Exclusive: North-South battle intensifies over high-speed rail route

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MINISTERS are set to be handed about 50 route options for the Northern legs of the high-speed rail network within weeks.

The preliminary options will be whittled down to a handful of serious contenders before Transport Secretary Philip Hammond decides on one next year, at which point a public consultation will be launched.

The revelation comes as campaigners in favour of the high-speed rail network prepare to step up their campaign next week, launching a provocative advertising blitz in the North next week.

Adverts – bearing the slogan “their lawns or our jobs” in a bid to convince Northerners to back the £32bn project and overcome resistance from landowners in the Chilterns – will be accompanied by a bus tour that will reach Leeds the week after next.

Campaigners are stepping up their activity to stop protesters in the South scuppering the project as they object to the route of the first phase of the network, from London to Birmingham.

Mr Hammond has angrily attacked anti-high speed campaigners after reports last week that “secret” routes for the two branches north of Birmingham – one to South Yorkshire and Leeds and the other to Manchester – had been drawn up.

“No decision on any detailed routes north of Birmingham will be taken for at least a year and I have not yet even been presented with any preliminary route options, of which I would expect there to be about 50,” he said in a letter to Northern MPs seen by the Yorkshire Post.

“This is a transparent and irresponsible attempt by anti-HS2 campaigners to scare people. It is utterly inappropriate for those opposing the Government’s proposals to risk causing unnecessary and damaging blight in this way.”

Mr Hammond said the “secret” route – which claimed the line will pass close to Haw Park Wood in West Yorkshire, designated as a site of special scientific interest, Monk Bretton Priory in Barnsley, a scheduled ancient monument that was closed by Henry VIII during the dissolution, and Wombwell Wood, also in Barnsley, a Forestry Commission site famous for its bluebells – was “nothing more than guesswork”.

No decisions have yet been made about the location of stations either.

Growing numbers of business leaders from Yorkshire have been backing the high-speed plans, which will see journey times from the region to London cut by up to 50 minutes. The Leeds leg would not be completed until the 2030s but is expected to generate billions of pounds for the economy.

Rotherham MP Denis MacShane said: “I am concerned at the nimby attitude of some of the richest communities in Britain who are trying to deny towns and cities in the North better rail links.”