Cumbria should concentrate its efforts on securing a HS2 stop at Carlisle, the director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership has argued.

Speaking exclusively to in-Cumbria, Henri Murison said he believes the city is the county’s strongest option for a HS2 stop and that it should take another track to boost rail links to stations at Penrith and Oxenholme Lake District.

Cumbria Chamber of Commerce is lobbying hard to ensure the county does not miss out when work to on the HS2 line to connect Manchester with Glasgow gets underway.

And while it wants all HS2 trains to stop in Carlisle, it is also arguing for regular stops at Penrith and Oxenholme Lake District, observing the same travel patterns currently operated by Virgin Trains on the West Coast Mainline.

While Mr Murison admitted it was “good to have ambition”, he stressed the most “compelling” case remained a stop at Carlisle.

He believes the two smaller Cumbrian stations would be better connected to the Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme, which aims to create faster links between the major northern cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle.

“I think in Cumbria there needs to be further thinking about HS2, specifically ensuring we get what is right for the key economic assets of the county,” said Mr Murison.

“The most compelling case advanced within the county is for Carlisle. I will be encouraging the business community to reflect on the argument that by serving communities from West Cumbria to Dumfries and the Scottish Borders, through connecting on the extended line unlocked through the Borderlands deal, that it is the most likely pitch to be successful.”

On improved connections for Penrith and Oxenholme Lake District, he added: “Northern Powerhouse Rail, bringing Cumbria closer to Manchester and Sheffield may in fact have an even greater impact.

“The frequency and reliability of Cumbria’s connections to the North West and Yorkshire – vital for developing energy expertise and related manufacturing or decommissioning supply chains – are not good enough to give either West Cumbria or south Cumbria, with its near neighbour the city of Lancaster, the economic futures their respective assets should be providing them, particularly in attracting talent and inward investment.”

Mr Murison said he would be pushing for Northern Powerhouse Rail to be extended from Preston to Carlisle – taking in both Penrith and Oxenholme Lake District – when the organisation charged with delivering it, Transport for the North, meet on February 7.

The Northern Powerhouse Rail connection to Carlisle was “also really important”, he added.

Rob Johnston, chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, has said the business organisation’s support for HS2 is “conditional” on services stopping at all three Cumbria stations.

He described current HS2 plans, that would see trains operate non-stop north of Preston, forcing Cumbrian passengers to change trains, as “very damaging”.

In its 12-page business case to an official consultation on HS2, Cumbria Chamber of Commerce calls for existing stopping patterns north of Preston to be observed in light of significant increases in passenger numbers at Penrith and Oxenholme Lake District.

According to data provided by the Office of Rail and Road, passenger numbers have increased at Penrith by 134 per cent and by 124 per cent at Oxenholme Lake District. Carlisle saw a 68 per cent rise.

Mr Murison’s calls for a rethink in Cumbria come as the Government was forced to pledge its commitment to deliver phase two of HS2 north of Birmingham.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling branded increasing speculation that it was considering abandoning plans for phase two, connecting Birmingham to Crew, Manchester and Leeds as “completely inaccurate”. The speculation raised concern that HS2 trains, which would use the existing West Coast Mainline north of the Golborne Junction, near Wigan, would never reach the intended final stop at Glasgow.

Once built, HS2 will become the first new railway built north of London since the Victorian era, with the Government and its backers saying it has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and boost the economies of town and cities across the country, in particular in the north.

The project is already underway with 7,000 people, 100 apprentices and more than 2,000 businesses working on its design and construction.

However, the project continues to cause huge controversy, having already seen costs spiral and scores of businesses left out of pocket after seeing their land and premises compulsory purchased to make way for the new line.