HS2 artist concept JPEG - CEC economy

Borough chiefs are being urged to have a ‘plan B’ for Cheshire East’s economy in case the next prime minister pulls the plug on HS2, writes Stephen Topping.

Cheshire East Council is currently working on an economic strategy for the next five years – setting out an ambition to create 6,200 jobs and grow the local economy by at least £15.9 billion per year.

In the latest draft of the strategy, which was put before a CEC scrutiny committee, HS2 is crucial to the council’s ambitions – with no fewer than 56 mentions in the 58-page document.

But it comes as Conservative leadership front-runner Boris Johnson, who has previously criticised the £56 billion project, has announced plans to review the high-speed railway’s construction.

Cllr Ashley Farrall, Labour CEC member for Macclesfield Central, said: “The only thing I am concerned about is the draft is very dependent on HS2.

“I’m sure we are all keeping up with current affairs at the moment.

“I feel it is prudent and wise of this council that, alongside this draft, we also make a contingency draft alongside it which doesn’t focus as much on HS2 should that come to pass where the new prime minister does not support HS2.”

His comments were supported by Cllr Paul Findlow, chairman of the environment and regeneration overview and scrutiny committee, who served on the last Conservative CEC cabinet.

He said: “I think that point is well made. I have mentioned this myself before about plan B if HS2 stops in Birmingham, and I think we need to give serious consideration to it.”

Cllr Mike Hunter, Labour member for Middlewich, added: “It frightens me because the HS2 scheme [Mr Johnson] has been dead set against for so long.

“If he takes that away, where is our backfall? I agree it is really worrying because there is a lot of progress being made around this area now reliant on HS2.”

In a bid to reassure councillors, Frank Jordan, executive director for place at CEC, said the council is making risk assessments around HS2 and that it would revise its economic goals if the next prime minister axes the project.

But he insisted that HS2 would be crucial for the north’s economy – and suggested that message must be made loud and clear.

He said: “The key thing around what we have done with our partners is being able to demonstrate what the economic potential of HS2 is.

“I think we need to, first of all, put that to Government to say ‘look, HS2 does have some transport benefits, but it has some wider economic development benefits’.

“We need to be getting the case across that to disinvest in HS2 would have a major impact on economic growth in the north, so I think that is one key thing.

“But we are already starting to risk-assess some of our key projects in terms of what we are doing around HS2 and if we did get more clarity around HS2 we would obviously look at our ambitions on what we could deliver.”

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