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New doubts raised over HS2 as Transport Secretary says Bill won't get through Parliament before election

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 05, 2014

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Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin at Dawlish

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Legislation to pave the way for the construction of the controversial HS2 rail link is not likely to complete its passage through Parliament before next year’s general election, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has indicated.

Failure to get the HS2 bill onto the statute book by the time of the May 2015 poll could make it a contentious election issue between the parties, particularly in constituencies along the route of the proposed line - linking London with the Midlands and North of England - as well as in the Westcountry after storms damaged the rail line at Dawlish crippling the region's mainline links.

The Western Morning News has led the calls - urging the government to forget HS2 in favour of GW2. The WMN set up a petition which says: "We call on the Government to provide enough investment to upgrade rail links into the South West so that our region is never again cut off from the rest of the country."

To indicate your support, email: wmnbusiness@western morningnews.co.uk.

Questions were asked about Labour’s commitment to HS2 after shadow chancellor Ed Balls said there would be “no blank cheque” for HS2, though Ed Miliband has since reaffirmed his backing for the scheme.

On the issue of whether the High Speed Bill will gain Royal Assent by the time of the next election, the Transport Secretary told The Spectator: ‘I think one has to accept that perhaps through all its stages within the next 12 months is slightly ambitious.“

The Spectator reported that Mr McLoughlin said the Bill – which was published last November but is yet to receive its second reading in the House of Commons - will have “started its parliamentary progress” within that time-span, but when asked if it would complete it by the election, he replied: “No.”

Earlier it was reported that only a tiny fraction of the £42.6 billion budget for HS2 will be made available for the railways should the high-speed project be scrapped, according to a report published by a pro-rail group.

The most likely estimate is that the Department for Transport will get only £2 billion should HS2 be derailed, with as little as £670 million of this going on rail, said the report from the HSR (high-speed rail) Industry Leaders Group (HSRILG).

The first, London to Birmingham, phase of HS2 will see a high-speed line cutting through Tory heartlands in the Chilterns and is due for completion in 2026.

The scheme has proved the most controversial infrastructure project for years, with the pro and anti-groups fiercely defending their positions.

The HSR group’s report said today that abandoning HS2 would mean:

- Up to £5 billion in costs will have been needlessly lost and not recouped;

- Investors and employers will be put off by Britain’s lack of ambition and unwillingness to invest in its creaking infrastructure;

- A brain drain of engineers forced to look elsewhere for opportunities and jobs;

- A similar solution to the same problems will be looked to in the future, but at a much higher cost;

- The opportunity to regenerate the Midlands and north of England would be missed.

Jim Steer, director of pro high-speed rail group Greengauge 21 and founding member of HSRILG, said: “HS2 is a project that will build a bright future for Britain. With the Bill for the first stage of the route now before Parliament, we felt it important to set out the hugely positive difference this project will make."

Anti-HS2 group, HS2 Action Alliance, said regional cities would be “milked of talent and business” if HS2 went ahead – adding that the project “would do nothing to alleviate overcrowding on local commuter trains”.

The alliance’s Iain Macauley added: “Several authoritative reports, produced by renowned economists and transport experts have said the same thing: London would be the main beneficiary of HS2, regional benefit would be tiny – or even negative – and as for dealing with an ‘impending capacity crisis’, that’s complete rubbish.”

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