There has been a concerted campaign to derail Transport Secretary Philip Hammond’s plans for a £17bn London-to-Birmingham line, which are currently out to consultation.
Now, PRWeek has learned that the newly established Campaign for High Speed Rail is using Westbourne Communications to help it mount a fightback. James Bethell’s agency is charged with co-ordinating a press and social media strategy, tackling the opinion formers who could undermine the project.
The line, called HS2, will cut through the Conservative heartlands of the Chilterns, Buckinghamshire and Warwickshire.
More than 60 campaign groups have sprung up in the affected areas and several wealthy business figures are bankrolling the anti-HS2 campaign. Quiller Consultants is among the public affairs agencies involved in lobbying against the plans.
In response, the Campaign for High Speed Rail was launched in March by David Begg, former chairman of engineering firm Tube Lines and non-executive director of airports operator BAA.
Westbourne is running the campaign from its Westminster office.
Agency MD Bethell told PRWeek: ‘We’re trying to move the debate from one between a reasonable but self-interested group of Chilterns residents versus the transport industry, to one between those seeking to boost Britain’s economy and create regeneration in the north versus narrow self-interest.’
In a list of objectives recently sent to potential members, the pro-rail campaign group wrote: ‘Our target is the British commentariat of government, media and NGO opinion-formers who can terminally undermine confidence in the principle of high-speed rail by making our case through national/regional press, the blogosphere, opinion research and one-to-one briefings.’
Tactics resemble an election campaign, with an ‘instant rebuttal’ operation, phone banks to secure business endorsements and polling activity.
Westbourne will also be running events up and down the country and publishing research to mobilise opinion behind high-speed rail.