The Government’s commitment to a proposed HS3 high-speed rail link spanning the north of England has been questioned in the Lords.
Last month Chancellor George Osborne suggested the creation of a £7bn route between Manchester and Leeds that would cut travel times between the two cities from 50 minutes to half an hour as part of the review of the second phase of the north-south HS2 project.
But during question time in the Lords today Labour questioned if the Government had made a commitment to build HS3 or whether Tatton MP Osborne merely used the announcement to bolster support in Tory-held constituencies in the run up to next year’s election.
Speaking during question time in the Lords Shadow transport spokesman Lord Rosser said: "Is the commitment from the Government a commitment to build HS3 or is it 10 months from an election simply an announcement to look at the case for HS3 from a Chancellor with a northern constituency, speaking at the Museum of Science and Technology in Manchester, and worried about whether the Conservatives will hold onto seats like Calder Valley and Colne Valley?
"If it is a commitment to build HS3, what benefits were revealed by the cost benefit analysis and who did it?"
Lord Popat, a Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman, insisted work needs to be done on the Chancellor's vision and that initial proposals for the project, including options on route, timescales and cost, would be presented by the time of the Autumn Statement later this year.
Lord Popat replied: "The Chancellor has set out a vision for how to unlock economic potential of our northern cities. Something remarkable has happened in our northern cities in the last 30 years, they've done very well.
"It's time we take it to another level. One way to take it to another level is to have that infrastructure investment.”
He went on to explain HS2 had been widely discussed in the Lords and further details to justify a business case for HS3 would be reported by HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins.
Lord Popat described the project as a "floating idea" after Conservative peer Lord Holmes of Richmond asked if combining HS3 with high-speed broadband across the region and increased capacity of Manchester Airport could enable northern cities to be "economic powerhouses".
Labour peer Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton later asked Lord Popat: "You confused me a little by referring to a floating idea. In the North, we like a straight yes or no.
"Is the Government committed – both the Department of Transport and the Chancellor and the whole Government – to meeting the needs of the North or could it float away again after the general election?"
Lord Popat replied: "Government policy is to rebalance the economy and the announcement by the Chancellor was to see how we can unlock the economic potential of northern cities and how we can make northern cities a hub for economic growth.
"With regard to HS3, it is an idea that has come from the Chancellor and he's quite categorically saying this will depend on the report we will have from David Higgins before the Autumn Statement."