HS2 'vital' to level West Midlands and South East economies

A high speed rail link from London to Birmingham would help the West Midlands economy catch up with the South East, the Transport Secretary has said.

Philip Hammond made the comments on a visit to Birmingham ahead of the start of HS2 public consultations on Monday.

He said the Victorian lines had to be updated to allow foreign investors to quickly access England's second city.

He said high speed rail was also vital to allow the whole country to be opened up to foreign business opportunities.

"When the original railways were built people were upset then, said it would destroy the country.

"We've come to depend on this infrastructure and now it's the turn of our generation to leave a legacy for the future," Mr Hammond said.

'Opponents dominate'

"We need to get this built to bring together the parts of the country to close the north-south gap and get economic growth in the Midlands and the North up to the sorts of levels we have typically enjoyed in the South East in the last few decades."

Sixty nine leading business executives have also pledged their support for the HS2 in a letter to the Financial Times. Signatories include transport executives such as Willie Walsh of International Airlines Group and Andrew Cleaves of National Express, retail executives including Dalton Philips of WM Morrisons and Andy Street of John Lewis, as well as the British Chambers of Commerce and the relevant chambers of commerce and universities from the areas connected.

Professor David Begg, chief executive of the Transport Times and the organiser of the letter, said: "For too long the debate on high speed rail has been dominated by local opponents but many in business want it developed as soon as possible."

Opponents claim the £17bn scheme to create a non-stop 250mph train link from the capital to Birmingham would ruin the environment.

The earliest possible opening date for HS2 is 2025.

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