The Conservatives would scrap plans for a third runway at Heathrow it emerged this morning, introducing a high speed rail link between Leeds and London instead.
Shadow secretary of state for transport Theresa Villiers laid out plans to introduce a high speed rail link, in what she described as a “momentous step forward for Britain’s transport infrastructure”.
A Conservative government would build the new rail line between Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London, cutting journey times between Birmingham and London to 40 minutes and between Leeds and London to less than an hour and a half, she said.
Ms Villiers said the new railway line would relieve overcrowding at Heathrow by providing a meaningful alternative to around 66,500 short haul flights that would result from a third runway being built at the airport.
She said: “This is one of the toughest decisions we face as a nation and David Cameron has not ducked it. We have to find a way to cut carbon emissions from transport and generating hundreds of thousands of extra flights at Heathrow is not the way to do it”.
The shadow transport secretary added that a new high speed rail link would help businesses and generate economic benefits, to the tune of £60 billion, while also healing long-standing divisions in the economy by shrinking the distance between north and south.
It would also help to relieve overcrowding on existing rail lines, she said.
Were the Tories to win the next election they would target construction of the new high speed line to begin in 2015, with full completion of the project by 2027.
Ms Villiers added: “This announcement shows that the Conservatives will take the long term decisions that Gordon Brown is so incapable of making”.
The proposal was immediately welcomed by Eurostar’s cheif executive, Richard Brown, who said: “This is a far sighted that will bring benefits to travellers, regional economies and the environment alike. High Speed 1 and other high speed lines across Europe are proven successes in helping people switch from car and plane to train, reducing the impact of their journeys. Eurostar would certainly welcome the opportunity to operate High Speed 2 between London and the north”.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives say they plan to discuss with civil servants how to run the competition to run high speed rail in the coming months so that the necessary steps can be taken to have the policy put in place before the end of the current parliament.