New High Speed 2 trains will 'damage the South West economy'
An MP on the powerful Commons transport committee is refusing to support Government plans for high-speed trains between London and the north because of the damage it risks causing the South West economy.
Devon MP Adrian Sanders, who serves on the cross-party Transport Select Committee, has warned the region will "fall behind" as rail links to the peninsula are already "lagging" before the proposed £43 billion HS2 line from London to Birmingham is built.
Mr Sanders, a Liberal Democrat MP for Torbay, has seized on a report by accountants KPMG which last week claimed the UK economy would benefit by £15 billion a year thanks to HS2.
Some £7 billion of which will flow to areas not directly reached by super-fast trains, it claims. But a map contained in the report indicates little benefit will flow to businesses west of Bristol.
Buy one get one free on main course and specials excludes fillet steaks and beef wellingtons
Must book to qualify 01209 860332 and present voucher on arrival
Contact: 01209 700617
Valid until: Sunday, December 15 2013
Speaking to the Western Morning News at the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow, Mr Sanders said: "The study demonstrates that unless we get significant investment in our rail infrastructure before the completion of HS2, the region will fall behind.
"That is a stick we can now use with Government to advance the cause of our transport links. I'm not going to be supporting HS2 until there is a comprehensive plan for improving rail infrastructure in the far South West way beyond simple resilience issues."
Among improvements he wants include electric trains running from Newbury to Exeter, a direct link to Heathrow from west of London and the capital's new Crossrail plan to stretch as far west as Reading.
Dualling the Exeter-Salisbury line to get quicker services from Waterloo to the capital as a genuine alternative to the Great Western line to Paddington should also be considered, he said.
"We are lagging behind now even before HS2," he said. "For a fraction of the investment in HS2 we could revolutionise the railway system in the South West."
Mr Sanders is in favour of the concept of high-speed rail, but "you start where you don't even have fast rail – yet they are starting in the areas where you already have the fastest journey times," he said.
HS2 will later extend as far as Manchester and Leeds. Meanwhile, 1970s trains will run between the capital and Penzance on the Great Western line, with new electric trains not going as far west as Bristol. Many commuters complain not even wi-fi internet is available in the Westcountry.
Mr Sanders joined the Transport Select Committee earlier this year after seven years on the culture, media and sports committee.
Proponents argue there are benefits for Westcountry rail passengers. They will be able to change to get on the HS2 line north at a new station built at Old Oak Common, West London, from the Great Western line.