As soon as the route of the high speed line from London to Birmingham was unveiled, an angry response from MPs and residents along the route began. Jonathan Walker and Edward Chadwick spoke to those most affected.
MPs across the West Midlands have launched campaigns to change the planned route for high speed rail service, after the Government’s high profile announcement last week led to fears of tumbling house prices and noisy trains tearing through the countryside.
Health Minister Mike O’Brien (Lab North Warwickshire) is battling to protect the villages of Water Orton, Gilson and Middleton in his Warwickshire constituency. But he was outvoted by constituents when he held a public meeting this week – and a majority said they didn’t want high speed rail at all.
He said: “It was packed even before the scheduled start time. We were in danger of breaching fire regulations so had to turn people away.”
Tory whip Michael Fabricant (Con Lichfield) wants to keep the line away from the Staffordshire city he represents.
He points out that Lichfield residents won’t directly benefit from the line – because it will be quicker for residents to jump on board existing Main Coast West Line services, which stop at Lichfield, rather than heading into Birmingham’s high speed rail station and then changing trains.
He said: “While the high speed rail link will be good for Britain as a whole and something we should all support in principle, the trains will not stop in Lichfield, but will whistle by at 250 miles per hour. Journey times to London via the existing Virgin Pendolino service will be considerably quicker than taking the train to Birmingham and changing onto a high speed train down to London.”
Meanwhile, Jeremy Wright (Con Rugby and Kenilworth) is fighting to minimise the impact of new rail services on his constituents after the Government plans suggested a new line could run close to Kenilworth in green belt land.
He said: “The way to do this is to come up with constructive alternative suggestions rather than waving placards which say ‘no to high speed rail’, so it is going to require some hard work.”
The political battles follow the publication last week of Government plans for high speed services running between an expanded London Euston and two new stations in the West Midlands.
They include Birmingham Interchange, about 2km from the existing Birmingham International station and 1km from junction 6 of the M42.
It will have four platforms and be connected to Birmingham International Airport, the NEC and the existing Birmingham International rail station.
The city centre station will be called Birmingham Curzon Street and run roughly from the site of the old Curzon Street Station, which is currently unused, to Fazeley Street.
It will have pedestrian links to Moor Street and New Street stations which could include a moving pavement system, as found in airports, or a “people mover” system similar to a light rail or tram system, according to the Government’s study.
In peak times, four trains per hour would run at up to 225mph, cutting journey times between London and Birmingham by over 30mins to 49 minutes.
But the formal public consultation, which begins in the autumn, is likely to become heated after the Department for Transport admitted: “These plans will cause uncertainty and perhaps difficulty for those people most affected, including home sellers.”
Ministers are proposing a scheme allowing homeowners on the high speed rail route who desperately need to move, but can’t find a buyer, to sell their property to the state.
However, in order to be eligible, they will need to show they have a good reason for moving such as a new job, a new child or a medical condition.
The line will pass by or close to the village of Bascote Heath in Warwickshire, and continue north west past the village of Offchurch. It will continue through Kenilworth, and pass on north west until it runs alongside the West Coast Main line.
High speed services will then run parallel to the A452 for a short distance, close to Balsall Common, and then near Hampton in Arden.
North of the Birmingham Interchange station, the line will cross the A453 and continue just west of the village of Hints, Staffordshire,
It will then pass by the outskirts of Lichfield, and meet the West Coast Main line north of the Staffordshire city.
Meanwhile, the proposals have also caused a headache in Birmingham, after they left Birmingham City University’s plans for a new £123 million campus in Eastside in disarray.
David Tidmarsh, the university’s Vice-Chancellor, is demanding the return of £30 million which the university has already spent developing a new city centre campus – on the site now earmarked to become a high speed rail station.
A spokesman for Advantage West Midlands, the regional development agency, said: “We are working with Birmingham City University and Birmingham City Council to find an Eastside site that will ensure the university fulfils its ambition of having a city centre campus.”