HS2 railway divides Welsh Secretaries past and present
- 28 January 2013
- From the section Wales politics
As I write, the UK Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, is answering questions from increasingly irate Tory MPs about plans to build a high-speed railway - HS2 - through their constituencies.
Having annoyed many Tories (and the Speaker) with seats between London and Birmingham, the government is now sharing the pain with colleagues who have constituencies between Birmingham and Manchester or Leeds.
David Cameron chaired a meeting of the cabinet in Leeds to show commitment to a project the government believes will help regenerate the UK and narrow the north-south gap.
Welsh Secretary David Jones ventured further north to Newton Aycliffe to see for himself where Hitachi (yes, them again) will build the trains that will eventually travel on the electrified network between London and Swansea.
Mr Jones also highlighted what he says will be the benefits of HS2 to Wales: "Today's announcement has further demonstrated this Government's commitment to building a strong and modern rail network across the UK, something that is crucial in order for the UK to compete in today's global race.
"I am particularly pleased that Crewe will be served by a dedicated link alongside the high speed line, creating a valuable link for passengers to and from North Wales."
Not everyone shares his view that HS2 will benefit North Wales. His predecessor, Cheryl Gillan, told the BBC: "I'm worried about my old area - Wales - which I think will be blighted partly by the proposals".
Mrs Gillan's views on HS2 - which will travel through her Chesham and Amersham constituency - are well known. But how does she conclude that the project will blight Wales?
She told me that business would look where heavy investment is being targeted and tend to locate in those areas rather than those without such fast transport links (such as North Wales).
Others in Wales agree with the former secretary of state. An e-mail arrives from UKIP with the (questionable) headline: "UKIP are the only party opposing HS2".
UKIP's Welsh MEP, John Bufton, said: "The proposed plans virtually ignore Wales and South West England and our cities are unlikely to experience the supposed economic boost that the plans promise.
"It is a loss making scheme. Instead the UK should invest that massive amount of money in developing better infrastructure, including transport between and within towns and cities. This is where the real potential for development lies."
Plaid Cymru can also claim to oppose HS2, largely on the grounds that Wales will not get a share of the estimated £32bn cost to the taxpayer as the scheme is thought to be of (UK) national importance.
Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards estimates that Wales would otherwise get almost £2bn as a share of the extra spending in England (that's my rough translation from a press release that includes the dreaded jargon "Barnett consequential").
Mr Edwards said: "The UK government's announcement of plans to extend the HS2 rail development northwards does little to change the fact that people in Wales will still be paying a huge price for improvements to services in England. While admittedly there would be potentially some improvements for North Wales commuters in terms of connectivity, trying to portray this as a UK-wide scheme is plainly ridiculous."
Mrs Gillan remains unconvinced of the need for HS2 to reduce the journey time between London and Yorkshire. She tweeted: "No trouble in getting up and down to Leeds for the cabinet meting then!! #HS2".