Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald, the new shadow rail minister, insists the HS2 rail link will boost the North-East despite the contentious decision to bring it no closer to Teesside than Leeds.
The high-speed railway will link London with Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester over the next 17 years, with the North-East to be linked to the network by HS2 trains running over existing, slower tracks.
With costs estimated anywhere between £43 billion and £83 billion, HS2 has caused major debate throughout the country – with Labour having threatened to scrap the project and build housing instead.
More criticism has come from the North-East, with critics questioning how such a scheme can benefit the region even though neither Darlington nor Newcastle or on the line, let alone any Teesside stations.
But Mr McDonald believes Teesside and the North-East in general will benefit – and that the benefits nationally outweigh the cost concerns.
In an exclusive interview with Tees Business, Mr McDonald, who took on his new role following a shake-up in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench, said: “It is contentious but it is the biggest engineering project of its kind to be undertaken for a generation.
“There are incredible construction opportunities for British firms and workers. We’ve got to fully exploit those opportunities.
“I think it’s an exciting opportunity. It’s a very expensive undertaking but I think now we’ve come this far with it we should embrace it and crack on.”
He continued: “It is simply necessary, not just in terms of journey times but perhaps more importantly capacity.
“We’ve got a railway system that’s Victorian in its origin and we’re struggling in terms of the capacity on the current network, so it is needed. We need this additional capacity for passengers and for freight too.”
Asked specifically about the views of his fellow Teessiders who ask “What’s in it for us?”, Mr McDonald replied: “There are lots of opinions about where it should start and how far it should go, but it’s got to start somewhere and work’s got to get underway. My job is to make sure that it’s done within the cost limits that have been described thus far.
“If we look at it positively, we will have a direct link into it. It will contribute to the growth of the economy in our part of England, and it’s positive for the entire country.
“It is going to be of benefit to us. We’ve got Hitachi up the road that are going to make trains for the express provision but we’ve also got the potential to bid for the rolling stock for HS2 too.
“There are exciting opportunities out there and the supply chain from HS2 will grow out, so it’s up to us to make sure we secure the opportunities for our businesses as well.
“But that connectivity will improve matters for us and ultimately there will be continuation on to the East Coast mainline.”