London-to-Birmingham high speed train route announced

The government has broadly agreed with the chosen route of the HS2 rail link

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The planned route of the high-speed rail line from London to Birmingham has been altered after protests about its impact on homes and the countryside.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed the government broadly agreed with the chosen HS2 rail route.

But he said 50% of the preferred route published in March had been amended.

He said there would be compensation for those whose homes had to be destroyed to create the line and also for those whose homes were set to lose value.

Journey times

The £33bn rail link proposals were announced by the last government in March and the coalition has been examining the plans.

Trains would travel at more than 200mph, cutting journey times between the cities by about 30 minutes.

The plans will be put out for consultation next year and Mr Hammond said it would be "one of the biggest and most wide-ranging ever undertaken by government".

Mr Hammond insisted the scheme would help tackle the north-south divide by slashing travelling times to and from the capital.

He said the planned route had been altered to deal with serious concerns about its impact on local communities and countryside.

The line will start at a redeveloped Euston station in central London and terminate at a new station at Curzon Street/Fazeley Street in Birmingham's Eastside regeneration area. HS2 will join the West Coast Main Line near Lichfield.

Property values

In a statement to the Commons, he said: "I am confident that solutions have now been found which can significantly mitigate the impacts of the railway at local level which, when properly understood, will reassure many of those who have been understandably apprehensive about the potential impact on their lives and their property values.

"But despite our best efforts at mitigation, we will not be able to avoid all impacts on property values.

Analysis

The high speed rail line won't bring benefits to travellers for another 15 years - but what's worrying the government is the friction it's causing now with some of its own MPs.

Sixteen Conservative constituencies could lie along the eventual route - including the Chesham and Amersham seat of Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan.

She's said she would, if necessary, defy the party whip to oppose the scheme and Foreign Office minister David Lidington, the MP for nearby Aylesbury, has said he is "personally against it".

The transport secretary signalled that he had listened to concerns by diverting the line away from some historic sites - and away from the city of Lichfield, a seat represented by the Conservative MP Michael Fabricant - and there would be more tunnels and deeper cuttings to reduce noise.

But it won't be possible to assess whether any potential rebellion has hit the buffers until a full consultation on the route has been completed next year.

"I have asked my officials to prepare a range of options for a scheme to assist those whose properties would not be required for the construction of the railway, but who would nonetheless see a significant diminution of value as a result of the construction of the line."

Mr Hammond said a spur line to Heathrow airport would not be part of the London-Birmingham stage of the project, but would be included in the second phase that will also see extensions to Manchester and Leeds.

Amendments to the route include:

  • Primrose Hill, north London - moving a tunnel 100 metres further north and making it deeper under ground
  • Northolt, west London - line moved further away from housing
  • Old Amersham to Little Missenden, Buckinghamshire - creation of a 150-metre bridge over a cutting to reduce its visual impact and avoid severing a public right of way
  • Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire - line moved further away from a historic house
  • Lichfield, Staffordshire - line moved meaning it would join the West Coast Main Line further north.

Mr Hammond said public consultation on the proposals was likely to start in February 2011.

A number of Conservative MPs have expressed concerns about the rail link, which passes through Tory heartlands, including the Chesham and Amersham constituency of Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan.

Map of rail link

Under proposed changes to the route between Amersham and Wendover in Buckinghamshire, Mr Hammond said there were opportunities for a "green bridge" over the cutting and a longer "green tunnel".

'Wrong priority'

Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle said Mr Hammond was likely to face more opposition from within his own party than from Labour MPs.

"I suspect that he's got more support on this side of the House than on the benches behind him," she said.

"No doubt he'll find out in due course if he's done enough today to persuade the Secretary of State for Wales not to resign in protest at his plans."

TransportSense, which represents more than 50 local community groups opposed to HS2, said: "This project is the wrong priority for Britain.

"When we can't afford planes for an aircraft carrier, we are seeing cuts across local government and we're expecting students to run up thousands of pounds of debt, our politicians want to spend billions of our money on a rail link that will shave just 30 minutes off a trip from London to Birmingham."

The CBI said the project had the "potential to deliver real economic and environmental benefits" and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry said it would have "an enormous impact on connectivity between the UK's major cities".

Rail watchdog Passenger Focus said: "Wherever this new line is built, there will be winners and losers.

"It is important that the government and industry continues to discuss the implications of this decision with affected communities and addresses concerns."

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