The Conservatives plan a high speed rail network, linking Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Heathrow and London, but they would not build a third runway at Heathrow, and dismantle the £2bn Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) pot.
In her speech to the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, shadow transport secretary said, “High speed rail could relieve nightmare overcrowding by freeing up space for more commuter services on existing lines alongside more paths for freight, taking hundreds of lorries off our congested roads.
“Secondly it would generate huge economic benefits. A full high speed network could add £60bn to the UK’s wealth, with £5.2bn for Birmingham alone,” she said.
Villiers said high speed rail would kill the argument for a third runway at Heathrow. “A high speed link from St Pancras to Heathrow, connecting the north, could replace up to 66,500 flights a year. This would free up almost a third of the capacity that would be provided if a third runway were built.
“A national high speed network could provide around 44% of that capacity with the potential to rise much further as the European network improves and expands,” she said.
Villiers said that the first phase of a high speed network would be built instead of a third runway at Heathrow. “We would target construction to begin in 2015 with full completion by 2027,” she said.
She added that the £2bn Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) pot of money would be dismantled, and the money distributed around local authorities. “No more using TIF to bully our towns and cities into congestion charging. Instead we’d free up that funding for innovative local solutions on issues like buses and cycling.”
This decision would leave Manchester’s bid for £1.5bn of government TIF money, matched by £1.5 raised from a congestion charge, in tatters.
Villiers said, “Labour is dead set on a third runway, regardless of what the consultation says. People will now have a clear choice. Because of environmental concerns and because high speed rail will relieve congestion at Heathrow.”