Views sought on high-speed rail bid
The Government has launched a consultation exercise on plans for the controversial £30 billion HS2 high-speed rail project.
The consultation, which will be one of the biggest ever undertaken and will include presentations and seminars, will ask people not only for their views on the preferred route but on whether they think high-speed rail (HSR) is the right answer to Britain's transport needs in the first place.
Government documents are expected to show how many homes will be affected by noise and will also present the economic and environmental case for the line.
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond believes the project, initially running from London to Birmingham, will deliver around £44 billion worth of benefits.
However, residents groups, some local councils and some Tory MPs are firmly against HS2, with opponents lighting a series of beacons to highlight their displeasure. There are also concerns that the planned 2015 start date for the scheme will be difficult to meet.
The 140-mile first phase could cost around £17 billion and there are plans for extensions north of Birmingham to northern England and Scotland. But the first phase passes through beauty spots, and while the Government, the rail industry and big business are backing the scheme, opponents say there is no economic or environmental case for HS2.
Meanwhile, the Department for Transport has published the results of a Government-commissioned survey. Based on responses from 2,037 adults, the poll showed that 47% were in favour of HS2, 9% opposed to it and 44% undecided or neutral about it.
Mr Hammond said: "HS2 will be a piece of national infrastructure which will bring benefits to Britain as a whole. Of course we will do everything we can to mitigate the impacts on areas like the Chilterns but projects like this have to be decided on the basis of the national interest and the overall net benefits it will bring to Britain."
The Government says HS2 will cut journey times between London and other major cities by as much as an hour, but Lizzie Williams, chairman of the Stop HS2 group, believes the project is "a complete waste of taxpayers' money when we can least afford it".
Ashwin Kumar, rail director of rail customer 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."