Business leaders in the Liverpool city region have welcomed the Government’s announcement outlining plans to extend the proposed £32.7bn high-speed rail (HS2) network to the North West.
However, they also insist they will keep lobbying ministers to introduce a direct high-speed link into Liverpool.
As things stand, plans for the HS2 line will see it routed from London via Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
People travelling from Liverpool would need to catch a standard train from Lime Street to Crewe and connect onto a high-speed train from there.
This would cut Liverpool to London journey times to 1hr 36 minutes – 32 minutes faster than current services on the West Coast mainline.
But Merseyside business leaders are concerned that Manchester and Leeds could potentially gain a greater benefit by actually being on the HS2 line hence the call for a high-speed spur all the way to Lime Street.
Robert Hough, chairman of the Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “HS2 represents a huge investment in the country’s transport infrastructure with the potential to deliver a once in a generation economic impact on the regions it serves.
“The proposed journey times, and the additional high speed connectivity we will achieve, have the potential to transform the way this city region can do business.
“However, it is also clear that other regions and cities will benefit sooner from earlier connections and others by having direct links.
“The risk that locations in the Midlands become effectively annexed to Greater London must be understood and avoided if the benefits are to close the North-South divide and regenerate regional economies
“Ultimately, if Liverpool is to reap the same benefits the city region must continue to make the case for a direct link served by regular high-speed services. We will be seeking further consultation.”
Mr Hough’s views were echoed by Liverpool Chamber of Commerce chair, John Sutcliffe, who added: “At this stage we need to ensure that Liverpool remains as equally advantaged as the other major cities of the North in terms of added capacity and journey time savings, and we are calling for a future-proofing of the high-speed network infrastructure to safeguard the option of a spur to serve Merseyside.
“In the coming weeks we will be working to inform our members about the costs and benefits of the scheme, and to consult with them on the issues arising for the city’s long-term trade development and rail connectivity needs.”
The Government claims the constructions of HS2 could create 100,000 jobs along the route and bring greater prosperity to the North of England.
But the Stop HS2 campaign is now gaining momentum and ministers are also braced for fierce opposition to the plans from rural communities in areas affected by the plans.
Some Conservative backbench MPs are ready to defy Prime Minister David Cameron by opposing the project.
Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, said: “We are going to have all of the pain and none of the gain. It cuts my constituency north to south, destroys lots of countryside and puts a fear and planning paralysis to a lot of my communities.”