Verdict day on high-speed rail route

THE route for the first stage of a high-speed rail network will be decided today, as campaigners slammed the multi-billion pound scheme as "a waste of money".

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond will reveal the Government's preferred route for the line that will run from central London to Birmingham.

Due to be started in 2015, HSR is at the centre of the Government's transport policy, particularly as it has ruled out new runways in south east England airports.

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There are plans to eventually split the line and extend it further north, along the west coast and, following the Yorkshire Post campaign Fast Track to Yorkshire, now the east coast as well, stopping at Sheffield and Leeds.

While in Scotland and northern England there have been concerted efforts to attract HSR, the first stage has proved more controversial with campaigners resolutely opposed to the line travelling through Tory heartlands outside London.

It is opposed by a number of Tory MPs and residents' groups and local councils are also vehemently against the line which will pass through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Earlier this month leaders of 18 local authorities met the Transport Secretary to discuss the plans. Chiltern District Council leader Nick Ross said all the leaders were "totally opposed" to HS2.

Mr Hammond said yesterday the planned route, which could cost as much as 17 billion, has been altered to deal with the concerns about its impact of local communities and countryside.

He said yesterday the campaigners had been the victims of "misinformation" and would discover that the consequences were "far less than they have been led to believe".

"The route that we publish tomorrow as our preferred route will be changed from the original. Not to a completely different corridor but small changes in the alignment of the route so that it goes further away from sensitive areas, making it deeper in many places so that it is buried in cuttings rather than on the surface.

"The work we have done over the last six months looks at the route in detail and how we will reduce the environmental impact and people will see tomorrow precisely what we are doing."

Ministers were "acutely conscious" of the need to mitigate the impact on areas such as the Chilterns and Warwickshire given that they would gain little or no direct benefit from the line, he added.

London to Birmingham journey times could come down to between 30 and 50 minutes, with the Government convinced that the line will give the economy an enormous, and environmentally-friendly, boost.

However campaigners have said the business case is "over-stated and based on optimistic assumptions and exaggerated benefits".

Bruce Weston, a director of the HS2 Action Alliance, which represents more than 60 groups opposing the new line, said: "The business case for HS2 just doesn't stack up.

"You would expect local councils who do not have a station on the route to be opposed. But this is not about the route, this is about the fact that it's going to be a waste of money."

A report by commissioned by the HS2 Action Alliance, said there were other options for increasing rail capacity – such as longer trains and work to reduce bottlenecks – that were cheaper and would deliver benefits sooner than HS2.

It said: "In our view the HS2 appraisal appears to overstate the case for HS2. Some of the key assumptions are optimistic and, most notably, the benefits appear to be exaggerated.

"The projections of future demand also appear to be optimistic as they are based on estimates of past relationships between demand and income growth when this relationship may be changing."