The chancellor George Osborne has outlined new plans to strengthen the northern economy with a high-speed rail link connecting Manchester to Leeds.
The so-called HS3 would considerably shorten journey times between the two cities and, Osborne claims, create a “northern global powerhouse“.
The development would follow on from the controversial HS2 project, which will run from London to Birmingham by 2026 and to Manchester and Leeds by 2033.
Whereas HS2 has been heavily criticised for its disputed £50 billion price tag, Osborne said the HS3 link would cost around £7 billion, and could be made cheaper if existing rail lines were updated.
It is hoped the scheme could help bridge the equality gap between London and the north of England, boosting businesses from Liverpool to Hull.
“The cities of the north are individually strong, but collectively not strong enough. The whole is less than the sum of its parts. So the powerhouse of London dominates more and more. And that’s not healthy for our economy. It’s not good for our country”, Osborne said.
“We need a northern powerhouse too. Not one city, but a collection of northern cities – sufficiently close to each other that combined they can take on the world. Able to provide jobs and opportunities and security to the many, many people who live here, and for whom this is all about.”
The business lobby group CBI has backed the idea in principle, if it can be delivered at value for money for the taxpayer.
“To keep the wheels on the recovery turning, we need to maximise growth across the UK”, said CBI deputy director-general Katja Hall.
“Better east-west links in the north could provide a huge boost to local businesses, and help further balance the UK economy by creating a northern hub.”
However, some campaigners have questioned why Osborne’s new proposals, as with the plans for HS2, are not extended a short distance to include Liverpool.
The 20 Miles More campaign has lobbied for the HS2 route to be linked directly to Liverpool, warning that otherwise the city will be left behind, but has also lead calls for an improvement of the connections to cities across the Pennines.
Andrew Morris, director of 20 Miles More, told Blue & Green Tomorrow, “Liverpool needs not only an east-west improvement, but it also needs a link to HS2.
“It would make Liverpool’s businesses more competitive, it would increase their connectivity and it would grow the labour market and allow them to draw from a much bigger talent pool.
“Not being on HS2 or HS3 could effectively kill the city. It would be like the government saying, ‘We’re not investing in Liverpool, why should you?’
“We see Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds as 7 million people that could be contributing as much to the country as the 7 million people in Greater London.”
Construction for HS2 is expected to begin in 2017, after a vote in the House of Commons gave the project the green light in April.
However, while supporters say the project will boost the north, opponents fear it will drain more talent from regional economies to London.
MPs and campaigners have also expressed concern about HS2’s environmental impact, fearing the destruction it could cause to precious areas of ancient woodland.