MINISTERS were forced to defend the High Speed 2 rail project yesterday as several MPs and the former business secretary Lord Mandelson rounded on the scheme.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin insisted that the project is “vitally important for the economic growth of the future”, telling the BBC that he stands by the project despite its budget ballooning from £33bn to £42.6bn last week.
“This is going to make sure we have connections between eight out of ten of our biggest cities,” he added.
In the House of Commons, politicians set out environmental objections to the rail link between London and the north of England.
“I cannot bring myself to support a project whose route causes such environmental degradation and blight, particularly when other options could be explored,” said Michael Fabricant, the MP for Lichfield who brought the debate.
“It feels as if the route has been almost deliberately designed to be as damaging as possible to rural England.”
Fabricant added that HS2’s environmental statement fails to properly consider the damage that could be done to wildlife habitats.
The Woodland Trust estimates that 33 ancient woods along the planned route are under threat, Tory MP and HS2 opponent Cheryl Gillan added.
Transport minister Simon Burns said the department will look into offering property bonds to residents whose homes are blighted by the route.
Labour’s former business secretary Lord Mandelson revealed in a Financial Times article yesterday that he no longer supports the scheme, fearing the rail link could be “an expensive mistake”.
HS2 Limited yesterday said it “recognise[s] the challenge that has been laid down”, arguing that Mandelson was calling for greater consensus on the project.
Meanwhile real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle was hired by HS2 yesterday to offer advice on the property and land aspects of the project.