By Daniel Hunter

Business leaders in Greater Birmingham reaffirmed their commitment to high speed rail despite Lord Mandelson's opposition to the scheme.

This follows a statement by the former business secretary that he no longer supported the £50 billion project and warned that it could be a "monumental mistake".

However, Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group (BCCG), underlined the economic importance north of London and said that doing nothing was not an option.

He said that Lord Mandelson's argument, in the Financial Times, that upgrading the east and west coast mainlines was "not actively considered" was wrong.

"The West Coast mainline line has been upgraded. Original estimates were that it would cost £2 billion; take six years and deliver 140 mph trains, said Mr Blackett.

"In fact it cost £9 billion, took nine years to complete and delivered 125 mph trains. This only delivered one more train per hour between Birmingham and London and even this was at the expense of some local services.

"HS2 will deliver three new services per hour between the West Midlands and London each capable of carrying more than 1,000 passengers.

"In addition, HS2 also releases capacity on existing lines for more local, regional and long-distance services to growth areas such as Birmingham Airport and Milton Keynes.

"Analysis in the West Midlands does make a compelling case for jobs and growth. But capacity is the key issue here and high speed costs only 10 per cent more than a conventional route.

"The existing railway will be full to bursting by the mid -2020s and doing nothing is not an option. Faster journey times will be welcome but capacity is the key point.

"It is too simplistic to say inter-city services will be cut because releasing capacity on existing lines offers opportunities to increase local, regional and long-distance services.

" In the West Midlands, for example, we welcome Centro's research that demonstrates Coventry could benefit from increased services to Birmingham and Milton Keynes, while Wolverhampton could get increased services to Birmingham Airport.

"The UK has allowed too much of its transport infrastructure to fall into disrepair. So it is right to identify other investment needs - but not at the expense of the HS2 project.

"We do believe the economic benefits from connecting eight great cities will kick-start wealth creation outside of London. We need to ensure our cities can compete with European cities like Munich, Milan, Lyon and Barcelona, who are already ahead on their rail links.

"The long-term vision includes our perspective on aviation. Birmingham Airport plus HS2 could deliver 70 million badly-needed air passenger movements per annum. This will bring investment to the Midlands as well as providing part of a national solution. Long-term planning in transport is vital.

"We seem to have a habit in this country of procrastinating too much about major projects like this. For instance, our motorway network and the Channel Tunnel were built only after long debate and opposition."

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