Committee of MPs to look into case for high-speed rail network

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A MAJOR inquiry is being launched by MPs into the Government’s case for a £32bn high-speed rail network amid a fierce campaign against the plans by protesters along the first phase of the route.

The House of Commons transport select committee said it would investigate the arguments for and against the network, whether the Government’s economic case for the line stands up to scrutiny and whether the strain on Britain’s railways could better be solved by other schemes.

The committee’s findings could either bolster the Government as it fights off protests or deal the project a major blow if it raises questions over the case for the network, which would cut journey times from London to Leeds from 130 minutes to only 80.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond is a passionate advocate of the scheme, but has warned that supporters in the North must become increasingly vocal if they are not to be drowned out by critics largely based in the Chilterns, where the first phase of the route will cut through.

He was due to address business and civic leaders in Sheffield yesterday to discuss the benefits of the scheme, but had to cancel at the last minute because of a Cabinet meeting to discuss the crisis in Libya. The meeting went on with officials in his absence.

Sheffield City Council Cabinet Member for Business, Transport and Skills, Coun Ian Auckland, said: “We strongly support high-speed rail for Yorkshire and see it as an essential investment for current businesses, leaving a vital legacy for the business leaders of the future.”

The chief executive of Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber, Gary Williamson, added: “There is a substantial business case for investment in the infrastructure and it is expected that the line would generate around £29bn in economic benefits for this region, as well as thousands of jobs. The argument in favour of high-speed rail is clear and this inquiry will hopefully reiterate these benefits to Ministers.”