High-speed rail to cross the Thames?

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The Independent Online

The former banker who now chairs the South East Local Enterprise Partnership has hatched a plan for a new, high-speed railway linking Kent and Essex.

Peter Jones, whose wife helped persuade Boris Johnson to run for mayor of London, is planning to talk to the Canadian owners of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link – High Speed One – about building spurs from Ashford or King's Cross St Pancras to Stansted Airport and the port town of Harwich. A link to Stansted would strengthen the argument for aviation growth to focus on the Essex airport rather than Heathrow.

Mr Jones said: "I want high-speed rail to cross the River Thames and link Essex and Kent. This is a long-term objective, but we've got to get people thinking about it – we need to increase rail capacity. Demand for both passenger and freight rail travel is growing."

Mr Jones, who worked on mergers and acquisitions at the Bankers Trust, floated the idea when he was interviewed for the post in July. The LEPs were created by former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine as part of the Coalition Government's drive for economic regeneration in the regions.

However, the idea comes at a time when high-speed rail is increasingly controversial. Chancellor George Osborne has pinned much of his hopes on economic recovery through building High Speed Two (HS2), which would cut London to Birmingham journey times to 49 minutes.

The Chancellor believes that HS2 would form the spine of infrastructure-led regeneration, which would also include resurfaced roads, improved sewers, and new bridges. The Treasury is currently working on the latest update of its National Infrastructure Plan, which should be unveiled alongside the pre-Budget report towards the end of the year.

However, there is anger over the spiralling cost of HS2, which now comes to around £50bn once the trains are included, and the potential environmental impact.

Leading politicians, including former Chancellor and Transport Secretary Alastair Darling, have recently spoken out against HS2.