Uncertainty surrounds plans for high speed rail services between London and the West Midlands as the Government said it would not be bound by the findings of an inquiry which recommended building a new station in Birmingham city centre.
Transport Minister Theresa Villiers said the new Conservative and Liberal Democrat administration “reserve our position” on the study published by the previous government.
This called for a new station close to the city’s historic Curzon Street Station, as well as a second station serving Birmingham International Airport and the NEC in Solihull.
As a result, the public consultation due to begin this autumn may be delayed. Ms Villiers said the Government would publish details of a new timetable for the consultation process “in due course”.
But she confirmed that Ministers remained committed to building a high speed network, with trains running at up to 225mph, which could reduce the journey time between the UK’s two biggest cities to between 30 and 50 minutes.
A study by consultants KPMG has predicted high speed rail could create 68,000 new jobs in the West Midlands by providing a massive boost to the economy.
Speaking in a Commons debate, Ms Villiers said the Government planned to introduce legislation allowing the line to go ahead before the next election.
And she said preparatory building work was expected to begin as soon as 2015.
Ministers had previously announced that the Government wanted to alter some aspects of the proposed High Speed 2 route. They want to add services to Heathrow Airport and ensure there is a direct link to continental Europe via the Channel Tunnel, which were not included in the original plans.
But in the first major statement on high speed rail by a Minister since last month’s general election, Ms Villiers made it clear that the entire route drawn up by High Speed 2, a company created by the previous government to conduct the study, would be reconsidered.
She said: “We reserve our position on the route High Speed 2 have suggested.”
Ms Villiers told MPs: “The Secretary of State is considering the timetable set out by the High Speed 2 Ltd company. He is also considering questions around the integration of Heathrow in the HS2 network.
“The intention is to go forward with the consultation as promptly as possible.
“It is also our intention to present a hybrid bill in this parliament. And it is our intention to allow enabling work to begin in 2015.
“Work is already underway on further work on lines going beyond Birmingham.”
She added: “I have no doubt that there will be difficult times ahead, not least in relation to decisions about the route and how we mitigate and reduce the impact it will have on communities and landscapes, but I firmly believe future generations will thank us.”
In an indication of the battles the Government may face, Ms Villiers was asked by backbench Conservative MP Tony Baldry, whose Oxfordshire constituency will be affected by the route, whether the trains could be slower.
This would allow the route to have more bends and avoid towns and villages, he said.
Solihull MP Lorely Burt (Lib Dem), speaking in the debate, said she strongly backed high speed rail but warned that some residents who had seen property values plummet because of speculation about a new runway at Birmingham Airport were now faced with the prospect of the homes being blighted a second time.
She said: “There has got to be proper consultation for anyone who does suffer as a result of this.”