High-speed rail link to the North is wrong at every turn

High-speed rail link to the North is wrong at every turn, Tories warn

A Conservative group says that Philip Hammond has abandoned the party's pre-election policy

The Transport Secretary’s plans for a high-speed rail link from London to the Midlands and the North have been rubbished as “fundamentally flawed” by the Conservative Party’s specialist transport group. The Conservative Transport Group says that the proposed link, known as HS2, is on the wrong route and ends up in the wrong places.

The group, a special-interest caucus of the party, has rejected almost all the details of the planned route. It has also criticised the political naivety of the proposals, given that the route travels through some of England’s most beautiful countryside, represented in Parliament by a host of Conservative MPs and ministers.

The submission, a copy of which has been seen by The Times, says that the proposals will miss the chance to connect airline passengers, other rail users and motorists. It says that Heathrow — and not the previously unheralded Old Oak Common in Acton — should be the main London hub and interchange; that the link should follow the M40 through the Chilterns to minimise the environmental impact; and that the station arrangements in Birmingham should make Britain’s second city not an HS2 terminal but a gateway to link the North to the Continent on trains that can pass on to HS1, the fast link from St Pancras to the Channel Tunnel.

“It is clear that, in broadly adopting the [last] Labour Government’s proposals for HS2, the coalition has accepted a fundamentally flawed scheme that is the result of a similarly flawed brief,” the submission states, adding that the proposals of Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, have abandoned pre-election Conservative policy.

It continued: “Only an HS2 alignment via a Heathrow interchange, located on the Great Western Main Line as close as possible to the airport, and providing direct connections between high-speed rail, classic rail, Crossrail, the motorway network and Heathrow, can provide the connectivity that the UK requires.”

The group said the proposed route, which concentrated on the straightest line from London to Birmingham, took the link through the widest part of the Chiltern area of outstanding natural beauty. “It is difficult to imagine a more environmentally — and politically — destructive alignment for such a railway than that selected through the tranquil Misbourne Valley [in Buckinghamshire],” the submission states. It said that the proposals put forward “have been too obsessed with speed and benefit-to-cost ratio to take into account the political impact and acceptability of potential routes”.

The comments came after the end of a consultation period on HS2. A final decision is expected at the end of the year. A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “The Government believes a new high-speed rail network would present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redraw Britain’s economic map, bringing our major cities closer together and providing a rail network fit for the 21st century.

“Our proposals include a major new interchange station at Old Oak Common as part of the first phase of the project to provide direct connections between HS2, the Great Western Main Line, Heathrow Express and Crossrail — and subject to further consultation this would be followed in the second phase by the addition of a direct link to Heathrow.

“The Government is considering the responses to the consultation and will announce a decision on HS2 towards the end of the year.”