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Conservatives set out their plans for high speed rail

The Tories this week hit back at suggestions that they were playing party politics with high speed rail by opting out of cross party discussions on building a line from London to the Midlands and the North.

Last week shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers rejected the chance to preview a report from government agency High Speed 2 (HS2), which details route options from London to Birmingham.

Transport secretary Lord Adonis branded the refusal “cheap politics”.

Shadow transport minister Stephen Hammond told the NCE conference The Future of High Speed Rail in the UK on Tuesday that he “firmly rejected” the allegations and said his party did not want to be seen to be making a “cosy” consensus on a route behind closed doors.

He said he believed the HS2 report would be “high quality” and “useful”, particularly because it could feed into the Conservatives own studies.

“We are not ruling out [the HS2 report],” said Hammond. “We’ve asked a small number of experts to take a briefing from HS2.”

“Serious discussions”

Villiers last week raised concerns that the Conservatives’ review could cause delay, but Hammond said that following some “pretty serious discussions” on Monday, he was confident construction could still be set to start in 2015, with the full scheme opening by 2027 at the latest.

The HS2 report will feed into a government White Paper on a new route, primarily focusing on detailed options for London to Birmingham, with a potential spur connecting to Heathrow airport.

The report was expected to be released in late March, but it is understood that this will be brought forward.

It will also outline plans for future links to Manchester and Scotland and there is speculation that a dual line could be among the favoured options to ensure fast links from London to Scotland via both the West Coast and East Coast main lines.

The Conservatives have said their priority would be to connect London, and Heathrow, with Birmingham and Manchester before crossing the Pennines to Leeds.

Hammond said the £19.7bn price tag on their 2008 proposal for the route would remain current and that he expected 80% of costs to be covered by the public purse with the remainder contributed by the private sector.

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