Calls to reopen consultation on High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project
A Foreign Office minister has urged new Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to consider reopening a controversial consultation into the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project after highlighting concerns about the scheme.
David Lidington, the Tory MP for Aylesbury, today published letters between himself and Mr McLoughlin on his website, highlighting his constituents' concerns about the £32 billion railway and the way it has been handled.
The consultation sparked complaints from campaigners opposed to HS2 when it emerged last week the Department for Transport had found for a second time not all responses to the exercise had been properly reviewed by officials.
While it is not uncommon for ministers to lobby their colleagues on issues worrying constituents, concerns are typically raised privately to avoid ministers speaking against Government policy in public.
In a letter dated September 20 from Mr Lidington to Mr McCloughlin, the Europe Minister said: "My constituents are understandably deeply concerned by the announcement a large number of consultation responses have not been fully taken into account.
"This admission by your department not all consultation responses were properly analysed further undermines any remaining confidence my constituents had in the consultation process.
"In order to ensure everyone has full confidence in the consultation process, I urge you on behalf of my constituents to consider restarting the consultation process on HS2."
In a further letter, dated September 21, Mr Lidington highlighted concerns Mr McLoughlin was leaving replies to his junior minister Simon Burns.
He said: "My constituents are understandably concerned this will mean you are not aware of their concerns regarding the project in principle, compensation and potential mitigation measures."
Mr Lidington had not published a reply to either letter on his website today and his office said he was currently out of the country on Foreign Office business. A letter from Mr Burns dated September 12 was posted last week.
Mr Lidington's website also features other correspondence relating to HS2, including letters written to and from the Aylesbury MP, and letters into which he has been copied by campaigners.
In letters to Alison Munro, chief executive of HS2 Ltd, which is developing the plans, Mr Lidington raised concerns about the placing of electricity lines above ground along the route and said: "I urge you to reconsider placing them underground."
Speaking in the Commons in March 2010, before he was appointed as a minister, Mr Lidington spoke out against the HS2 project, urging then Labour ministers to reconsider.
He said it would be a "devastating blow" to his constituents and asked about the environmental benefits of destroying countryside designated as being of "outstanding national importance".
The plans for HS2 have evolved since 2010 and, under the current Government, former Transport Secretary Justine Greening committed to going ahead with the £32 billion London to Birmingham line.
Joe Rukin, spokesman for the Stop HS2 campaign, said: "It is no surprise these conversations are going on in Government.
"There is a lot of scepticism about HS2 and especially the sham of a consultation."
In a written statement to Parliament on September 18, before Mr Lidington's letters to the Transport Secretary, Transport Minister Norman Baker told MPs just 0.4% of answers to the consultation were not properly analysed.
Of more than 55,000 responses to a seven question form, in 520 cases was one answer missed and in five cases were all seven answers omitted from analysis.
Mr Baker said the cause was "technical errors" in transferring data from an online form to a database and he said "inclusion in the original analysis would not have changed the substance".
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