Anti-HS2 campaigners have attacked George Osborne’s decision to launch the bidding process to build the high speed rail line.
They believe it is too early - the HS2 Bill is still going through Parliament - and he should not initially encourage China to pitch for the £11.8 billion contracts.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne prepares to board a train from the city of Urumqi in north west China to Turpan.
HS2 Action Alliance said the announcement confirmed that it is a “political project rather than a transport project”.
The group’s spokesman, Richard Houghton, said: “George Osborne has been very astute at using it to support his political ambitions.
“It was going to be part of creating the northern powerhouse ahead of the general election.
“Now he’s trying to build his position as a statesman on the international stage in the hope he will be prime minister when David Cameron steps down.
“You shouldn’t be issuing contracts when you don’t have the money.
“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, claimed that China’s own expansion of high speed rail highlights the potential problems for the UK.
The organisation’s campaign manager, Joe Rukin, 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 added: “Sadly our Chancellor wants to jump into bed with the Chinese on this highly suspect project.”
The £43 billion proposed scheme has attracted criticism because of its cost and its impact on the environment and local communities.
Mr Osborne launched the bidding process for the construction of the HS2 line on the latest leg of his trade mission to China.
The Chancellor is urging Chinese companies to bid for seven contracts, worth £11.8 billion, to build bridges, tunnels and earthworks on the first phase of the line between London, Birmingham and the North.
The milestone step - taken before the HS2 Bill has completed its passage through Parliament - was being announced by the Chancellor in the Chinese city of Chengdu during a five-day tour designed to strengthen Britain’s economic links with the east Asian giant and win trade and investment for the UK.
Speaking in the city of Chengdu, Mr Osborne also opened a pitch book on more than £24 billion of investment opportunities in the region he has dubbed the “Northern Powerhouse”.
Chinese investors will be invited to get involved in infrastructure schemes including the Atlantic Gateway connecting the Port of Liverpool to the City of Manchester and a proposed Science Central development in Newcastle.
“We are truly entering a golden era of co-operation between our two countries, and it’s crucial that businesses and communities from across the UK feel the full benefit of forging closer economic links with China,” he said.
Travelling with the Chancellor were leaders of councils in Northern Powerhouse cities Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle, as well as Cheshire East and Trafford.
Projects for which they are seeking investors include the 10,000-home Manchester Place development, the new Sheffield Retail Quarter and the South Bank regeneration scheme in central Leeds.
Mr Osborne was also announcing the potential doubling of enterprise zones in the North; efforts to reinvigorate partnerships between northern and Chinese cities; a new Lancaster University service to bring together UK and Chinese universities, researchers and businesses; and a programme to teach Chinese radio astronomers at Jodrell Bank.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Have your say below