20 Dec 2010

‘Redrawn’ high speed rail plan unveiled

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond backs controversial plans to build a London to Birmingham high speed rail link through the Chilterns – but pledges more than half the route will be amended.

Mr Hammond outlined to MPs plans for the first stage of the £33bn High Speed 2 route after reviewing proposals put forward by the previous Labour government in March.

However he said around 50 per cent of the planned line would be ammended, to include tunnels and “green bridges” to ensure it had less impact of people who lived nearby.

The government’s preferred route cuts through the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire, before heading through Oxfordshire and Warwickshire.

Once completed it will allow trains to travel at more than two hundred miles an hour and cut journey times between London and Birmingham to 49 minutes.

“This proposal is significantly cheaper than any other option for a direct link and would enable trains to run from the Midlands and the north to Europe without affecting existing service levels on the North London line,” Mr Hammond said.

High speed rail plan for UK set out by government.

However any link to Heathrow Airport and the exisiting High Speed 1 line to the Channel Tunnel would not be constructed until the line’s second phase, which would also extend it to Leeds and Manchester. That is unlikely to be completed until the mid 2030s.

Mr Hammond told Channel 4 News that he hoped his new ammendments would reassure people had feared their homes faced years of blight from the planned route.

He also promised compensation for those whose homes had to be destroyed to create the line, and for those whose homes were set to lose value.

“I don’t think what I’m announcing today is going to change the minds of the hard core of people who are opposed to this railway come what may.”

“But I think there are tens of thousands more people who live along the line who are understandly apprehensive for what it means for them, their communities and their properties.

“I hope when they see the plans they will see mitigation measures … in a way that will greatly improve the impact.”

Public anger

The planned route has sparked widespread anger in areas near where it is due to be built. Many are Conservative heartlands.

Hundreds of people in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, turned out earlier to vent their opposition to the plans, which they argued would go through an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Nick Rose, the leader of the local Chiltern District Council said he felt local views about the route had been ignored.

“There is no economic case, no benefit to Buckinghamshire whatsoever. We met with Mr Hammond ten days ago and he was completely indifferent to our objections.”

Among the protesters was actor Geoffrey Palmer, who lives locally. He told Channel 4 News that the proposed high speed link was a “vanity project”.

“The environmental case has disappeared. It used to be environmental. Then it was economic. Now it is a transformational benefit – what is that?

“Where is the evidence for this transformational fairy godmother, wave my wand at pantomine time?

“Let’s spend the money on things that actually matter.”