February 20, 2010 2:37 am

Tory claim over high-speed rail

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The shadow transport secretary has insisted the Conservatives are more enthusiastic about high-speed rail than the government, in spite of their refusal to endorse a forthcoming white paper on the subject.

Theresa Villiers said the Conservative Party’s high-speed rail plans went far further than the government’s, and that their committment to construction of a second UK high-speed rail line was far deeper.

“Since 2008 the Conservatives have led the debate on high-speed rail, with Labour scrambling to catch up,” she said. However, Lord Adonis, transport secretary, expressed surprise at the Conservatives’ stance on the white paper, due to be published by the end of next month.

“Without political consensus on the principle of high-speed rail, it is unlikely to be taken forward as a national project in the next decade,” he said.

The high-speed rail white paper is due to build on a study prepared by High Speed 2, a state-owned company set up in January last year to develop a route for an initial domestic high-speed rail line between London and Birmingham. The so far unpublished High Speed 2 report proposes a potential route to within five metres of the final alignment in urban areas and 25 metres in rural areas.

There has long been concern that, in the run-up to an election, the report could alarm affected voters in the many important battleground constituencies along the route.

Ms Villiers has refused to accept a proposal from Lord Adonis to participate in the final preparation of the white paper and its launch to avoid being seen to endorse its choice of London to Birmingham route.

“We believe any route should be decided in consultation with the public, not by a cosy political consensus,” she said. “Labour will decide on their route in their white paper and we will look at it when the whole of the general public gets a chance to look at it.”

Lord Adonis insisted the government would also consult on the white paper’s route proposals, although he said the cross-party consensus on the principle of high-speed rail would eventually need to extend to its route.

“The line has to go somewhere,” he said.

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