HS2 – business says yes, councils say no

A coalition of councils is emerging to oppose proposals for the high speed rail link from London to Birmingham, as a list of business leaders come out strongly in favour.

The high speed rail project (HS2)  would provide a faster link between London and Birmingham, and eventually (with further phases) to the North. It would also link to Heathrow via an interchange with Crossrail at Old Oak Common.

Council opposition

Thirteen local authorities are now united in a national campaign to actively oppose the scheme, while a group of business leaders have voiced support in a letter to the FT.

Each of the councils has signed up to the statement: “The authorities along the route have come together to oppose the proposals for High Speed Rail as they are currently proposed. We do not believe that the business case stacks up and therefore cannot support the route suggested by Government and are actively working on a plan to strongly object to the proposals.”

“We are opposed to the current High Speed rail proposals as they are presently outlined and do not believe that they are in the best interests of the UK as a whole in terms of the benefits claimed in the business case.”

“We are not opposed to the need for higher speed rail per se and fully acknowledge the need for strategic improvement to the national rail infrastructure but cannot agree with the current proposals as the economic and environmental benefits are not at all credible.”

“We do not believe that all the other alternatives to achieve the transport capacity, regeneration and environmental benefits have been fully explored by the Government and with in excess of £30billion proposed to be invested, we owe it to the nation to ensure these are fully explored.”

LB Hillingdon are the only London authority in the group, which also includes Buckinghamshire County Council, Aylesbury Vale District Council, Chiltern District Council, South Bucks District Council, Wycombe District Council, Cherwell District Council, Lichfield District Council, South Northants District Council, Warwick District Council, North Warwickshire Borough Council, Warwickshire County Council, and Stratford-on-Avon District Council.

Some local authorities are contributing money to the ‘fighting fund’ which will be used to pay for any necessary expert advice and legal costs. Expenditure will be carefully regulated and monitored.

An announcement from the group says a number of other local authorities have expressed an interest in joining together to fight HS2 and are waiting approval.

Hammersmith & Fulham council are unlikely to be on the list, given their strong support for the Old Oak interchange, which, they hope, will generate 10,000 jobs and 5,000 homes on the former railway land at the north of the borough.

The councils who are included are characterised by having the route run through them, but not having a station.

Business backing

Meanwhile, a group of business leaders has expressed support for the proposed line in a letter to the FT. The group includes John Cridland, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, Dalton Philips chief executive Wm Morrison Supermarkets and Colin Matthews, chief executive of airports operator BAA.

A letter from the group published in today’s Financial Times reads: “We believe the Government is right to develop a new high-speed rail line linking the major cities in the Midlands, the North and London. A high-speed rail link will give the economy a much-needed boost, particularly in the north and Midlands.”

“Not only will a high-speed rail link create capacity and reduce journey times, it will also improve connections between airports, help commuter services and free up space on existing lines to carry more freight. All this will provide significant help for British business and attract additional investment.”

The Government is expected to announce the start of the consultation on 28 February. It will be an interesting clash of national interest and localist power.

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