Around 5,000 businesses from across the North were asked their views on the strategic rail projects as part of the ‘Backing Northern Powerhouse Rail’ report, which was released at an event in Leeds on Thursday.

The report details the case for connecting Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) – which would connect major cities across the region – with Phase 2b of HS2, which sees the high-speed rail network branch off to Leeds and Manchester from Birmingham.

Of those surveyed, 99 per cent said NPR would raise productivity in the North while 85 per cent believe it would increase inward investment.

Three quarters said a firm commitment to delivering the scheme would allow them to make future investment decisions, and 62 per cent that it would help them recruit from a wider geographical area.

While investment in the £39 billion NPR scheme would be focused outside Cumbria, its backers have argued that it would boost capacity and connectivity in the county. Meanwhile, any HS2 link to Cumbria would fall in the third phase of work, with Cumbria Chamber of Commerce leading the charge for stops to be established at Carlisle, Penrith and Oxenholme Lake District.

Business leaders in the county have recently expressed their desire to see both projects delivered – and for there to be at least one HS2 stop in the county.

Last month the Taxpayers’ Alliance called for HS2 to be scrapped, claiming its £52bn budget would be better spent on local rail links. Meanwhile, an influential House of Lord’s committee called for funding for NPR and the northern reaches of HS2 to be ringfenced amid fears that Government funding was in danger of running dry.

Barry Leahey MBE, chair of the Cumbria branch of the Institute of Directors, said the organisation was “working hard to develop the talented leaders in the County to be the best they can be, they take this back to their businesses”. 

“Without a coherent plan of intent around infrastructure of which Northern Powerhouse Rail is a major part, these companies cannot unleash their full potential,” he said.

“We need aspirational actions to allow this and the next generation of business leaders from the area to grow. It is time to stop discussing and start doing.”

Chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce Rob Johnston said the benefits for Cumbria from both schemes “isn’t so clear cut”.

“We understand the clamour in Manchester and other large cities in the North for the Government to push ahead with HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail,” he said.

“They will dramatically reduce journey times across the Pennines and provide much needed extra capacity into London.”

But he added: “Northern Powerhouse Rail is centred on the Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds/Sheffield axis and does not directly affect us.

“HS2 is a double-edged sword. The plan is for HS2 trains to operate non-stop north of Preston when they join the existing network to reach Scotland.

“We’ve been lobbying hard for HS2 trains to call at Oxenholme, Penrith and Carlisle. If we get that, fine. If not, HS2 would be a step backwards.”

The ‘Backing Northern Powerhouse Rail’ report was carried out by law firm Addleshaw Goddard and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

It features a foreword from Northern Powerhouse Partnership chair and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, and interviews with major employers from the region including Siemens and Atkins, which both have a presence in Cumbria.

Northern Powerhouse Partnership Director Henri Murison believes there should be a HS2 stop in Carlisle and that Cumbria would benefit from NPR.

He said: “Linking up the cities of the North with fast, frequent rail connections can deliver a major boost to productivity, creating a Northern Powerhouse as prosperous and successful as the South and opportunities for young people to access skilled jobs right across the North.”

Meanwhile, the CBI pushed the emphasis onto politicians to ensure both projects were kept on track.

Its North West regional director Damian Waters said: “If we are to regenerate our local economies the Government must move forward with both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail – implying there is a choice between the two is misleading.”

Government Rail Minister Andrew Jones hit back.

“When it comes to NPR and HS2, it isn’t an either/or situation – the North needs both to increase capacity, transform connectivity and unlock economic potential,” he said.