George Osborne faces a furious row over claims that he helped secure a £600million detour in his constituency for the controversial High Speed Rail line.
The Chancellor has insisted he played no part in the siting of the route – which runs through his seat in Tatton, Cheshire – before reaching Manchester Airport.But critics have pointed out that there is a ‘bend’ in the line which means it avoids some of the more affluent parts of the constituency.Yesterday – in a press release issued by Tory-run Cheshire East Council – its leader Michael Jones suggested that Mr Osborne had fought to keep the line away from the eastern side of the seat. This avoids Tatton’s so called ‘Golden Triangle’ of Tory-voting Prestbury, Wilmslow and Alderley Edge.
Mr Jones named the Chancellor and another Tory MP, saying: ‘Your MPs George Osborne, Edward Timpson and I, have fought hard to keep the line away from Knutsford and Tatton, which we have been successful in achieving.‘Throughout the process we raised concerns about the line of route and raised the profile for a commonsense solution, which I believe we have achieved.’ This was seized upon by opponents of the line, who accused ministers of double standards because the preferred route does not run in a straight line as it largely does on the rest of the route.
But within hours the council had retracted its statement – saying that it had made a mistake.Mr Osborne sold his £900,000 constituency home near Macclesfield last January, two months before an interim report seen by the Daily Mail considered – but then rejected – running the disputed line far closer to the town than is now planned.Critics are furious that the ‘preferred route’ now takes a £600million ‘dog-leg detour’ around upmarket Alderley Edge, Knutsford, Wilmslow and Prestbury.Protesters have spoken of ‘high-speed hypocrisy’ – pointing out that no such consideration was shown to residents in the Tory heartlands around the Chilterns, Buckinghamshire and Warwickshire.
Mr Jones added in his release: ‘This is great news for Cheshire East and for Crewe in particular. This decision firmly demonstrates the Government’s belief in Crewe and puts Crewe firmly at the centre of the North West’s growing economy. HS2 consolidates Cheshire East at the most connected area in the UK.’A spokesman for Mr Osborne said: ‘Cheshire East put something out but corrected it when they realised they were wrong. We have made clear throughout the process that George has never sought to influence the route.’
Hilary Wharf of the HS2Action Alliance said: ‘What a high-speed fiasco. Everyone knew the Government was desperate to avoid more opposition but it’s shocking if the Chancellor is both abusing his position and actually denying it.’A report by HS2 Ltd delivered to the Government on March 29, 2012, makes clear that Whitehall advisers did consider a high-speed route going slightly to the west of Macclesfield. The route eventually chosen and announced on Monday goes well to the west of Macclesfield.The Transport Department said the Chancellor could not have known of the other route options until the full reports were published.
A spokesman said: ‘The design of the route through the Chancellor’s constituency followed the same process as it did everywhere else.‘The initial preferred route has been chosen to provide the best possible service to Liverpool, Manchester Airport and West Coast Main Line links to Scotland. As elsewhere, the route balances passenger demand, cost, engineering and sustainability.’In its ‘retraction’, the council said yesterday: ‘In a press release Cheshire East Council stated that George Osborne had fought hard to keep the HS2 rail link out of his constituency in Knutsford and Tatton.‘In fact, this is not the case and MP George Osborne had no say whatsoever over the proposed route of the HS2 link. We are happy to set the record straight.’ – DailyMail