THE HS2 high-speed rail project must go ahead — despite a public spending watchdog claiming the apparent benefits were dwindling as the costs spiralled — say Bolton’s political leaders.

In a withering assessment of the proposed £50 billion link, the Commons public accounts committee accused the Department of Transport of failing to present a “convincing strategic case” for the rail link, which will connect London with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

But Bolton’s MPs and transport bosses say HS2 is vital to the north.

Yasmin Qureshi, MP for Bolton South East, said: “I still believe that HS2 can benefit the North West and Bolton. “It’s important that the Department for Transport and the Secretary of State address these concerns fully in order that people can have confidence in the HS2 project.

“There needs to be clarity and transparency over value for money and the benefits to the rest of the country, not just London.”

Julie Hilling, MP for Bolton West, added: “I don’t see why we’d build for the 20th century when we need to build for the 21st century.

“There is talk of a better alternative, but I’ve not yet heard one. Obviously we’ve got to watch what the cost will be but we deserve good rail links in the North.

“Building any major infrastructure has its problems. I think that we should go ahead with HS2, because otherwise these costs will only escalate.”

David Crausby, MP for Bolton North East, stressed the need for HS2 in building for the future.

He said: “There are clearly problems as far as cost is concerned.

“As far as the North West is concerned, HS2 is very important. We’ve got to get it at the right price. But we can’t just abandon it.

“We need to connect North to South to help boost the economy. It’s important to have infrastructure like this for the future.

“I think cost is always a problem, it’s not unique to this scheme. The Government has a responsibility to keep costs down but that shouldn’t deter from a potentially strong infrastructure project.”

Cllr David Chadwick, a Bolton representative at the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee, said: “There are definitely benefits from going ahead with HS2.

“Clearly, this is one of those situations which polarises people.

“It’s a long-term project and the circumstances might change. However, I would hope that we can see it through.

“France is doing a similar thing with its rail links between Bordeaux and Paris. Its clearly planning for the future, and I would hope that we can follow its example.”


‘It can be completed within budget’

TRANSPORT Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has defended the proposed HS2 high-speed rail project — which is to connect London with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds — as “vitally important” to Britain’s economic future, after a scathing parliamentary report found the Government had failed to make a “convincing strategic case” for the £42 billion scheme.

In a report the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said the ministers’ case for the massive project was based on “fragile numbers, out-of-date data and assumptions which do not reflect real life”, with no evidence that it would aid regional economies rather than sucking even more activity into London.

It also warned that an “unrealistic” target of securing the necessary legislation by 2015 risked a repeat of costly errors such as the botched West Coast main line franchise award.

But Mr McLoughlin insisted that the project can be completed within budget and will benefit the United Kingdom as a whole.

He said: “We set a budget. It is a £42 billion budget, including a £14 billion contingency. The simple fact is we’ve got to deliver it within that budget.

“I believe it is for the benefit of the long-term future of the United Kingdom. If we are going to be able to compete globally, we need to be able to attract businesses to our cities. To attract businesses to our cities, there needs to be good connections.” The report said there is insufficient evidence that HS2 is “the most effective and economic way of responding to future demand patterns, that the figures predicting future demand are robust and credible and that the improved connectivity between London and regional cities will enhance growth and activity in the regions rather than sucking more activity into London”.

Committee chairman Margaret Hodge questioned whether building the planned line, initially running from London to Birmingham by 2026 before being extended to Manchester and Leeds in 2033, was the best use of money available to upgrade Britain's railways.