PLANS for a high speed railway station in Carlisle have been met with mixed reactions, despite claims the city could be “like Leeds” in 20 years.

This week the Northern Powerhouse partnership has been inviting prospective parliamentary candidates from all the main parties in constituencies across the north to pledge their support for the Connecting Britain campaign.

Connecting Britain is a coalition of business and political leaders who have come together to make a case for why the North and UK Plc need HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail delivered together, in full.

But Tony Lywood, Labour candidate for Copeland, refused the invitation, branding the Cumbrian HS2 link “a mythical white elephant”.

He said: “I turned down an invitation for a photo opportunity at Whitehaven station this week by representatives from the Northern Powerhouse, partly because I am busy campaigning in this election for Labour but also because I feel that this dreamt up HS2 link to Carlisle is a mythical white elephant and is very unlikely ever to happen.

“My priority is to get the west coast line upgraded, invest in buses and improve the A595, not spend the estimated cost of HS2 which is now at £85 billion pounds and rising on a project to deliver businessmen to London 20 minutes earlier for their meetings. How does this help west Cumbria?

“However, if they start this fabulous project by investing in the local transport problems on the totally underfunded West Coast rail line, bring back more buses at a reasonable cost and improve our shocking road structure then I’ll get behind HS2 rather than posing for photo opportunities in Whitehaven station.

“Incidentally, £85 billion would pay for the new nuclear power station at Moorside many times over.”

But John Stevenson, Carlisle’s Tory candidate, said the Cumbrian station was an absolute necessity.

He said: “Through the Borderlands growth initiative, we’ve demonstrated that Carlisle is very much the capital of our Borderlands region, servicing over a million people. It is a transport hub for a very large area. Therefore, the arrival of a station here I think is an absolute necessity, not just for the validity of the line but also for helping to boost the economy of the Borderlands region in Cumbria.”

He added that there was a need for greater capacity.

He said: “There is a capacity issue on the line. The people particularly who travel up and down to London will recognise that the trains are full now. There’s clearly a need for greater capacity.”

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership said connectivity would help locate high value jobs in the region: “We want to make Carlisle feel like a Manchester or Leeds, which I believe it will be in 20 years.”

In response to Mr Lywood’s remarks, he said the Connecting Britain campaign aimed to close the North – South divide and had support from businesses and civic leaders from all parties, including that of Andy McDonald, Labour’s transport spokesman.

Mr Murison added: “The independent review of HS2, that will be presented to whoever is elected as Prime Minister next month, will state that fares on the West Coast mainline will have to go up at peak times if HS2 is not built in order to ration the number of seats due to future overcrowding.

“There is an active campaign which we have been leading to get a station for Carlisle, but which Tony Lywood has this week refused to support. If he wants to take control of bus services, he should, like us, support devolution with a combined authority and mayor for the county.

“However, by trading off local and wider northern priorities, he divides himself from most candidates standing for all the main parties who want to increase the overall investment here in the North and do both. His party’s own capital spending plans allow for that, whether or not in the end they are judged to be fiscally credible when are fully costed.”