Residents who fear plans for an HS2 rail link track and major junction near Lichfield may have been thrown a lifeline.
The reprieve came after the Government backed proposals to bring forward by six years the planned extension to Crewe of the high-speed rail link.
Previously, the plan was to end the new line north of Birmingham near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, and construct a link with the existing West Coast Main Line.
The move, which would see the first trains running on the Birmingham-Crewe section by 2027, was a key recommendation of a report by HS2 Ltd chair Sir David Higgins.
This link would have made a huge impact for an extended period – there was originally a 12-year gap between Phase 1 construction finishing and Phase 2 opening to passengers.
But the proposed change means the link with the West Coast Main Line is likely to be moved to Crewe, meaning much less work is required in Staffordshire.
Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant said he hoped the change would reduce the line’s impact on his constituency.
He said: “This might make a huge difference in Lichfield. At present Phase 1 ends in the Lichfield constituency and Phase 2 begins.
“This necessitates an additional new railway line joining the end of Phase 1 ‘temporarily’ to the West Coast Mainline with a major junction north of the city of Lichfield.
“It is possible that this might not be necessary if the line is now to be built straight to Crewe. I am seeking to clarify this with the Department for Transport and what other changes might be made to the HS2 route in the constituency.”
An HS2 spokesman said fuller details of the changed plans, including what they mean for Lichfield, would be published in the autumn.
Chancellor George Osborne said he “welcomes and supports” the idea to shorten the development time in the Higgins report and had asked HS2 Ltd to draw up firm proposals.
Business leaders welcomed plans to speed up the construction of a planned high speed rail line to the north of England – while environmental campaigners warned the project could damage Birmingham’s wildlife habitats and rob the region of green belt land.
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership both welcomed the announcement that phase one of the high speed line known as HS2, previously due to run from London to Birmingham, will be extended to Crewe by 2027.
The proposal was backed by George Osborne, the Chancellor, after it was drawn up by HS2 Ltd chair Sir David Higgins.
And Sir David also recommended that phase 2 of the line, continuing to Manchester in the North West and from Birmingham to Leeds in the North East, could be finished by the end of 2030 – three years earlier than planned.
Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, said: “The plan to build through to Crewe as part of the Phase 1 London to Birmingham work looks very sensible. Importantly, this will reduce the environmental impact of the build for Lichfield and the surrounding area – something that has been a worry for our businesses in that part of the region. So this is very good news.
“The wider region will also benefit from the released capacity and we urgently need HS2 and Network Rail to move soon to full and comprehensive consultation on the best use of the spare capacity that will be created once the new line has been built.”
Andrew Cleaves, Greater Birmingham and Solihull Board Director with responsibility for transport, said: “We are encouraged by David Higgins’ commitment to accelerating the delivery of HS2 so that the UK benefit from the investment even sooner.”
Mary Creagh MP, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, responding to David Higgins’ report into HS2, said: “We welcome David Higgins’ important report and his strong focus on the steps the Government needs to take to get High Speed 2 back on track and ensure value for money.
“For too long David Cameron’s Government has been mismanaging this project, which is why we raised concerns last year.
“We support HS2 because of the capacity constraints too many commuters on our railways face and will vote to support the Hybrid Bill at Second Reading when the Government finally brings it to Parliament. As always we will continue to hold the Government to account for keeping costs down on the project as the Bill progresses because there can be no blank cheque.”