Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin insisted today building work on HS2 will start in 2017 – saying the General Election result was a “massive vote of confidence” for the controversial project.

He said both sections of the line – the first from London to Birmingham, before it branches west to Manchester and Leeds and east towards Sheffield – will be built.

Mr McLoughlin said the argument in favour of HS2 – which would cut through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – had been won because of the Conservatives’ victory in May’s election.

Legislation allowing the new high speed rail line to be built still needs to be passed by the government however.

Announcing a series of proposals to upgrade Britain’s road and rail networks during a speech in Leeds today, Mr McLoughlin said: “The general election result was a massive vote of confidence in favour of HS2.

“So the argument has been won. HS2 will be built, the full ‘Y’ network, from London to Birmingham and Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, with construction starting in just two years.

“HS2 will change the transport architecture of the north. But it will also change the economic architecture.”

He added the Department for Transport is looking into proposals to build a new trunk road linking east and west through a tunnel built underneath the Peak District.

This could give hope to anti HS2 campaigners that a tunnel bored the whole length of the Chiltern hills could be built. There are no proposals to do this, with the line set to cut through the AONB in a series of cuttings and ‘green tunnels’, but campaigners say a longer tunnel will lessen the impact of HS2 on the environment in Bucks.