many rail industry employees we do not believe that upgrades to the current network or longer trains can meet peak demand or provide the necessary enhancements to local services or freight.

“You will be aware that the Labour government elected in 1974 cancelled both the construction of the Channel Tunnel and the Maplin airport in Essex. It is crucial that an incoming Labour government in 2015 does not make a similar mistake. In the absence of a national transport strategy from the current government, Labour needs to show that it has the vision and commitment to a transport policy for the long term including the development of a high-speed rail network.

“A responsible approach to financing the project is, of course, essential but Labour must continue to support HS2.”

A spokesperson for Balls said: “The trade unions are right to say that we need a responsible approach to funding. That’s why Ed Balls has said that while Labour supports a new north-south rail line there can be no blank cheque for it when the costs have gone up by £10bn under David Cameron. We will take a hard-headed look at both the costs and benefits of the scheme to ensure it is the best way to spend £50bn.”

(Image shows Ed Balls discussing HS2 at Labour's 2013 party conference. Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire)

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