Lib Dems Promise To Reopen Cambridge To Oxford Rail Line

A railway line through the "brain-belt of Britain'' will be built to serve new garden cities, Nick Clegg has announced.

Stations along the express route from Oxford to Cambridge will be granted to up to five towns that agree to build between 9,000 and 15,000 homes, the Deputy Prime Minister said.

The first section of the line is already going ahead but the Bedford to Cambridge stretch, estimated to cost up to #1 billion, will only start once the deficit has been cleared.

Mr Clegg made clear at his party's conference in Glasgow that taxes must go up to help balance the books and accused the Conservatives of being ``economically extreme'' by relying on spending cuts.

The Lib Dem leader claimed the Tories have held back development of new garden cities and pledged that at least 10 would be built if his party returns to government.

He said: ``Britain faces a housing crisis. Every day, 200 fewer families own their own home, as home owners die and more young families get stuck renting, unable to afford to buy.

``Housebuilding is stuck in the doldrums, with nowhere near enough homes being built to meet demand and keep prices affordable for those families desperate for a home of their own.

``Garden cities are a vital cornerstone of our plan to boost house building to 300,000 homes a year - enough to meet demand and keep prices in reach - while still protecting our precious green space and preventing urban sprawl. Our plan is to build a series of high quality new towns and cities where people want to live, with green space, sustainable transport and spacious homes.

``The Conservatives have held back the development of garden cities on the scale necessary, but if Liberal Democrats are part of the next government, we will ensure at least 10 get under way - with up to five along this new Garden Cities Railway, bringing new homes and jobs to the brain-belt of South East England.''

Bicester has already expressed an interest in creating a garden city and other areas along the line could include St Neots, Aylesbury and Great Cambourne.

Aides denied that only building train stations for towns that agreed to garden city plans was ``blackmail'' and stressed ``nobody is going to impose these homes''.

Lib Dems have toughened up the attacks on their coalition colleagues as the party continues its attempt to differentiate itself from the Conservatives in the run-up to the 2015 general election.

Mr Osborne's Treasury number two Danny Alexander said he was ``pissed off'' at the Tories claiming credit for tax cuts for low-income workers and Britain's economic recovery and party president Tim Farron branded the party ``borderline immoral''.

Mr Clegg accused the Conservatives of announcing with ``almost undisguised relish'' that they would not ask the wealthiest to pay a ``single penny towards completing the deficit reduction effort''.

The Lib Dem leader told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show that trying to clear the deficit without raising taxes was ``economically extreme''.

Asked if the Lib Dems would raise taxes, he said: ``Yes, of course. We must raise taxes.''

He said changes to tax relief for the wealthiest pensioners and extending council tax bands to the most expensive properties were among the tax reforms proposed by the Lib Dems that would help fill the deficit black hole.

Vince Cable is expected to use his speech on the conference platform today to continue the attacks.

But Lib Dem former foreign minister Jeremy Browne warned that the party would suffer badly at the ballot box if it pitched itself as ``half in and half out'' of the coalition Government.

``We have to embrace the opportunity that government has given us, not think like an opposition,'' he told BBC1's Sunday Politics as he cautioned against overdoing criticism of the Conservatives.

The electorate wanted ``more of the same'' and the coalition would win easily in many seats if it could stand as one entity at the general election, he said.

``Sure, we need to ensure that people understand why we are different from the Conservatives but (not) at the price of looking like we are disowning a coalition which I think is broadly popular in large parts of the country.''

Mr Cable will set out plans today to pay apprentices an extra #1 an hour and give up to one million workers new employment rights.

The Business Secretary will ask the Low Pay Commission to bring the #2.73 hourly rate for young people training for work into line with the pay with the #3.79 earned by 16 to 17-year-olds.

He is also launching a review of employment laws that could see people on ``worker'' contracts, such as zero hour terms, be given the same rights as most employees.

That could mean extending maternity and paternity leave as well as giving workers the right to take employers to an unfair dismissal tribunal.

Mr Cable said: ``Workers should not be finding out that they are not protected by law once they get to employment tribunal.

``Businesses should feel more confidence knowing what type of contracts to hire staff on.

``As the economy recovers, it is right to give a silent minority of workers, who currently have fewer employment rights, the security enjoyed by a majority of employees.

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