Leaders in the Midlands, including two former transport secretaries, have written to prime minister Boris Johnson calling for the full delivery of HS2’s Eastern Leg from Birmingham to Leeds.
The news comes as the Government is expected to publish an Integrated Rail Plan, which is examining how best to integrate Phase 2b of HS2 with Midlands Engine Rail and Northern Powerhouse Rail.
After ministers were forced to admit spiralling costs, with the project now potentially set to cost more than £100bn, there has been speculation that the Eastern Leg could be reduced or axed altogether.
The cross-party group of MPs, civic and business leaders includes Hilary Benn MP, Baroness Morgan and former transport secretaries Lord Adonis and Lord McLoughlin.
And the leading figures cite a new report, which demonstrates 'stark social and economic inequalities between the Eastern and Western regions of the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine'.
The report - Mind the gap: The role of HS2’s Eastern Leg in bridging England’s east-west divide - makes the case for boosting the region's economies.
Authored by campaign group HS2 East, it highlights that communities surrounding the Eastern Leg of HS2 Phase 2b suffer from lower productivity, poorer social mobility and receive lower levels of transport investment than communities surrounding its Western Leg from Birmingham to Manchester.
The report found that productivity along the Eastern Leg is 11% below Western Leg and almost a quarter (22%) below the UK average.
The three Eastern Leg regions; Yorkshire and the Humber, the East Midlands and North East have the three lowest productivity rates in England, falling 35%, 33%, and 32% below that of London.
Eastern Leg regions also received 21% less transport investment per head over the past five years than Western Leg regions, and a third (33%) less than the UK average.
These regions were also home to twice as many ‘social mobility coldspots’ than the Western Leg regions; where local authority areas were within the worst 20% UK-wide for a range of criteria including the education and jobs.
Hilary Benn, MP for Leeds Central, said: 'We know that the full economic potential of the North is not being tapped and that children who grow up poor in the eastern regions of the Midlands and the North are more likely to stay poor and less likely to achieve social mobility.
'We need to do something about this, and investment in HS2’s eastern leg will help to create jobs, unlock regeneration and increase productivity that our communities need if these divisions are to be reduced.'
The signatories also highlighted the regeneration schemes HS2's Eastern leg is set to catalyse across the East Midlands, Yorkshire and North East, creating over 150,000 highly-skilled jobs.