The Government is to reveal its preferred route for the HS2 high-speed rail line from London to Birmingham.
The line, featuring 250mph trains, will pass through Tory heartlands in picturesque parts of the Home Counties and south Midlands.
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said on Sunday that the route had been altered to deal with serious concerns about its impact on local communities and the countryside.
But he is still likely to face opposition from Tory MPs including Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan who is MP for the Buckinghamshire constituency of Chesham and Amersham. Mrs Gillan’s local party have withdrawn funding from Conservative Central Office in protest.
Earlier this month leaders of 18 local authorities met Mr Hammond to discuss the plans. Chiltern District Council leader Nick Ross said all the leaders were “totally opposed” to HS2.
Mr Hammond said those opposing the scheme had been the victims of “misinformation” and would discover that the consequences were “far less than they have been led to believe”. He said many parts of the line would be dug into cuttings and minor deviations included to avoid the most sensitive spots.
Mr Hammond said: “The route that we publish as our preferred route will be changed from the original. I believe there is some complete misinformation out there about the extent of the impact of the railway and when people understand precisely what is being proposed, I think many of them will realise that the impact will be far less than they have been led to believe.” He said that ministers were “acutely conscious” of the need to mitigate the impact on areas such as the Chilterns and Warwickshire given that people in those areas would gain little or no direct benefit from the line, he added.
Due to be started in 2015, the multibillion-pound line lies at the centre of the Government’s transport policy, particularly as it has ruled out new runways in south east England airports. It was first announced earlier this year by the then Transport Secretary Lord Adonis following an exhaustive feasibility study. Labour also announced plans for a Y-shaped network of high-speed lines which could later extend the fast trains north of Birmingham to northern England and Scotland.
The coalition Government, which also favours the Y-shaped approach north of Birmingham, has been reviewing the main route which could cost as much as £17 billion, with the entire scheme being about £30 billion.
London to Birmingham journey times could come down to between 30 and 50 minutes, with the Government convinced that the line will give the economy an enormous, and environmentally-friendly, boost. The line is expected to run from a rebuilt Euston station in London and terminate at a new city centre station built at Curzon/Fazeley Street in Birmingham’s Eastside regeneration area.