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Lib Dems vote to keep supporting HS2 at High Wycombe party conference
CALLS for Liberal Democrat members to withdraw their backing for the controversial HS2 railway project were defeated at a party conference in High Wycombe on Saturday.
Chiltern party members tabled a motion calling for the Lib Dems to withdraw its support for the planned high speed railway line during the South Central regional conference at Cressex Community School at the weekend.
The proposals sparked a lively debate but ultimately the motion was defeated by a two thirds majority.
If given the go-ahead the line would cut through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and members raised concerns about the environmental impact of the project, along with fears over the spiralling cost of the scheme.
But other members said HS2 is necessary to free up passenger capacity on overcrowded lines going north.
Chiltern District Council’s Lib Dem group leader Peter Jones, who put forward the motion, said it would cost £44billion to construct the line and it would only return £27billion in revenue – meaning “we are £17billion down before we start”.
He said: “The point of this motion is the costs have gone up and the revenues have gone down. The gap was made up by made-up numbers. There’s a big gap in the funding and it’s got worse.
“What the motion is saying is let’s look at this again. I’m not asking you to perform a shuddering u-turn with your handbrake, I’m suggesting it might be an idea to touch the brakes if we need to do a three point turn.”
Peter Vernon, a party member from Stoke Mandeville, said: “It’s the wrong rail project. I question whether the route is right at all. Why the blazes doesn’t it link up with HS1? That’s what we need to regenerate those areas in the north. It doesn’t make sense to spend £44billion on a railway line that doesn’t link up with HS1 and the Channel Tunnel.”
Steve Lambert, the party’s prospective Parliamentary candidate for Aylesbury added: “If we can put a tunnel from Dover to France, why can’t we put one through the Chilterns?”
But Milton Keynes Lib Dem members held the opposite view to their Chiltern counterparts.
Cec Talleck said current rail usage is the highest it has been since the 1920s and a new line would free up capacity on the West Coast Main Line.
He said: “Do we want future travellers to go by rail, road or air? If it’s rail we need to build new railway lines. To say capacity of four lines from Euston to Milton Keynes and then to Birmingham meets the demand is absolute nonsense. There’s already pressure to stop trains stopping at Milton Keynes to allow more capacity for people who want to go straight to Birmingham.
“When capacity is full, the pressure will be on to run direct trains through Wycombe and Oxford, not stopping to carry the people who need to go to Birmingham.”
Douglas McCall added: “I thought I’d come to the wrong party conference. I’m shocked we could be against high speed rail. It’s embarrassing coming back from Europe to railway lines built on Victorian infrastructure.”
After a debate lasting nearly an hour, the motion was defeated by a “not overwhelming” 2-1 majority.
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