Green light for high-speed rail stalls car lobby

Go-ahead for Britain's first major railway project for more than a century will be matched by retreat on promises to motorists

The Government is to end the truce in the "war on the motorist", as Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for Transport, prepares to clear the way for Britain's first new mainline railway for more than a century.

Ms Greening will this week let the super-fast train take the strain, backing a 109-mile line between London and Birmingham, and future extensions to Leeds and Manchester. In three decades, the high-speed line is expected to replace 6 million flights and 9 million road trips as travellers switch to rail.

And in a move likely to delight environmentalists and safety campaigners, populist policies to raise the national road speed limit to 80mph and axe annual MOTs are to be watered down, The Independent on Sunday understands, risking the wrath of the motoring lobby.

It marks a bold pro-rail, anti-car stance from the newest Cabinet minister which could define the coalition's transport policy until the general election. On Tuesday, Ms Greening will make her first major announcement since her promotion to the Cabinet last October, when she will back the High Speed Rail (HS2) route.

From 2026, trains carrying 1,000 passengers will hurtle through the countryside at up to 250mph, shaving half an hour off journey times and easing pressure on overcrowded routes. It will be the first major new railway line in Britain since the Great Central Main Line opened in 1899. Supporters say it will add 290,000 extra seats to and from the North each weekday, create a million jobs outside London and erode the North-South divide. Opponents dismiss HS2 as a £32bn white elephant that will not bring major environmental benefits, threatens stately homes and cherished tranquillity, and carving up farmland. This would be to tackle a capacity problem which, they say, doesn't exist or could be solved by modernising the existing network.

David Cameron has said privately "we have to build it", and sees it as key to hopes of a Tory revival in the Midlands and beyond. But the business case, time savings, benefits for the North and environmental mitigation have all been contested. The project has divided environmentalists, business groups and transport experts and pitted the PM against several Tory MPs who fear the impact on their constituencies. Even the Queen is said to have raised doubts, fearing the super-fast trains will startle her horses at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire.

"The status quo is not an option," said a government source. "You could build a motorway or a classic rail line, but that would go through people's gardens as well, so you get all the opposition and none of the benefits of high-speed rail. Sometimes you just have to do things."

Labour, which first proposed HS2 when in power, will drop its opposition to the Government's route. Maria Eagle, the shadow Transport secretary, had backed an alternative route, but said the project would "now be taken forward on a cross-party basis to give it the certainty a major project of this kind needs".

Ms Greening will pledge to carry out an environmental impact assessment which will be subject to consultation later. Joe Rukin, campaign co-ordinator for No to HS2 said: "If she was going to assess this on environmental grounds, she wouldn't proceed. The country cannot afford this. You can deliver more benefits to more people more quickly and for less by investing in the current rail infrastructure, and that's what the Government should do."

Fiona Howie of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said her organisation supported the principle of investing in rail rather than new roads or promoting air travel but she is "concerned".

"If HS2 is taken forward it must be designed and routed carefully to minimise its impact on our countryside," she said.

Ms Greening's pro-train, anti-car stand will delight many environmentalists and her Liberal Democrat coalition colleagues, but risks angering Tory traditionalists who backed her predecessor, Philip Hammond, who said in May 2010: "We will end the war on motorists."

In October, Mr Hammond announced plans to increase the speed limit for motorways in England and Wales from 70mph to 80mph, boasting it would "generate economic benefits of hundreds of millions of pounds through shorter journey times". A consultation was due late last year, but The Independent on Sunday understands Ms Greening will be "more nuanced". "You won't hear her using that language," said a Department for Transport source.

The DfT suggests half of today's drivers flout the 70mph limit, but there is concern that increasing it to 80mph could see more motorists driving at 85-90mph. Safety campaigners oppose the change. Green groups say driving 10mph faster uses 20 per cent more fuel and produces 20 per cent more CO2. Chris Huhne, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, raised concerns about the environmental impact.

A separate Hammond plan to reduce the frequency of MoT tests will also be diluted after outspoken opposition from the RAC, the AA and safety groups. Cars which are more than three years old need an annual MoT, but a consultation is looking at carrying out the test only every other year.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen