Taxpayers’ money has been used by the Government to pay for lobbyists to promote HS2 it has emerged – as pressure mounts on the coalition to scrap the £42.6 billion rail project which would cut through the heart of the Staffordshire countryside.
Leading politicians have lined up in recent days to criticise the growing cost estimates for the railway – one as high as £80bn – that will reduce the journey time from London to Birmingham to 49 minutes and create more than 100,000 jobs.
The former Transport Secretary and Chancellor Alistair Darling has described the project as a potential nightmare, despite having supported the scheme when he was in office.
Senior Tory peer Lord Michael Ashcroft has also spoken out, saying the Prime Minister ‘must scrap HS2 and scrap it now’. Critics are now scrutinising the Department for Transport’s use of a lobbying firm, Westbourne Communications, to help to promote HS2.
The body set up to steer the project, HS2 Ltd, spent more than £80,000 with the company while the Department for Transport paid the firm a further £24,000. There are also two Westbourne staff on secondment to HS2 Ltd, who, according to rail minister Simon Burns in a recent parliamentary answer, are ‘specifically working on the promotion of HS2’. So far, taxpayers have spent £84,480 on these two staff.
HS2 will cut through countryside such as Whittington near Lichfield, parts of Stafford and surrounding areas.
The first phase would see 225mph trains running on a new line to be built between London and the West Midlands by 2026.
Campaigners claim areas in Staffordshire are being ‘short-changed’ over the number of consultations into the second phase, which will see the line extended north by 2033. Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said: “We are urging all communities along the line of phase two to immediately lobby their councils and MPs to get on to HS2 Ltd and demand roadshow events.” A spokesman for HS2 Ltd said: “Group meetings are unproductive and individuals will be able to request meetings on a one-to-one basis.”
Meanwhile, music producer Pete Waterman accused HS2 opponents of putting the country’s economic future at risk. He has criticised politicians who are opposing the project.