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‘We can’t afford not to have HS2’

‘We can’t afford not to have HS2’

🕔08.Oct 2012

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin had some good and possibly not such good news for Birmingham when he addressed the Conservative party conference.

On the plus side, Mr McLoughlin underlined the Government’s continuing commitment to building the HS2 high speed rail line from London Euston to Birmingham, a project that will benefit the West Midlands economy by generating new wealth and jobs.

But on the question of aviation policy, he made it clear that his priority remains tackling the lack of runway capacity in London and the South-east of England, which may not involve further expansion of Birmingham Airport.

On rail, the new Transport Secretary showed that he is prepared to face down rebellious Tory backbenchers in Home Counties constituencies who are threatening to vote against HS2 on environmental grounds. The proposed track runs through sensitive sites in the Chiltern Hills.

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The former miner, who told the conference he spoke plainly but thought big, warned that the UK’s global competitors were investing in the latest high speed trains, improving connectivity and access to markets, and it was unthinkable that Britain should be left behind.

“We can’t afford not to build it,” Mr McLoughlin declared.

The cost of building a Y-shaped network from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, is estimated at £32 billion. The first stage, from Euston to Birmingham, will cost about £17 billion. Economic benefits, according to the Government, will reach £47 billion – a figure described as ‘fantasy’ by HS2 opponents.

Mr McLoughlin will soon announce details of the second phase of HS2, taking the route on from Birmingham to Scotland, reducing journey times between Glasgow and Euston to under three hours.

Mr McLoughin replaced former Transport Secretary Justine Greening in the recent Government reshuffle. Ms Greening is an implacable opponent of a third runway at Heathrow, leading commentators to assume new backing for the hugely controversial project.

Mr McLoughlin said: “South-east runways are filling up. Jets are circling in our skies, hitting prosperity, putting off investors from coming here, costing jobs and holding Britain back.”

He said all options were open, including Boris Island, a new airport in the Thames Estuary championed by the mayor of London.

However, the Chancellor, George Osborne, later told the conference that two runways were sufficient at Heathrow.

Any decision is likely to be put off until after the next election.

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