Transport secretary Philip Hammond has hit out at opponents of government proposals to construct a 225mph high-speed rail line through the heart of rural England, saying protests are being driven by “Nimbys” using scare tactics.
Protesters predict the government may be forced into an embarrassing U-turn and are looking to expose any possible weakness in the plans which would be worthy of a judicial challenge, with an apparent failure to properly consider alternatives to the project central to their case.
The government launched the consultation on plans to “redraw” Britain’s economic map by building a £32bn high-speed rail network.
Announcing the five-month consultation into the proposals for the HS2 line, initially linking London with Birmingham, Mr Hammond said the country faced a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to create new jobs and prosperity.
Speaking at Birmingham’s International Convention Centre, the minister claimed the controversial project would deliver £44bn of benefits to the UK economy.
“It is about bringing the United Kingdom together. It is about closing the North-South gap and stimulating economic growth, a 21st-century infrastructure for a 21st-century country,” Mr Hammond said.
Some of the 16 Tory MPs whose constituencies are dissected by the proposed route between London and Birmingham, which will also link on to Manchester and Leeds, are openly campaigning against it, and Mr Hammond said he felt that 70 regional protest groups were being motivated by narrow, local issues.
“They are mainly Nimbys. Although they express a principled opposition to what we are proposing, most of them happen to live in the Chilterns,” he added.
Mike Overall, vice-chairman of the Chiltern Society Conservation Group, said: “I think he is underestimating the breadth of opposition there will be to this specific set of proposals.”