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Tory MPs blast HS2 rail link plans
David Cameron faced a backlash from Conservative MPs opposed to the HS2 high-speed rail link as the Government published draft plans to extend the line to the north of England.
The Prime Minister said extending the already-planned London to Birmingham HS2 line as far as Manchester and Leeds would "spread wealth and prosperity" around the country.
But campaigners denounced the scheme as "fundamentally flawed" and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin faced anger from senior backbenchers as he outlined the preferred route in the House of Commons.
Labour said it was a "major error" to put off a decision on a proposed spur to Heathrow pending the results of Sir Howard Davies' review of future airport capacity, which is not due to give its final report until the summer of 2015.
The second phase of HS2 envisages five stops on a 211-mile Y-shaped extension northwards from Birmingham - scheduled to be completed in 2032, six years after the first phase:
:: Manchester - alongside the existing Piccadilly station;
:: Manchester airport - interchange by the M56 between Warburton Green and Davenport Green;
:: East Midlands - at Toton, between Nottingham and Derby and one mile from the M1;
:: Sheffield - at Meadowhall shopping centre;
:: Leeds - at New Lane in the South bank area connected to the main station by walkway.
There will also be a "dedicated link" alongside the high-speed line at Crewe to link up with standard trains - reducing journey times to Liverpool and Glasgow.
Officials say the £32.7 billion project will create at least 100,000 jobs and would cut the journey time from Manchester to Birmingham to 41 minutes, and from Manchester to London to one hour eight minutes - almost half the present times.
Leeds will be 57 minutes away from Birmingham compared to one hour 58 minutes today, and one hour 22 minutes away from London Euston, down from two hours 12 minutes, according to Department for Transport projections.
The move was widely welcomed by businesses, which called on the Government to follow it up with funding for further infrastructure links within the regions.
But critics suggested that putting the Sheffield stop outside the city centre and locating the east Midlands station between Derby and Nottingham meant that much of the benefit of shorter travel times would be lost as passengers switch to slower local services for the final leg of their journey.
Mr Cameron told a Cabinet meeting in Leeds that high-speed rail would "radically reduce journey times" and was "a vital part of economic regeneration and the future of our country".
He indicated he was determined to withstand pressure for a u-turn, telling Sky News: "This is going to happen. I have been a strong supporter right from the start."
Mr McLoughlin told the House of Commons that the HS2 extension would ensure high-speed trains reach eight out of 10 of Britain's largest cities and extend the benefits of the project to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
"HS2 will be the first mainline to be built north of London for almost 120 years," he said.
"It is not just about faster trains to London but also about changing the way our great cities work, and work with each other - easy links on journeys that are difficult today, giving muscle to the economies of the cities beyond London."
But Conservative vice-chairman Michael Fabricant, whose Lichfield constituency lies on the proposed route, told Mr McLoughlin: "This route plunges through rural Britain, rural Staffordshire and should use existing transport corridors. It blights the environment, homes and lives."
Tory former Cabinet minister Cheryl Gillan said construction should begin in northern England, warning that "thousands of people will now be faced with the blight and uncertainty" which was affecting her own Chesham and Amersham seat.
The Conservative MP for North-West Leicestershire, Andrew Bridgen, indicated he was likely to rebel when plans eventually go before the Commons.
Penny Gaines, who chairs the Stop HS2 campaign, warned that high-speed rail projects overseas have "sucked jobs to the capital" rather than benefiting regional economies.
"Stop HS2 is firmly of the opinion that the whole HS2 project is fundamentally flawed," said Ms Gaines.
"It should be cancelled as soon as possible, so that we can concentrate on developing the transport infrastructure that will bring more benefits to more people than a fast train for fat cats."
Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said that Labour backed HS2 but added that it was "tremendously important" to include airports like Heathrow.
She told MPs: "The decision today to kick into the long grass how HS2 will connect to Heathrow is a major error...
"Abandoning that today sets back the potential for HS2 to deliver transfer traffic to our hub airport via high speed rail rather than short-haul flights."
Mr McLoughlin acknowledged "great anxiety" about the impact of the line on communities it passes through and near, but promised the Government would "consult properly, design carefully and compensate fairly".