Transport Secretary Justine Greening launches the HS2 project which promises to slash journey times between major UK cities – but campaigners tell Channel 4 News there could be legal challenges.
Transport Secretary Justine Greening has launched the scheme, which will initially run from London to Birmingham.
She said: “I have decided Britain should embark upon the most significant transport infrastructure project since the building of the motorways by supporting the development and delivery of a new national high speed rail network.
“By following in the footsteps of the 19th century railway pioneers, the Government is signalling its commitment to providing 21st century infrastructure and connections – laying the groundwork for long-term, sustainable economic growth.”
Ms Greening also announced extra tunnelling for sections of the 140-mile route between London and Birmingham.
Read more: Justine Greening's HS2 statement
Martin Tett, Conservative leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, told Channel 4 News HS2 was a scheme hatched by the previous Labour government and was “a classic tax and spend project” whose economic benefits had been exaggerated.
Steve Rodrick, chief officer of the Chilterns Conservation Board, said the scheme’s “environmental credentials are nil” and there would be “years of destruction”.
But Transport Minister Norman Baker told Channel 4 News that the coalition government had embarked on “the biggest rail investment programme since Victorian times”, with “money being spent like never before on railways and roads”. He said the government hoped the eventual cost of the rail link would be lower than £32bn.
The first £16.4bn phase, introducing 225mph trains and cutting London-Birmingham journey times to 49 minutes, could be completed by 2026. A second phase, taking HS2 to Manchester and Leeds in a Y-shaped route, would be completed around 2032/33.
However, campaigners against the project told Channel 4 News that they were still considering legal action to stop it.
A spokeswoman for 51m – a group of 18 councils, so-named because £51m is the amount they say HS2 will cost each parliamentary constituency – said their legal teams were looking at their options.
She said: “We are still studying the details of today’s announcement, however there would appear to be nothing so far that would dissuade us from considering this course of action.”
Any action would likely take the form of individual legal challenges led by aggrieved councils. For example, according to a story in local paper The Bucks Herald, Aylesbury Vale District Council had already begun preparing the case for a judicial review of the decision even before it was announced.
FactCheck: Tracking the cost of high speed rail
The HS2 announcement included detail on new elements of the route. These include a 1.4-mile tunnel near Amersham in Buckinghamshire as well as a new 2.75-mile tunnel in Ruislip in north west London.
Other new tunnels, or extensions to already-planned tunnels, will be at Greatworth in Northamptonshire, Turweston in Buckinghamshire, Chipping Warden and Aston le Walls in Northamptonshire, Wendover in Buckinghamshire, and Long Itchington Wood in Warwickshire.
It is claimed the scheme will generate £44bn for the UK economy over 60 years.
But residents in the Chilterns as well as some local authorities and Tory MPs have long opposed the project which will see the first phase completed by around 2026, with the extension north of Birmingham completed by around 2032/33.
The creation of HS2 will mean some homes will be demolished and some households suffer from noise.
Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan, whose constituency is Chesham and Amersham, has threatened to resign over HS2.