THE Government has issued a rallying cry to those who want a high-speed rail line from Yorkshire to London to make their support known before the consultation deadline this Friday.
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said if the policy is to become reality supporters must make their voices heard above a small but “determined and loud” lobby campaigning against the £32bn project.
Mr Hammond was in Sheffield yesterday to meet business leaders as part of a national tour collecting consultation responses from key cities.
He dismissed the threat by Tory donors to withdraw funding if the route is given the go-ahead, saying donors have no impact on policy.
“There is a tremendous amount of opposition being whipped up by misinformation,” he said. “A lot of people opposed to the project live a long way away from the proposed route but are being whipped up by claims of noise impact and visual intrusion which are simply not accurate.
“However the people who are anti this project are extremely focused, they have a clear voice and they are very determined.
“Those who think it is a good thing – the vast majority of people I have spoken to in Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Derby and others, if you care about the project you have until Friday to make your voice heard.
“It would be very wrong to think that just because the Government is behind this it is a done deal.”
A fierce battle has emerged over the High Speed Two (HS2) project with the Government currently consulting on plans for a line from London to Birmingham, followed by branches further north in a “Y” shape – one to South Yorkshire and Leeds and the other to Manchester.
Research has estimated slashing journey times between Yorkshire and the capital will generate billions for the regional economy and help narrow the North-South wealth divide.
The first stage that will travel from London to Birmingham, however, cuts through the Chilterns and swathes of Buckinghamshire and Warwickshire countryside, provoking outrage among residents of the Tory heartlands who claim their quality of life will be damaged.
Among those against the project is Lord Rothschild, whose 5,000 acre Chilterns estate is close to the proposed route.
A number of Tory donors have said they will stop funding in protest but Mr Hammond said he is not personally aware of such a threat from Lord Rothschild, or even if he is a party donor.
“Funding threats are par for the course when you have a project like this,” he said. “We have always been very clear that our donors – while very much valued – have no say on our policy agenda.
“I understand the concerns that they have but they are being fed a lot of misinformation.”
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) yesterday convened a national business summit in Manchester in support of high-speed rail.
BCC director general David Frost said: “Continued investment in Britain’s transport infrastructure will underpin economic growth, support business in driving recovery and create jobs.
“This is why the BCC is supporting the construction of a high speed rail network as without it, we will be unable to compete on a global scale.
“The reality of the situation is this: by 2024, our railways will be completely full. Patching up our existing network is not enough. We need a radical investment in our railways if we are to see a long-term solution to this serious problem.
“With global competition increasing and the population continuing to grow, we cannot afford to put this investment off any longer.”
Chairman of the Sheffield City Region local enterprise partnership James Newman believes there is a very strong case for the development of a high speed rail network with links to the region.
“Clearly we are fully supporting the high speed rail project, but with the obvious insurance that there is significant investment in existing transport infrastructure before high speed reaches us,” he said.