BILLIONS of pounds earmarked for the HS2 high-speed rail project would be better spent on faster routes across the Pennines, peers have suggested.

The £50bn scheme, between London and West Yorkshire, may not be needed to ease overcrowding and will fail to narrow the North-South divide, their critical report concludes. The Bill to build it should be halted unless ministers can make “a convincing case”, the Lords economic affairs select committee says.

Committee chairman Lord Hollick said: “The evidence we have received suggest it (faster Pennine routes) is likely to have a much greater beneficial impact on growth in the North.”

The scathing conclusions come despite all three major parties backing the legislation to build and operate the first phase of the line, between London and Birmingham, by 2026.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has said Bradford could gain a two-hour direct rail link to London, as space is freed up on existing intercity lines.

Labour MP Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South), Conservative Philip Davies (Shipley) and Bradford Council all claim HS2 offers little to Bradford. However, a Department for Transport spokesman said: “The case for HS2 is crystal clear.” It will have a transformational effect, supporting growth in the North by improving connectivity.”