The decision to delay HS2 could lead to hundreds of manufacturing jobs being lost in a key ‘Red Wall’ seat, the government has been warned.
Around 1,000 people are employed at Hitachi’s assembly plant in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, which opened in 2015.
But it currently has no new orders on its books and its current projects are due to be finished by the end of this year.
In 2021, the Government agreed a £2.7billion deal to design and build the new high-speed “bullet” trains in a joint venture with Hitachi in County Durham and Alstom in Derby.
However, the production timeline has been thrown into uncertainty after Transport Secretary Mark Harper confirmed last week that parts of the high-speed rail link between Birmingham, Crewe and Manchester will be delayed by two years.
Mr Harper said the government remains “committed” to linking the line to the north “as soon as possible”.
Bosses from the country’s largest train manufacturers Hitachi, Alstom and Siemens are due to hold “crunch talks” with rail minister Huw Merriman on Monday, according to the Telegraph.
They will be seeking reassurances that the government remains committed to HS2 and a number of other rolling stock projects that are needed to keep around 20,000 people in work, it is claimed.
Phil Sherratt, editor of Modern Railways magazine, told i that although Hitachi and Alstom have other orders, all are in their final stages and that “towards the end of this year they will run out of work, effectively.”
“HS2 will start at some point but there’s going to be a gap,” he added.
“The order is for 54 trains but will they need 54 trains given what’s happening with the timescale being pulled back?
“The fact that it’s not going to Euston for some time, they’re not going to go north of Birmingham for some time… it’s all a bit uncertain.”
The potential closure of the Hitachi factory could have political implications for the MP Paul Howell, who took the Sedgefield seat for the Conservatives in 2019 for the first time since it was established in 1983.
Between 1983 and 2007 it was held by former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.
A well-placed source within the region suggested if the HS2 decision costs jobs it could be damaging for Conservative MPs across the north.
“It will give them a cold across Red Wall seats because it will look like they don’t care,” the source said.
Mr Howell was contacted for comment.
Labour has slammed the decision to delay HS2 and described it as a major blow to the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda in the North East.
“It’s an appalling decision,” Andy McDonald, the Labour MP for Middlesbrough, told i.
“This is disastrous for business in Newton Aycliffe but it will also have wider implications, the wider supply chain is very significant.
“Government changing and delaying things like this will have consequences right across the economy and we can’t keep doing it.”
Henri Murison, Chief Executive of Northern Powerhouse Partnership, called for the government to commit to a new order of trains for Avanti on the West Coast mainline to ensure the future of train manufacturing in the North East.
“We know passengers travelling north of Crewe, such as to Preston and Carlisle, will have to wait longer for HS2 to benefit their places,” he told i.
“Newer trains on the West Coast mainline, which are made in the North East and which have lower running costs, are available – and the time to commit is now. As is the case for all manufacturers across the industry, protecting UK jobs means a government committed to new rolling stock for our railways consistently – not feast and famine.”
Hitachi declined to comment.
Department for Transport were contacted for comment.