TRANSPORT secretary Philip Hammond will today launch a five month consultation on the HS2 high speed rail project that could link London and Birmingham.
Ministers say the 250mph link, which will cost around £2bn a year for at least the next decade, will generate £2 for every £1 invested.
It is hoped the link can provide benefits for Birmingham similar to those seen in Lyon and Lille, which were both boosted in the wake of high speed rail projects.
Business leaders including CBI director-general John Cridland and Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways owner IAG, have backed the scheme.
Hammond is facing opposition from MPs within his own party, along with 13 local councils and residents.
Opponents have timed a protest to coincide with Hammond’s defence of the project, in which they will light a chain of beacons along the proposed route of the link, highlighting beauty spots they say will be damaged.
Protesters will also demonstrate audio recordings of the noise levels some houses may experience, although critics say the number of properties affected by particularly high levels could be as few as 10.