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While David Cameron is going cold on the idea of a glittering new London airport in the Thames Estuary, the prime minister insisted on Wednesday that the coalition would press ahead with another high-profile transport project: HS2.
The proposed high-speed rail link from London to Birmingham and the north is deeply divisive in the Conservative party, with some MPs claiming it is a waste of money or will cause unacceptable damage to rural areas including the Chilterns.
Lord Adonis, former Labour transport minister, has claimed that the project is suffering from “dither and delay” and The Spectator magazine this week quotes one unnamed minister as claiming the scheme was “already dead”.
However, Mr Cameron insisted in the Commons: “It is important for the country’s economy, and it is important that we get on board this high-speed rail revolution.”
He added: “Many flights could be avoided if we had a network of high-speed rail in our country, and I am keen to press ahead.”
Coalition officials insist that legislation for the project will be published on schedule next year and George Osborne’s aides say the chancellor, a long-time advocate of the project, remains “mustard keen”.
The HS2 project is seen by Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne as evidence that the coalition has ambitions for Britain beyond deficit reduction; they claim it will help to “rebalance” the economy away from the overheated south.
But Lord Adonis fears that Justine Greening, transport secretary, and other ministers are failing to invest enough effort in the project to overcome vested interests and see it to fruition.