Full speed ahead – but HS2 battle to continue

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‘WE are in this together’ was the warning to the Prime Minister after 18 largely Tory-run councils vowed to take legal action against the government’s HS2 decision.

On Tuesday in the Commons the transport secretary signalled the go-ahead for a controversial £32 billion high speed rail link – announcing more tunnelling and changes to the original route.

Afterwards the group of councils fighting the plans, known as 51m, vowed to consider launching a judicial view.

John Cartwright, the leader of Aylesbury Vale District Council, quoted the Conservatives’ famous economic slogan when he fumed: “51m is a powerful group of councils, we are in this together and we will fight this together.”

Mr Cartwright accused the coalition of trying to ‘break up’ the group by offering a series of mitigation measures – he promised campaigners that the fight will go on, saying: “I have always thought that we would not win out of the courts.”

Martin Tett, leader of Bucks County Council and chairman of the 51m group, described the HS2 announcement as ‘an immensely bad decision for Britain’.

He said: “At a time of national austerity with rising unemployment and a massive deficit how can spending more than £32 billion on a rail line be justified?”

Ms Greening announced a series of changes to the line, include digging into land outside Aylesbury and Stoke Mandeville so that the track runs six and a half metres below ground level.

The line will also be moved 50 metres further away from Wendover and the planned tunnel through Ellesborough Road will be extended.

Opponent Joe Rukin, of the Stop HS2 campaign group, had dubbed the plans ‘a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem’ prior to the announcement .

In response Ms Greening used the industrial revolution to justify the plans, telling the Commons: “The Victorian railway pioneers had the vision to build a rail network which has promoted growth and created jobs for more than a century.

“We now need to do for our Victorian railway what previous generations did for our road network.”

Penny Gaines, of Quainton, social media director of the Stop HS2 campaign group, fumed: “Justine Greening told the Transport Select Committee she would make a ‘rational decision’, but she has not spoken to any of the campaign groups opposed to HS2.

“The thing that worries me is whether she has read any of the material produced by the campaign groups or just read summaries by the Department for Transport – which is clearly in favour of high speed rail because it funds part of HS2 Ltd.”

Marion Clayton, chairman of Wendover HS2 Action Group, said: “The next stage for us is to digest what Justine Greening has said, we need to look at exactly what it says.

“The really disappointing thing is that neither Philip Hammond or Justine Greening have listened.

“There is still scope to change the government’s mind, it will be another 18 months before it goes to Parliament.”

Activist Roger Waller, of Wendover, reflected: “It is good to see that they are providing more mitigation for Wendover but it I still don’t think the case for the high speed link has been proven.”

Phil Yerby, deputy chairman of Aylesbury Conservatives dubbed the announcement a ‘disaster’ and said it could put some councillors in a ‘difficult position about whether we stay in the party and fight against it from the inside or fight from outside the party’.

Dame Fiona Reynolds, director general of the National Trust, said: “We are disappointed that a tunnel at Hartwell House has not been included in the changes, given its international significance.

“This would be hugely beneficial both for the residents of Aylesbury and Hartwell, and would also protect the Grade I listed Hartwell House and its Grade II park and garden. We will also be assessing the impact on Hartwell of lowering the line past Aylesbury and Stoke Mandeville.”