Business leaders have backed calls from an influential House of Lords committee for the Government to prioritise investment on the northern section of the controversial HS2 railway line.

Both Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership welcomed the damning House of Lord’s Economic Affairs Committee report, ‘Rethinking High Speed 2’, which has called for money for the northern section of HS2 – along with the £39 billion Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme – to be protected.

The committee said it fears funding for the line north of Birmingham, which is hoped would connect Cumbria to the £52 billion railway, could be “sacrificed” in the wake over an overspend on the first phase of the line between London and the UK’s second city.

It urged the Government to undertake a “major rethink” on its current plans, saying that the costs of HS2 did “not appear to be under control”.

At present HS2 trains from London will not stop in Cumbria, forcing passengers to change at Preston. Cumbria Chamber of Commerce has said the situation would damage the county’s economy and is lobbying hard for stops at Oxenholme, Penrith and Carlisle.

Any link to Cumbria would fall in the third phase of work, with HS2 trains using the existing West Coast Mainline north of Wigan.

Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, chief executive Rob Johnston, said: “The North is in dire need of rail investment and we’re pleased that the Lords’ report recognises this.

“The report also makes the point that the plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 are closely linked (they share infrastructure) so if HS2 is cancelled it undermines the case for Northern Powerhouse Rail.

“Although Northern Powerhouse Rail is centred on the Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds axis, and doesn’t affect Cumbria directly, it’s important for the North as a whole and we don’t want to see it fail.”

Mr Johnston also dismissed calls from The Taxpayers' Alliance this week to scrap HS2 and use the £52bn budget for smaller regional schemes, including two in Cumbria, as a “red herring”.

Among its list of 28 alternative schemes was the £30m upgrade of the Carlisle to Settle line and the £110m reinstatement of the Keswick to Penrith railway.

“The main argument for HS2 is that it relieves pressure on the West Coast Main Line, which is at full capacity south of Preston,” he said.

“Building a new high-speed line for passenger trains frees up space on the existing network for freight, taking thousands of lorries off the M6.

“That capacity issue would still have to be addressed if we don’t build HS2 so the money wouldn’t be available to spend elsewhere. That’s a red herring.”

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership has also argued for a HS2 stop in the county, with Carlisle his preferred option.

He has also stressed that the Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme – which aims to link major cities and economic centres across the whole of the North – will benefit Cumbria by boosting capacity and connectivity even though the investment in rail connections would be made outside the county.

“Northern businesses and leading civic leaders and mayors agree we need both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail,” said Mr Murison.

“The North will then have a high-speed network, with more seats across the Pennines and more frequency.  It is vital for the Northern Powerhouse and cancelling either project would be a betrayal to the cause of rebalancing our country.”

Mr Murison also ploughed into The Taxpayers' Alliance’s alterative plan, branding it “half-baked” and an “embarrassment”.

Meanwhile, the ‘Rethinking High Speed 2’ report says the Government’s current HS2 plans could leave commuters in the North “short-changed”.

It slammed the Government for not assessing how to cut the costs of a project, with scores of politicians expressing fears that it will continue to spiral.

Lowering speeds, moving the London terminal from Euston to the edge of the capital, and exploring alternative routes for the second phase of the project could result in £10bn worth of savings, it said.

“The costs of HS2 do not appear to be under control,” said chairman of the committee, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean.

“If costs overrun on the first phase of the project, there could be insufficient funding for the rest of the new railway. The northern sections of High Speed 2 must not be sacrificed to make up for overspending on the railway’s southern sections.”

He added: “The plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail should be integrated with the plans for the northern section of HS2, and funding for the project ringfenced. This will allow rail investment in the north to be prioritised where it is most needed.”

The former chairman of HS2, Sir Terry Morgan, has told the committee that “nobody knows” what the final costs of the project will be. 

The ‘Rethinking High Speed 2’ report has been published just says after The Taxpayers' Alliance controversial call for HS2 to be scrapped.

Local politicians, Cumbria County Council leader Stewart Young and Carlisle MP John Stevenson poured cold water on their alternatives schemes for Cumbria, arguing there were more urgent priorities including the Cumbrian Coast line, Furness and Lakes lines and the connection between Carlisle and Newcastle.

While Mr Stevenson supports HS2, Councillor Young does not.