HS2 plans show Devon is still the poor relation for rail investment, says Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw
A flagship £33 billion north-south high-speed rail scheme will bring no benefits to Exeter or the rest of the region, it has been warned.
Plans to extend the HS2 line to the North of England have reignited concerns that the city and wider South West will be side-lined economically and lose out on vital transport investment.
Critics argue for just a fraction of the cost of the high-speed project, significant improvements could be made to rail links to and from the region.
The resilience of the mainline was recently highlighted after it was flooded causing severe disruption, and leaving the peninsula effectively cut-off.
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So-called 'connectivity' has long been seen as the biggest issue facing the region.
Exeter is already to miss out on a massive expansion of track electrification up to the end of the decade, which promises to bring faster, more reliable train services where it is being introduced.
Rail spending per head in the South West is just a third of that in the rest of the country.
The Manchester and Leeds extensions to HS2 northwards from Birmingham are designed to cut journey times, ease overcrowding and boost regional business. Officials say the £32.7 billion project will create at least 100,000 jobs.
The first phase of the project will be completed in 2026, and includes an interchange station at Old Oak Common in West London, providing a connection to the South West via the Great Western main line.
But a proposed spur to Heathrow has been put on hold pending the results of Sir Howard Davies' review of future airport capacity - which is not due to give a final report until the summer of 2015.
The Government argues the project will close the north-south divide, however research has previously indicated that Devon and the wider region is threatened with having fewer jobs, poorer workers, and lower economic growth as a result.
Speaking as the latest high-speed routes were announced Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders, who sits on the Commons Transport Select committee said: "There's no benefit at all to the far South West.
"We have the slowest speeds and the highest fares and all the new investment is going to go elsewhere.
"For a fraction of the £33 billion being invested we could do an enormous amount improving our rolling stock, increasing the capacity both on the trains and on the track, getting rid of congestion points, speeding up journey times, improving punctuality and bringing down fares.
"The idea we are going to get people's hand-me-downs as a result of upgrades elsewhere, that's not good enough when you are starting off with the worst links to begin with."
Labour's Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw said: "I welcome investment in rail, but once again the Westcountry is the poor relation when it comes to rail improvements.
"We have pressing work needed now, like at Cowley Bridge in Exeter, electrification and upgrading the Waterloo line that would create much needed jobs now and boost our economy much sooner than HS2."