Ditch HS2 rail link at eleventh hour – MPs
10 backbenchers say the government should, instead of HS2, develop a new “comprehensive” transport strategy which concentrates on better connections between road, rail and air. Justine Greening is expected to give the final go-ahead within weeks to the current planned route from London to Birmingham. There will be a revolt by MPs with affected constituencies if it is approved. Labour are pushing for an alternative route via Heathrow. but government sources said this had been rejected.
MPs from all parties today make a last-ditch plea to ministers to ditch their current plans for a controversial HS2 high-speed rail link from London to Birmingham and the north of England.
By Patrick Hennessy, Political Editor
In a letter to The Sunday Telegraph, the group of 10 backbenchers says the government should instead develop a new “comprehensive” transport strategy which concentrates on better connections between road, rail and air.
Justine Greening, the Transport Secretary, is expected to give the final go-ahead within weeks to the current planned route which would see trains up to 400 metres long cutting through the Chiltern Hills and other areas of fine countryside between London and Birmingham.
If the final decision is a “yes” David Cameron will face a rebellion from MPs whose constituencies are along the route. Up to three ministers – including Cheryl Gillan, the Welsh Secretary, could resign in protest.
Labour are pushing for an alternative route for HS2 which would take trains via Heathrow Airport. However, government sources said this had been rejected.
The MPs writing to this newspaper include two former Labour ministers – Frank Field and Geoffrey Robinson – as well as Conservatives whose constituencies would be likely to be affected.
The group’s spokesperson, the Conservative backbencher Andrea Leadsom, said: “We welcome the Government’s intention to improve our transport infrastructure and agree that the aspiration to promote growth, be environmentally friendly, narrow the North South divide, increase capacity on the West Coast Main Line and improve connectivity between our major cities and airports is desirable.
“However, we do not believe the High Speed 2 (HS2) project can achieve these aims.
“The aims of the government are absolutely right but a comprehensive transport strategy is needed that takes into account rail, aviation and road connectivity.”
Improvements to current services could be achieved “faster and with better value for the taxpayer” by increasing speeds on current “slow” lines and longer trains, Ms Leadsom’s group, which also includes Archie Norman, the former Conservative Party chairman who stood down as an MP in 2005.
Current plans would see construction of the southern section linking London and Birmingham starting in around in 2017, although trains would not begin to use it until 2026.
The Y-shaped section north of Birmingham, running to both Leeds and Manchester, is likely to begin to be built in 2016 and is currently scheduled to open around 2032.
Last week The Sunday Telegraph revealed that ministers would spend at least £1 billion HS2 before a single inch of track was laid.
It has already sunk £200 million into the project, even though it has not yet been officially approved and legislation paving the way for its construction is still years away.
Government sources said the decision on whether to go ahead with HS2 was likely to be made around mid-December
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