The planned route of a new high-speed rail line has been altered to deal with serious concerns about its impact of local communities and countryside, the Transport Secretary said.
Philip Hammond will unveil the preferred path for the costly and controversial HS2 line from London to Birmingham today (Monday) and is hoping to calm opposition to it among several Conservative MPs.
Residents’ groups and local councils are also vehemently against the line which will pass through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and other Tory heartlands.
But Mr Hammond said they had been the victims of “misinformation” and would discover that the consequences were “far less than they have been led to believe”.
Many parts of the line would be dug into cuttings and minor deviations included to avoid the most sensitive spots, he said.
“The route that we publish as our preferred route will be changed from the original,” he said.
“Not to a completely different corridor but small changes in the alignment of the route so that it goes further away from sensitive areas, making it deeper in many places so that it is buried in cuttings rather than on the surface.
“The work we have done over the last six months looks at the route in detail and how we will reduce the environmental impact and people will see precisely what we are doing.”
“I believe there is some complete misinformation out there about the extent of the impact of the railway and when people understand precisely what is being proposed, I think many of them will realise that the impact will be far less than they have been led to believe.”
Ministers were “acutely conscious” of the need to mitigate the impact on areas such as the Chilterns and Warwickshire given that they would gain little or no direct benefit from the line, he added.
Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan, the Chesham and Amersham MP and Chris White who represents Warwick and Leamington are among Tories who have raised concerns over the plan.
Mrs Gillan’s local party has withdrawn funding from Conservative Central Office in protest.
Earlier this month leaders of 18 local authorities met Mr Hammond to discuss the plans. Chiltern District Council leader Nick Ross said all the leaders were “totally opposed” to HS2.
Coventry City Council, Staffordshire County Council and Warwickshire County Council have opposed the plans.
Due to be started in 2015, the multibillion-pound line with its 250mph trains lies at the centre of the Government’s transport policy, particularly as it has ruled out new runways in south east England airports.
It was first announced earlier this year by the then Transport Secretary Lord Adonis following an exhaustive feasibility study. Labour also announced plans for a Y-shaped network of high-speed lines which could later extend the fast trains north of Birmingham to northern England and Scotland.
The coalition Government, which also favours the Y-shaped approach north of Birmingham, has been reviewing the main route which could cost as much as £17 billion, with the entire scheme being about £30 billion.
London to Birmingham journey times could come down to between 30 and 50 minutes, with the Government convinced that the line will give the economy an enormous, and environmentally-friendly, boost.
If the Government sticks to the Adonis plan, the line would run in a tunnel from a rebuilt Euston station in London, surfacing in west London.
It would then follow the route of the existing Chiltern Line, passing close to Ruislip in west London and then proceed largely in a tunnel from the M25 as far as Amersham in Buckinghamshire.
It would then continue to the west of Wendover and Aylesbury, partly in a tunnel and partly following the existing A413 road and Chiltern Line corridor.
The next section of the route would make use of the largely-preserved track-bed of the former Great Central Railway before continuing north west through Warwickshire to enter Birmingham close to Water Orton.
The line would terminate at a new city centre station built at Curzon/Fazeley Street in Birmingham’s Eastside regeneration area, with the main line extending north to join the West Coast line near Lichfield.
Bruce Weston, a director of the HS2 Action Alliance, which represents more than 60 groups opposing the new line, said: “The business case for HS2 just doesn’t stack up.
“You would expect local councils who do not have a station on the route to be opposed. But this is not about the route, this is about the fact that it’s going to be a waste of money.”
But David Frost of the British Chambers of Commerce said that a fast-rising population and an already overstretched rail network meant it was a vital investment in economic growth.