Ed Balls has set himself on collision course with Leeds council chiefs after saying High Speed 2 plans should be halted while east west train links are fixed.
The shadow chancellor has said a Labour Government would want to rethink the “absurd” timetable which sees the London to Leeds and Manchester route built before a so-called HS3 option of improved trans-Pennine links.
Mr Balls comments threaten to bring a halt to the £50bn infrastructure plan backed by many northern council leaders.
This week Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, had to defend HS2 as “vital” to the northern economy.
Speaking after a new report questioned the economic case for HS2, Mr Balls said: “I think the idea that we wait to do the east west upgrade until after we have done the second phase of north south is topsy turvy. It is a plan with no economic or business logic at all. The label HS3 is absurd, but typical of George Osborne wanting to pretend he has a plan.
“I would want to be discussing how we could improve east west links with David Higgins from day one. That is something we can get on with quickly while we ask big questions about the second phase of HS2.”
Mr Balls added: “I don’t understand this HS3 proposal. Why would you decide to spend 20 years improving north south before finally in the third phase coming to east west?
“I think George Osborne has this all wrong. It should not be HS3, that has to come before the second phase of HS2. East west is the priority. It should not be Manchester, Leeds only, we should link Liverpool, Newcastle and others.”
Asked if he thought the east west links would be a high speed rail project, Mr Balls aid: “We need to look hard at this with Network Rail.”