A TRANSPORT boss accused opponents of HS2 of 'gumming up' the process that would lead to the controversial rail project being passed by government.

Under-secretary of state for transport Robert Goodwill said legal challenges brought against the project were designed simply to slow the process going through Parliament.

Speaking at a meeting of the Environmental Audit Committee on Wednesday, March 26, Mr Goodwill said petitions protesting the plans had been made for "vexatious reasons".

Campaigners have been angered by his words, ahead of the second reading of the proposed Hybrid Bill - effectively the project's planning application - at the end of April.

During the meeting Mr Goodwill said "The challenge facing them [the Hybrid Bill Committee] would be to distinguish between some of the petitions that would be possibly laid for vexatious reasons - reasons that have tried to gum up the process and tried to delay the project - and other petitions that would have very real environmental benefits to the project and should be considered in as much detail as possible.

"They need to separate the wheat from the chaff and make sure they don't get gummed up by the petitions, in the same way we have seen a number of legal challenges and judicial reviews which were there, I suspect, to gum up the process."

Buckinghamshire residents have called for the tunnel set to cut through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to be extended, but Mr Goodwill said this would lead to greater carbon emissions being made during construction work.

He said: "We've had to have a balance between the environmental mitigation to reduce the effect on the environment in terms of the appearance of the rails running across beautiful British countryside with the effect of tunnelling."

Mr Goodwill said a total of 14 changes had been made to the finer details of the route following consultations with residents.

But Chiltern District Council Leader Nick Rose, who also represents the 51m group of local authorities opposed to the scheme, said of the consultation: "We found the process pretty much futile. The whole exercise was nothing short of a cynical charade."

Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said: "In saying people will submit vexatious petitions to the HS2 Hybrid Bill, Robert Goodwill is being condescending and disingenuous.

"HS2 Ltd have caused four years of vexation along the proposed route by ignoring legitimate concerns, ignoring environmental impacts and ignoring well-constructed proposals to mitigate HS2.

"There will be hundreds of petitions submitted against the Bill that would not have happened if HS2 Ltd had listened to communities or bothered to adequately assess the environmental damage. They will only have themselves to blame."