HS2: Mixed support from North East MPs

By Fergus Hewison and Olivia Swash
BBC News

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Part of the proposed HS2 route in the Midlands

There is mixed support for the HS2 high-speed rail line among MPs in north-east England, a BBC survey has found.

More than 20 MPs explained their views towards the £50bn project for the Sunday Politics programme in the North East & Cumbria.

Of those, 43% were definitely in favour, with 33% against.

None of the MPs who took part in the research cited HS2 as a transport priority for the region.

More than half preferred investment in bus links, with road improvements to the A1 and A66 and the opening of a Tees Valley Metro also proving popular.

Reduced journey times

The results of the survey come after Lord Mandelson, the former Hartlepool MP and Labour business secretary, said the project would "suck the lifeblood" out of the existing railway system and increase journey times to places like Cumbria.

He also claimed that the previous Labour government originally approved the idea as a way of upstaging the Tories.

HS2 will be built in two phases with the first stretching from London to Birmingham and into the West Midlands, to connect with the West Coast Mainline.

Image caption,
Ian Dormer thinks money dedicated to HS2 could be better spent

The second phase will then go on to Manchester and Leeds. The government says it will cut journey times between these major cities and free up space on the motorways and for rail freight.

For instance, it says the journey between London and Leeds would reduce from one hour and 53 minutes to one hour and 23 minutes.

Onward connections from this service would mean the journey from London to Newcastle would also see a reduction in duration from two hours and 52 minutes to two hours and 18 minutes.

'Overloaded roads'

Earlier this year, the Institute of Directors (IoD), which represents business owners, called on the government to abandon HS2 after a survey of its members.

IoD chaiman Ian Dormer, who also runs an engineering firm based in the North East, believes the money could be better spent.

He said: "One thing in the North East that we've been crying out for for a long time is a motorway up to Scotland, and of course west over to Carlisle or even across over towards Penrith.

"Infrastructure spend is vital but I think we can spread it out and do a lot more good by having that spread out a bit better."

Despite the indifference of some MPs, businesses in the region could stand to benefit from HS2.

Image caption,
Steve Cotton believes the project "has to be done"

Darlington engineering company Henry Williams Ltd produces parts and equipment for the rail industry and says it would bid for contracts from the project.

Sales and marketing director Steve Cotton believes a high-speed rail system is vital for economic growth across the whole country.

"The road structure is overloaded," he said. "You spend a lot of time in traffic jams nowadays so if you can actually guarantee you're going to be in a place in a short period of time it's got to be a must.

"Throughout Europe they're always spending on infrastructure and actually for a long time we were the poor man of Europe when it came to rail.

"The French have had high-speed for a long time and so have the Japanese."

There will be more on this story on Sunday Politics in the North East & Cumbria this weekend on BBC One at 11.45 GMT.