Heavyweights clash on HS2

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Two of Pendle’s political heavyweights have clashed over the controversial HS2 rail project.

The prospective Labour candidate at the next General Election, Azhar Ali, has joined the calls for the scrapping of the proposed high speed link between London and Manchester.

And he said some of the money should instead be spent on restoring the rail link between Colne and Skipton and building the A56 villages bypass.

But Pendle-based Liberal Democrat peer Lord Tony Greaves described his comments as “completely off the rails.”

Speaking as Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls told last week’s party conference a future Labour government might not go ahead with the £50 billion project, Mr Ali said: “Ed Balls is absolutely right to question the spiralling costs for HS2.

“I have always questioned the benefits of HS2 and how beneficial it would be for the people of Lancashire particularly in the east of the county in places like Pendle.

“In times of austerity when we are finding that this Tory-led government is slashing money for vital services like our hospitals and roads, we do not need to spend money on an ego-fuelled train line which could take jobs away from East Lancashire to the Midlands and London.

“I would rather the government scrapped this project and spend the money on connecting Colne to Skipton with an electrified track and provided funds for the A56 villages by-pass that would help East Lancashire in creating jobs and connecting Rossendale to Greater Manchester.

“We need better connectivity in East Lancashire if we are to keep skilled jobs in the area and if we want to provide good career prospects for our young people and graduates”.

Lord Greaves said he was pleased that Mr Ali was now lining up in support of the reinstatement of the

Colne to Skipton railway. But the idea that the government would spend HS2 money on this scheme was “complete pie in the sky”.

Lord Greaves said: “The HS2 project is currently costed at around £18 billion for the first section between London and Birmingham, and £42 billion in total to include extending the line in two separate sections to Manchester/Lancashire and Leeds/Yorkshire.

“This is all money for major national transport infrastructure projects. The hard facts are that if it is not used for HS2, it will be spent on Crossrail 2 in London, and on massive improvement works on the East and West Coast main lines. These alone are likely to cost as much as HS2 if not more.

“And then there is the road building lobby lying in the wings, wanting to grab a lot of this money for a new motorway through the East Midlands and no end of motorway widening schemes mainly in the south of England.

“All over the country, local politicians are making populist calls to scrap HS2 and ‘spend the money in my backyard’. It is indeed all silly populist nonsense.”

Lord Greaves added that he believed the Colne-Skipton scheme would stand on its own merits and would in due course be financed from routine railway investment.