High-speed rail campaigners gather for national meeting

Map showing part of the proposed high-speed rail route

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Hundreds of campaigners against the planned high-speed rail line (HS2) are staging a national convention ahead of government consultation.

The £17bn rail link would cut journey times between London and Birmingham, but campaigners said the scheme was not environmentally and economically sound.

More than 500 people are at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire for the event organised by protest group Stop HS2.

A six-month consultation process is expected to start next month.

The line would start at a redeveloped Euston station in central London and terminate at a new station at Curzon Street/Fazeley Street in Birmingham's Eastside regeneration area. HS2 would join the West Coast Main Line near Lichfield.

'Not valid'

Some residents in Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Buckinghamshire and Staffordshire are against the scheme and several councils along the route have already voted to oppose the plans.

Chancellor George Osborne said last month that 8,000 jobs would be created as part of the plans.

Speaking to BBC News, former transport secretary Lord Adonis, who introduced the plans last year when the previous Labour government was in power, said campaigners' suggestions it would be better to invest in the West Coast mainline instead were not valid.

Start Quote

Do we want the country to go forward or don't we?”

End Quote Pete Waterman

"I'm afraid none of those objections are valid, though of course I completely understand why those people who live on the line of the route are objecting," he said.

"It always happens when you have infrastructure projects, that those who live near where they're being proposed object vigorously and, of course, what they do is to try and draw in wider arguments.

"But virtually the whole of the developed world is now going ahead with high speed rail because it's the green solution to providing fast, high capacity connections between cities."

But Lizzy Williams, chairman of the Stop HS2 organisation, said the route would only benefit London and there was no economic or environmental case for it.

"The business case (for HS2) does not promise economic growth that will benefit the country," she said.

"It is London who will be the winner overall.

"What about Wales, what about the South West, what about the rural economies?

"It relies on laughable passenger forecasts and takes no account of the changing world we live in."

Route amended

The planned 250mph route aims to cut journey times between London and Birmingham to 49 minutes.

There are also plans to extend the link to Manchester and Leeds, at a cost of £30bn.

Concept image of high-speed train The new trains would cut the London to Birmingham journey time to 49 minutes

The former Labour government first announced the proposals last March and they were later backed by the coalition government.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have said that, given financial constraints, the scheme would have to be introduced in phases.

A £50m compensation fund has also been set up by the government for home-owners and firms "severely" affected by the route.

Rail enthusiast and pop mogul Pete Waterman, who is in favour of the plans, told BBC News it would free up other trains and passengers would see a cut in ticket prices as first class passengers switched to the faster trains.

He said he felt campaigners were being very clever about side-stepping the "not in my backyard argument".

"They're doing everything to not make that sort of statement," he said.

"They're going on about economics (and) the environment but really, with railways you can make as much a game for it as against it.

'Eaten alive'

"But at the end of the day, HS2 is, for me, do we want the country to go forward or don't we?"

In December, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said 50% of the preferred route published in March had been amended following protests about its impact on homes and the countryside.

Jerry Marshall, chairman of the federation of action groups against the plans, said the route goes through his home but decided he would support the plans if they were in the national interest.

"As a businessman, I spent a couple of days going through the business case and I was shocked at what I found," he said.

"There's a lot of wool being pulled over our eyes and the case does not stack up.

"If Phillip Hammond took this to Dragon's Den, he would be eaten alive."

The meeting at Stoneleigh has been discussing the arguments for and against the plans and hearing from guest speakers, organisers said.

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