Chancellor George Osborne has been slammed after inviting Chinese firms to bid to build the planned High Speed Two rail line – before the bill has even gone through parliament.
Anti-HS2 campaigners have attacked Mr Osborne’s decision to launch the process of trying to encourage China to bid for the £11.8 billion contracts.
During a tour of Chengdu in China, the Chancellor urged Chinese companies to bid for seven contracts to build bridges, tunnels and earthworks on the line which will link London with Manchester and Leeds, via Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
The HS2 Action Alliance group said the announcement confirmed it is a “political project rather than a transport project”.
Richard Houghton, group spokesman, said: “Mr Osborne has been very astute at using it to support his political ambitions.
“This was meant to be a project that was going to not only build northern economies, but also create jobs for British people.
“If the contracts are going to the Chinese it makes a nonsense of that claim.”
Another campaign group, Stop HS2, also claimed the high speed railway already in China highlights potential problems for the UK.
Joe Rukin, Stop HS2 manager, said the Chinese project’s cost overruns, lack of sustainable growth and inability to achieve the predicted passenger numbers should “ring very loud alarm bells” for Mr Osborne.
He said: “Sadly, our Chancellor wants to jump into bed with the Chinese on this highly suspect project.”
The £43bn scheme has attracted criticism because of the cost and impact on the environment.
But Mr Osborne claims an investment from the Chinese will strengthen Britain’s economic links with the country and win trade and investment for the UK.
Speaking in Chengdu, he said: “We are truly entering a golden era of co-operation between our two countries, and it’s crucial businesses and communities from across the UK feel the full benefit of forging closer economic links with China.”
Council leaders from the “northern powerhouse” cities, such as Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester, joined the Chancellor on his trip to seek investors.
Tory MP Cheryl Gillan, who opposes the HS2 line, said Mr Osborne’s decision to start the bidding process was “premature”.
She said: “The Bill has not finished its way even through the House of Commons.”
Officials defended Mr Osborne’s decision, by saying British contractors would not lose out as a result.
A Government spokesman said: “We’ve made it a priority to engage with British firms to ensure they are well-placed to compete for the opportunities offered by HS2.
“But it’s also crucial that we learn lessons and take advantage of international expertise and efficiencies where they have a history of building high-speed rail.”
Plans for the HS2 line include a new station between Nottingham and Derby.
This would allow the train to call there before the line heads north between the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire countryside.