An anti high speed rail project (HS2) banner is seen nailed to a fence post near the village of Pickmere, northern England
An anti high speed rail project (HS2) banner is seen nailed to a fence post near the village of Pickmere, northern England

Just 3% of the public believes that a government-backed High Speed 2 line linking north and south will be delivered on time and on budget, as new planning documents revealed that tonnes of earth would be dumped in the picturesque Chilterns and 33 stretches of ancient woodland destroyed in constructing the line.

In what has been called the greatest civil engineering project since the Victorian era, the government-backed 350-mile High Speed 2 line would run from London to Birmingham by 2026, then be extended to Manchester and Leeds by 2033.

Planning documents released this week for the scheme run to more than 50,000 pages, and reveal plans for the excavation of millions of tonnes of earth, the construction of miles of tunnels, bridges and embankments and the destruction of thousands of buildings and acres of farmland that stand in its path.

A new Telegraph/ICM survey shows that extent of public opposition to the scheme, with only 21% agreeing with Prime Minister David Cameron's claim that it is "essential" for Britain.

Just 3% said they believed the new £50 billion line would be delivered on time and on budget, while more than two-thirds said they wanted the government to scrap HS2 or halt the plans while other options are considered.

Campaigners opposed to the scheme claim it would cause environmental devastation, and have pointed to sections of the plan showing that 33 ancient woodlands would have to be chopped down, and seven major rivers diverted to build HS2.

The documents also show plans to excavate tonnes of earth dug from under the Chilterns, which has been designated an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, then deposited along the line, to help landscape the track and absorb the sound of trains.

Steve Roddick, chief officer of the Chilterns Conservation Board, told the Guardian: "An HS2 engineer told a public meeting that 'it will be landscaped and look very nice'. "Words fail me when I think that our precious national heritage is going to be desecrated by people with so little feeling for what is special and unique."

Tunnelling and engineering other structures for the line pose a risk to the drinking water supply in the Chilterns and in the Colne Valley, near Uxbridge in north-west London, the planning documents reveal.

Martin Boon, the director of ICM Research, told the Telegraph: "The public are yet to be convinced of the case for HS2. Perceptions of large-scale public sector infrastructure projects are conditioned by experiences of the Millennium Dome and the Olympics, and HS2 is being bracketed as another huge cost, huge risk build with a dubious business case."

Some though, claim that the huge economic benefits the scheme will bring are being forgotten.

"High-speed rail cannot come soon enough for me," said Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham city council and transport lead for the Core Cities group.

"It will act as an engine of growth, bringing thousands of jobs. It will free up much needed space on our crowded railways. [The hybrid bill] is another major milestone for Britain's high-speed rail ambitions," he said.

Local authorities along the route now have 40 days to voice their objections to the plans.

"I have never seen anything like this before and I don't think people in any way understand the impact it will have. It's not possible really to assess it in the time we have been given," Marcus Rogers, a planner advising Buckinghamshire County Council, told the Guardian.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport (DfT) said: "We need to act now and build HS2 because we are running out of room on our railways for more passengers and trains. We have assessed the alternatives; they simply don't give the increase in capacity needed."