City slams high speed rail plans

THE CITY has rejected the government’s controversial plan to build a £32.7bn high-speed railway linking London to the north.

Fifty-one per cent of the City A.M./PoliticsHome.com Voice of the City panel, which represents a cross-section of London’s business and financial community, said they opposed the controversial railway known as High-Speed 2 (HS2).

An overwhelming majority of panellists (77 per cent) said that HS2 should not be a priority when it comes to government spending on transport, with a third saying money would be better spent on new or expanded airports and a quarter calling for improvement of the road network.

Just 21 per cent thought the divisive railway should be a government priority.

One panellist said: “This is a political decision to artificially boost short term GDP without any long term economic benefits.”

The findings deal another blow to the government’s claim that the business community supports the railway.

Lord Digby Jones, the former trade minister and ex-director of the CBI who previously supported HS2, spoke out against the planned route at the weekend. He said it should run along the “existing pollution corridor” of the M1 or the M40 instead.

The government has suffered a storm of criticism since last week’s decision to approve the proposals to connect London to Birmingham by a new high-speed rail link before 2026, with the possibility of adding extensions to Manchester and Leeds by 2033.

Eighteen local councils, acting under the umbrella lobby group 51m, are threatening legal action on claims that the Department for Transport’s approval process was not open enough and failed to complete adequate environmental analysis.

While HS2 has received the go-ahead from the government, it still needs to appear before the House of Commons as a hybrid bill – expected to be passed in 2015 – before construction work can begin.

Although most panellists were against the project, a majority (55 per cent) still think plans will go ahead in the next 20 years, compared to 32 per cent who are doubtful.

• City A.M. and PoliticsHome interviewed 408 panellists by email last week. Apply to join the panel at www.cityam.com/panel