HS2: Campaign backs high-speed rail link in media

HS2 train High-speed trains would travel at speeds of up to 250mph between London and Birmingham

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More than 100 business leaders, MPs and economists have mounted a campaign backing plans to link Birmingham and London with a new high-speed rail line.

In letters to the Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian, they say the HS2 rail line would create jobs and ease transport overcrowding.

Opponents say the planned route crosses an area of outstanding natural beauty.

It is understood ministers will decide next week whether to approve the £17bn London to Birmingham link.

The 100-mile rail link, which would be built between 2016 and 2026, aims to cut the London to Birmingham journey time to 49 minutes.

The connection between the two cities would mark the first phase of HS2, with extensions further north later.

A Y-shaped section taking branches to Manchester, Leeds and possibly further north could be finished by 2033.

The entire cost of the project is expected to be £32bn.

Goods to market

The group urging the government to approve the rail link argues that it would be a boost for business, especially across the north of England, which has been hit hard in the economic slowdown.

The letter, which says up to one million British jobs could be created, states: "Economic studies show that effective modes of transport, including high-speed rail, enable entrepreneurs to get their goods and services to market in a secure and timely manner and facilitate the movement of workers to the most suitable jobs."

Detail from high speed rail map

See maps of the route at the DfT website

It goes on: "The absence of a high-speed rail line connecting the north of England to London and the European Union is a continuous embarrassment to British businesses promoting UK plc overseas."

BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott said the letter showed there was cross-party support for the HS2 rail line, with union leaders like RMT head Bob Crow and Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, "effectively supporting a Conservative transport policy".

But there were some MPs unhappy about the policy because the proposed route goes through their constituencies, he said.

The project - introduced by Labour and continued by the coalition government - has proved highly controversial, with many living along the proposed route complaining that it will damage the environment.

Protesters oppose the plan on the grounds that they feel it does not make good business, economic or environmental sense.

And some have argued that the scheme will be a waste of money and that updating the existing West Coast mainline would be a better investment.

The most recent proposals would see another tunnel being used to link two others, which are already planned, and would prevent scarring the Chiltern hills, which is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty.

These plans came from a decision to look again at the route, after a report by the House of Commons Transport Committee in November suggested a re-assessment of the plans to consider the impact and the benefits of HS2.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has said additional tunnelling would be "essential" if HS2 is to be built through the Chilterns.

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