Preston should be linked to the £15bn plan to create a “northern powerhouse”as soon as possible, council and business chiefs said today.
The One North report – compiled by Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield – proposes an early extension to the HS2 high speed rail route as far north as Crewe, a 125mph trans-Pennine rail link and better road links to ports and airports in the region.
Preston council leader Coun Peter Rankin and Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, both welcomed the report.
But they said Preston should be linked to the master plan in the future.
Coun Rankin, leader of Preston city council, said Preston would benefit from an early extension of high-speed services reaching Manchester.
But he said the answer was not necessarily faster trains, but better links.
The city’s multi-million pound City Deal project was set to address that in and around Preston.
Coun Rankin said: “Over £400m is being invested in Preston and South Ribble over the next eight years to improve infrastructure.
“This includes a new junction on the motorway, a rail halt at Cottam and other road improvements.”
He added: “HS2 is undoubtedly important for the UK and in particular the economy of northern England.
“We would welcome further investment in HS2 and other transport infrastructure as this will improve both capacity and speed of the rail network so that cities like Preston can benefit from improved connections to London and other cities.
“Certainly, as the Preston economy grows demand for high speed rail and other connections will grow too.”
The One North Report was launched in Manchester yesterday and follows Chancellor George Osborne’s comments about northern cities being at a disadvantage in June.
Proposals include: A fast, frequent and high quality intercity rail network joining up city regions – including a new trans-Pennine route (tunnelled as necessary), a faster link to Newcastle and improved access to Manchester Airport.
There are also plans for improved regional rail networks, interconnected with HS2 and intercity services plus local tram networks and more park and ride facilities.
Ms Murphy said the Chamber “strongly welcomed” plans to improve connections across the north .
She added: “A national high speed network will transform rail capacity and allow for significant improvements to freight movements.
“However if businesses in the region are to benefit fully then this planned expansion of HS2 should include complementary spurs to serve Lancashire as well”
Mick Cash, RMT Acting General Secretary, said: “It is pure show-boating for George Osborne, whose austerity cuts are behind the axing of jobs and services on the railways, to claim he is backing modernisation and investment when he is, of course, the axe-man in chief.”