Page last updated at 23:17 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Faster travel, but at what cost?

By Nick Higham
BBC News

Countryside along proposed rail route
Some areas will suffer upheaval without gaining a station to travel from

Great Missenden is a picturesque place, a large Buckinghamshire village with a narrow, main street of red brick houses that follows the line of the River Misbourne, in reality little more than a stream.

The children's author Roald Dahl spent most of his adult life here, no doubt drawn to the place by the same things that draw thousands of weekend walkers - the gently rolling chalk hills topped by ancient beechwoods, the dense network of footpaths and the traditional English pubs.

It would be misleading to call Great Missenden quiet. It is within commuting distance of London and the A413 main road from Amersham to Aylesbury runs up the valley, as does the railway line from Marylebone to Aylesbury.

Detail of high speed rail map

But neither the road nor the existing railway line have the impact on the landscape that is likely with the proposed high-speed rail line between London and Birmingham.

Outstanding beauty

If it goes ahead, the new railway, featuring 250mph trains, will pass within a kilometre of Great Missenden, after emerging from a tunnel somewhere near Amersham.

It will then cross the upper part of the Misbourne valley north-west of Great Missenden, before entering the Vale of Aylesbury just west of Wendover.

The Chilterns is an area of outstanding natural beauty, overseen by the Chilterns Conservation Board.

According to the board's chief officer, Steve Rodrick, the new line would be a "disaster".

There is no way the board can agree to this, there is no way that the people in the Chilterns will agree to it
Sir John Johnson
Chilterns Conservation Board

"It's going to slice through prime countryside, it's going to sever farms, it's going to mean the grubbing up of hedges, the loss of woodland, the loss of grassland, the severance of rights of way. Practically every aspect of what makes this area special will be affected," he says.

The board's chairman, Sir John Johnson, echoes those views with, if anything, even greater feeling.

If the new line goes ahead he will be personally affected as he lives in Amersham, another town slap bang on the proposed route.

"The process of constructing the line is going to be absolutely hell for all of us," he says, speaking for many local residents.

"You can imagine the lorries full of spoil from the tunnels - and goodness knows where they're going to put that. And afterwards it'll take decades for this countryside to recover.

No benefit?

"I don't think it's in the national interest. It's certainly not in the local interest. I think we have have an excellent rail system.

"Saving 20 minutes on the journey from London to Birmingham doesn't seem worth it if it means damage to the countryside.

"We as a board have a statutory duty to conserve and enhance the Chilterns, and that means the landscape of the Chilterns.

"There is no way the board can agree to this, there is no way that the people in the Chilterns will agree to it, there is no benefit for them."

And that perhaps lies at the heart of local opposition to the line.

There may be good national arguments in its favour but with no stations between the outskirts of London and the outskirts of Birmingham, the people of the Misbourne valley will suffer all the upheaval of the line's construction and operation - without being able to travel on it themselves.

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