UK business travel companies are backing plans to accelerate development of the northern section of the controversial HS2 high speed rail link.

The benefits of HS2 in terms of better services to the north would be achieved much sooner if plans to speed up phase two of the project were adopted, the Guild of Travel Management Companies claims.

The guild was responding to HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins’ new report which yesterday called for building work on the northern section of the £50 billion project to be accelerated.

Sir David says the initial part of the project should run from London to Crewe by 2027, instead of merely reaching Birmingham by 2026.

Building a new hub at Crewe was “the right strategic answer” which would allow the second phase of HS2 to be completed by 2030 instead of 2033.

GTMC chief executive Paul Wait said: “The GTMC welcomes Sir David Higgins’ call for an acceleration of the building works on the northern section of HS2.

“Commitment to improving the infrastructure of the UK is essential to attracting investment. The business traveller community is very clear in their support for HS2.

“Results from our recent ‘Voice of the Business Rail Traveller’ survey revealed nearly three quarters of 18 to 29 year olds are in favour of the planned project.

“Our members firmly believe that HS2 is absolutely vital for the future of the country, especially for closing the economic divide between north and south.

“The sooner the government can sign off on its plans, the sooner the economic benefits can be shared by all.”

Sir David warned that costs for the £50bn scheme could easily spiral out of control if it was mired in planning and consultation regulations as “time is money”.

Wait added: “The one bone of contention we have is Higgins’ call for scrapping the proposed link between HS2 and the HS1 line, which links St Pancras Station to the Channel Tunnel, allowing for continuous travel to mainland Europe.

“A recent survey we conducted amongst business rail travellers throughout the country revealed that two-thirds of them were strongly in favour of HS2 connecting with mainland Europe.

“If the government hopes to keep the economic engine of the recovery running then connectivity to the Continent is absolutely crucial as these results prove.

“Britain has to demonstrate to the international business community that it is connected, accessible and open to investment.

“We urge Sir David Higgins to reassess the inclusion of the international link to mainland Europe.”