Critics of high-speed rail are 'well-off nimbys'

image captionThe new line - and high-speed trains - would cut the London to Birmingham journey time to 49 minutes

Many opponents of a planned high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham are well-off "nimbys", one of the project's leading supporters has said.

David Begg said many of those living on the proposed route were "economically privileged" while poorer people further afield would benefit from the scheme.

He defended a recent ad campaign in favour of the scheme which used the words "their lawns for our jobs".

Critics say high-speed rail is a "white elephant" with few economic benefits.

The government wants the first phase of HS2 (High-Speed Two) to be completed by 2026 arguing the line - which could be extended to Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow by about 2033 - will create jobs, help rebalance the economy and give people wider transport options.

However, some Conservative councillors and MPs - whose constituencies the line would pass through - have been critical of the scheme.

The route runs through rural parts of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire.

'Bogus arguments'

Professor David Begg, the director of the campaign group Yes to high-speed rail, told the Transport Select Committee that he could understood why there was local opposition to the £32bn project.

But Prof Begg - a former head of transport at Edinburgh City Council and an ex-chairman of the Commission on Integrated Transport - said some opponents "are in a very, very privileged position economically while a number of people who would benefit from high-speed rail are not in the same position".

He defended a recent poster campaign which appeared to suggest the houses of some people living on the proposed route should be sacrificed in order to create jobs for others living further afield.

"I think it was a good campaign," he said. "Nimbyism is a big barrier to infrastructure development in this country.

"We have strong local opposition to schemes which can outweigh the national interest. There is a very vociferous 'No' campaign to HS2 which is extremely well-funded. They have come up with a lot of bogus arguments."

"Nimby" - an acronym of "Not In My Backyard" - is a derogatory term used to describe people who oppose development for self-centred reasons.

'Vanity project'

The Transport Select Committee is holding a series of sessions as part of an inquiry into the merits and cost of the £32bn project.

Also appearing before the committee, the director general of the British Chambers of the Commerce David Frost said high-speed rail was needed since the UK was "running out" of rail capacity while demand for rail services was rising.

Critics, such as the Taxpayer's Alliance, say HS2 is a "vanity project" that will bring minimal financial benefits, its fares will be unaffordable for many, and will leave many towns along its route with a worse train service as a result.

Opponents of HS2 will give evidence to the committee next month while Transport Secretary Philip Hammond will appear in September.

A recent report produced for the Transport Committee by consultants Oxera concluded that the economic benefits of the project were uncertain.

Their review said London could benefit potentially "at the expense of less service-orientated cities on the line" although it made clear that there was little evidence about the regional and socio-economic impact.

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