On the eve of the Tory Party conference, Professor McNaughton, spoke exclusively to this newspaper, about the likely consequences of cancelling the project to two of the country’s great northern cities: Leeds and Manchester.
‘Beyond comprehension’, he said when asked about the prospect of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak kicking into the long grass the one project that could genuinely begin closing the north-south divide, rebalancing the national economy for generations.
Exasperated at the possibility of both sides of the Pennines being robbed of a promise made to the north and to the nation in 2009, the former technical director for HS2 Professor McNaughton stated unequivocally: they (the high-speed services into Leeds and Manchester) are quite literally the most important parts.
They are the pieces in the puzzle that make the business case stack up. They are the elements which make the whole thing make sense - without them, all that has happened is London has expanded its commuter belt even further.
They are where the potential lies when it comes to levelling up the country. In short, if you don’t do Leeds and Manchester, what you have in fact done is built London more world-class infrastructure - infrastructure that will further benefit the capital and - oh, the bitter irony - drive even deeper the divide between the haves in the south and the have nots in the north. Essentially, Mr Sunak will, with a smile on his face, be doing the precise opposite of levelling up. It will genuinely make us worse off than we’ve ever been in terms of prosperity, life opportunities, leisure pleasure.