LEADERS across the North-East yesterday welcomed the government’s commitment to HS2 and the North following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement yesterday.

Mr Johnson gave the high-speed rail project the green light, “finally giving the home of the railways the fast connections they need,” by bringing together HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

HS2 Minister Paul Maynard told The Northern Echo the government is “committed to the north, the wider network and building it fully".

Whether that’s Sheffield up to Newcastle, East to East, or North to South, “it’s a package,” he said, a sentiment that echoed Mr Johnson’s speech. Mr Maynard said the integrated rail plan will bring Newcastle together with northern cities, but for surrounding towns and rural areas, the focus shifts from rail to buses.

“We are very keen to make sure that smaller towns benefit from greater connectivity,” he said.

“It’s not just about rail. There’ll be more evening services and more Sunday services to reach rural towns.”

Praising the North-East’s Metro service, which travels between Newcastle and Sunderland, Mr Maynard said the Metro will also see investment.

Bus services and cycling will receive £5bn, including 4,000 brand new buses that are zero-carbon and British built, as well as additional cycle lanes.

HS2 will bring additional services, capacity and fast journey times, while allowing for a greater number of freight journeys to be taken off-road.

Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, believes the decision “provides the best way to rebalance our national economy and secure the benefits of shared growth in turn, attracting investment in the shortest possible time".

Cllr Heather Scott, leader of Darlington Borough Council, welcomes the “rebalance to spending on transport” and sees it as an important step to “send a message that not everything is happening in the south".

She said: “It will be madness not to continue after the amount of money that’s been spent on it. And it’s necessary to bring our railways into the 21st century.

“It is not all about time saved, it is about capacity. There is evidence almost every day that people are waiting and standing on trains, it is horrendous what you see on the news. We need better and longer trains and HS2 will improve that. We will look forward for it to be extended to the North.”

Concern over connectivity to the East Coast Main Line is felt throughout the region.

Jonathan Walker, assistant director of policy, North East England Chamber of Commerce, said: “We have campaigned for HS2 to be approved and delivered as our members urgently need fast and reliable connections to their customers around the region and the rest of the country.

“Any review of the later phases must be used to ensure HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and East Coast Main Line are integrated properly, rather than as seen as a chance for further delays.”

Transport for the North has welcomed the Government’s announcement, but said urgent investment is needed in the East Coast Main Line for the region to feel the benefit from future high-speed trains, and to strengthen its ties with the Northern Powerhouse.

Describing HS2 and Northern Powerhouse rail as a “powerful combination”, it said: “We want to see full commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail in the National Infrastructure Strategy due to be published on budget day – the most transformational solution connecting our major towns and cities from Liverpool to Hull and the North-East. Doing so would slash journey times in the North, spark economic growth and reduce the nation’s carbon footprint.”