Tory grandee Lord Heseltine has come out firmly in favour of the £50 billion HS2 high-speed rail project.

But he says the scheme's timetable should be accelerated and that the private sector should contribute to the cost.

And the former Conservative Cabinet minister adds that supporting HS2 is as much an act of faith as a reliance on figures, and that the UK "must consider carefully the cost of not acting" over HS2.

Lord Heseltine's views came in a speech in London last night to the Royal Town Planning Institute.

He says: "HS2 is about our country's competitiveness for a half century or more. It is about so many more people sharing growth that has, for too long, been concentrated on London and the South East.

"It's all about drawing together our economy as a whole as well as improving our access to the enlarged, and enlarging, home market of Europe. It is not about 30 minutes off London to Birmingham (journey times)."

He goes on: "Any responsible judgement must urge Government to act now. Parliament has overwhelmingly agreed to allow spending in preparation for the whole line, sending the clearest signal about our determination to build in this country infrastructure that will match in quality (not exceed) what the rest of the world is, or will be, doing.

"What possible case is there for the public purse to carry the cost of the stations? The property development involved can only be imagined by a quick glance at today's Kings Cross and St Pancras (stations in London), with plans for 35,000 jobs and nearly 2000 new homes."

Lord Heseltine says the Government "should immediately declare Urban Development Corporations in the appropriate areas, thus not only capturing the planning gain for the taxpayer in order to further reduce the cost but also to transfer the costs of stations to the private sector".

He adds: "Why does the Government need to hang onto the track? We have a clear precedent. This Government sold a 30-year concession in 2011 for HS1 (the Channel Tunnel rail link) to a Canadian Pension Fund for £2.1 billion. I understand that at the same ratio, something in the order of £10bn could be realised for a similar concession on HS2."