A Government consultation on changes to the HS2 route – which include providing new links to Northern Powerhouse Rail – have been welcomed as a massive opportunity for the North.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced on Thursday the start of a three-month consultation which include changes to sections of the Northern routes between Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds and the potential for two “touchpoints” with Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR).

The “touchpoints” under consultation would allow Liverpool to Manchester NPR trains to use the HS2 line into Manchester, while the other would allow future London to Liverpool HS2 trains to use any new, future NPR route into Liverpool, said the Government.

The consultation comes amid increasingly strong calls from businesses and politicians for the Government to commit to delivering HS2 in the North along with NPR.

The consultation was launched on the same day as the ‘Backing Northern Powerhouse Rail’ report was launched in Leeds. The report includes a survey of 5,000 businesses from across the North which found that all but one per cent believed NPR would boost productivity in the region, while 85 per cent said it would increase inward investment.

While investment in the £39 billion NPR scheme would be focused outside Cumbria, its backers have argued that it would boost capacity and connectivity in the county. 

Meanwhile, any HS2 link to Cumbria would fall in the third phase of work, with Cumbria Chamber of Commerce leading the charge for stops to be established at Carlisle, Penrith and Oxenholme Lake District. At present there are no HS2 stops earmarked for the county.

But both the Northern Powerhouse Partnership and CBI have welcomed the new Government consultation as a sign of a commitment to delivering the two rail projects following recent speculation they may not happen.

CBI North West regional director Damian Waters said: “The new consultation, announced today in Parliament, is a massive opportunity for the North and one we must grasp with both hands.  

“Linking up HS2 and the Northern Powerhouse will unlock a series of connections knitting together Manchester, Liverpool and London to a high-quality transport network fit for the 21st century. 
“Behind these maps and documents is the chance to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and bring new opportunities to our communities. 
“The stark reality is that no other scheme or investment can deliver the jobs, growth or regeneration benefits of HS2.
“If we are to regenerate our local economies, we must move forward with both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.”

Henri Murison, Director of Northern Powerhouse Partnership described the potential HS2 and NPR links as a “significant landmark”

“HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail are designed to be developed and built alongside one another,” he said.

“They will have the greatest economic impact together because there are multiplier benefits to having improved north south and east west links being delivered by 2032 in full – Northern Powerhouse Partnership’s recommended timescale.”

The latest development comes as controversy continues to surround HS2.

Former CBI director general and Government trade minister, Lord Digby Jones told an event in London that HS2 should be built “at any cost” although he does not support the route, which he claims “rapes” some of the UK’s most beautiful countryside.

Lord Jones – previously a regular visitor to Cumbria who officially opened the University of Cumbria's Rural Growth Hub in 2014 – told the Richardson's Black Country business event at The Hawthorns: “In 100 years time no one will remember what it cost”.

The cost of the project has been the main bone of contention with those opposed to it. 

Last month the Taxpayers’ Alliance called for HS2 to be scrapped, claiming its £52bn budget would be better spent on local rail links. 

Meanwhile, an influential House of Lord’s committee called for funding for NPR and the northern reaches of HS2 to be ringfenced amid fears that Government funding was in danger of running dry.