Opponents campaigning against a planned high speed rail line between London and Birmingham will not be allowed to block the scheme, the Prime Minister has pledged.
A bitter war of words has broken out between residents who will be affected by the planned £17 billion line – and supporters, who have launched a poster campaign accusing rich southerners of undermining plans to create jobs in the deprived Midlands and North.
But asked if opponents of high speed rail might succeed in blocking the plan, David Cameron stood firm and said: “No – the Government is committed to HS2.”
The Prime Minister was speaking to the Birmingham Post as he visited the city to address the annual conference of the Local Government Association.
The Yes to High Speed Rail Campaign, backed by a number of business leaders including Birmingham Chamber chief executive Jerry Blackett, launched controversial posters amid fears the campaign against high speed rail could persuade the Government to abandon the plans.
And the influential Commons Transport Committee has launched its own inquiry into whether the business case for the line from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, known as HS2, makes sense.
David Cameron faces opposition from some of his own Conservative MPs, who have constituencies along the line, including Chris White, (Con Warwick and Leamington), Jeremy Wright (Con Kennilworth and Southam) and Dan Byles (Con North Warwickshire and Bedworth).
But the Prime Minister insisted the Government would not waiver, saying: “I’m committed to HS2. I think it’s right that Britain gets on board the high speed rail revolution.”
And he promised that the line would reach the North-east and North-west after the first London to Birmingham stage was complete.
“The whole point about high speed rail is that London to Birmingham is just stage one. That’s always been essential. This links and shrinks – links the whole country and shrinks the distances between our greatest cities.
“And my personal passion for it is if you look at what’s been successful in regional policy, I would argue that things like the Jubilee Line, High Speed One, building of the M1, building of the M40, if you ask yourself the question what were the events that really reduced regional inequalities, that really got regional economies going, so often they are transport links.
"And there’s a reason for that – that is one of the ways to change the economic geography of your country.
“And if you want to make sure that in the future the whole of the country can share in the economic prosperity, and it’s not so constrained to the South-east, I think this is the sort of thing that needs to go ahead.”
He pointed out that other nations such as China were already building high speed rail lines and he was even more convinced after his meeting with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao.
“Meeting with Premier Wen, where they’re building high speed rail all over China – they’re linking two of their biggest cities, they are going to have a time between them of just 45 minutes. And I want London and Birmingham to be the same.”
The Prime Minister said he was relaxed about suggestions China might help to fund British line.
“I think Britain’s very open to investment from overseas, including investment in our infrastructure. What matters is whether this is built on time and on budget, is it done efficiently, effectively, is it good value for money. Should we welcome investment in our infrastructure? Yes, of course we should.”
Conservative MP Dan Byles said he hoped the consultation on HS2 currently under way would consider whether the scheme should go ahead at all.
He said: “I have been assured by ministers that the result of the consultation could potentially be that HS2 doesn’t happen.