Minister: Protests will not derail HS2 plans
HS2 will go ahead "right across the country", the rail minister has said amid growing calls for the line to be scrapped north of Birmingham.
Andrew Jones dismissed criticism of the handling of the £55 billion high speed project and insisted it was crucial for the future of the UK rail network.
An influential House of Lords committee warned earlier this month that the section of the line beyond Birmingham may have to be scrapped as a result of spiralling costs.
But, speaking to the Express & Star, Mr Jones said the Government fully intended to press on with delivering HS2. And despite criticism of how much has been spent on the project, the minister said it would be worth every penny.
He said: "HS2 will be the backbone of the rail network when it is built. I am hugely supportive of HS2 and as it progresses the country will see the benefits of it. At the moment it is hard to see what those are."
The high-speed line will cut through 45 miles of Staffordshire countryside and has proved hugely controversial among communities that will be affected.
Work is well under way on the first section of HS2, which will run from London to Birmingham and is scheduled to open in 2026. A second phase is split into two sections, with one line running from Fradley in Staffordshire to Crewe.
However, Mr Jones insisted people north of London were broadly supportive of HS2.
"There have been people questioning it but away from London more people support it. People are supportive of HS2. Our challenge now is how we deliver it with minimum disruption," he said.
"This is not a West Midlands to London question, this is a new national rail network being built for the first time since the reign of Queen Victoria.
"The East Coast Mainline and the West Coast Mainline are already at capacity. If we are going to meet the transport needs of the future this is what HS2 is about."
Responding to concerns on the cost of the project, he said: "It is certainly worth the expenditure. I have seen comments that it should be HS2 or other schemes around the country but we should be doing both. We already have 9,000 people working on HS2."
He added: "I want it to go ahead right across the country. It should be seen as the spine of the country."