HS2 opponents are Nimbys who only care about house prices, says Boris Johnson
The Mayor of London says people who oppose HS2 railway are 'pretending' to have an environmental objection
David Cameron says HS2 is vital for Britains long-term economic prosperity
David Lidington, the Europe minister, has said he is prepared to resign over HS2
By Peter Dominiczak, Assistant Political Editor
Opponents of the HS2 line are Nimbys who are only concerned about property prices, Boris Johnson has said.
The Mayor of London said that people who criticise the high-speed railway line for environmental reasons are “talking “b******s”.
These opponents of HS2 are simply “pretending” to have an environmental objection when they in fact are “furious” about house prices decreasing because of the £50 billion railway route, Mr Johnson told Total Politics magazine.
His comments will anger anti-HS2 campaigners, many of whom are Conservative voters. Mr Johnson’s father Stanley has been a vocal opponent of the line.
It came as David Cameron faced a Commons rebellion over HS2.
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David Lidington, the Europe minister, said that he is prepared to quit his Foreign Office post if major changes are not made to the £50 billion high-speed rail route.
Mr Lidington wants a major tunnel to be built under the Chiltern Hills.
Speaking to the Bucks Herald, Mr Lidington said that he would not resign immediately over HS2 because he is better placed to fight for changes to the project from within the Government.
“I have decided to abstain, but I have been and remain opposed to HS2, I’ve fought alongside campaigns and the Prime Minister knows my views,” Mr Lidington said.
“I will resign at a later stage of the bill if they don’t get mitigation, and that for me includes a Chilterns tunnel.”
Sources close to Mr Lidington described the tunnel as an “absolute red line” for the minister.
Mr Lidington added: “Given the harsh reality of parliamentary arithmetic I felt that the best outcome would be to stay and fight for the mitigation and compensation that people deserve.
“If I stood down I would just be one more MP that is against HS2, but by staying in I have the inside track, it’s a pragmatic political judgement.”
Despite dozens of Conservative MPs opposing HS2, the Government was set to comfortably win a parliamentary vote on the line thanks to support from the Labour Party.
However, a number of ministers with constituencies were set to fail to vote on the bill.
Mr Lidington, the Europe minister, Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, Andrea Leadsom, a Treasury minister who has expressed serious concerns about the economic viability of the project, and Nick Hurd, a Cabinet Office minister, were all expected to miss the vote because they were on “Government business”.
It allowed the ministers to avoid angering their constituents without voting against a Government bill.
The four ministers have all previously spoken out against HS2.
Mrs Leadsom, who was promoted to become a Treasury minister this month, has said that the economic case for the rail line was “questionable and rapidly deteriorating”.
Mr Hurd has described the HS2 proposals as “incomplete and inadequate” and warned that there are “very damaging local impacts” of the scheme.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson risked angering thousands of Conservative voters by attacking opponents of the railway line.
"People are in the humiliating position of having to pretend that there's some environmental objection that they have, that the great crested grebe is going to be invaded or whatever,” Mr Johnson said.
“What they care about is their house prices. It's tragic we have protest groups talking about 'this ancient woodland' when actually there's no tree in this country that's more than 200 years old...most mature trees die at about the age of my age, the average life expectancy of a tree can't be more than about 60 years. There aren't that many ancient woodlands around is the point I'm trying to make.
“It's b******s. They're not campaigning for forests, they're not campaigning for butterflies. They pretend to be obviously, but what they're really furious about is that their house prices are getting it.”
He said that the Government should handle the project “in the way they do in France” by going to every household on the route and paying “top dollar for all their property”.
Speaking in the Commons, Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, said that he has ordered people in his department to stop referring to opponents of HS2 as “Nimbys” and “luddites”.
“I understand the depths of concern the line has caused in some places,” he said. “And that is why I’ve made it very clear to my officials that there is no place for talk of luddites or Nimbys in the department or HS2.
“We must respect people and try and help them [with] their concerns.”
He urged MPs not to delay the HS2 Bill unnecessarily, warning that the cost of building the line could rise significantly.
A number of MPs spoke out against the project in the Commons.
Michael Fabricant, a former Conservative vice chairman, said the implementation of the project is “deeply, deeply flawed”.
A Woodland Trust spokesman said: “Unfortunately, Mr Johnson has misunderstood the definition of ancient woodland which does not necessarily contain ‘old trees’, but rather is defined by Natural England as land that has been continuously wooded since at least 1600AD. It is the soil in these woods that has lain undisturbed for centuries and remains undamaged by agriculture or pesticides that makes these rare habitats so important.
"Not only will at least 84 ancient woods suffer loss or damage to HS2, many ancient trees, habitats in their own right, will also be felled – one example is the ancient pear tree at South Cubbington in Warwickshire, which is over 250 years old. The Woodland Trust has mapped over 100,000 trees in the UK that are over 400 years old and many ancient oaks are more than 1,000 years of age. We would be pleased to take Boris to ancient Hainault Forest in East London where he can see both of these habitats for himself and can learn more about their importance.”