THE GOVERNMENT kicked off years of parliamentary jostling over the High Speed 2 project yesterday by publishing the law needed to start building work.
The hybrid bill was hailed as a major step forward by supporters and a vanity project by campaigners attempting to block the scheme.
The bill sets out street by street the work that needs to be done to complete the first phase of the £42.6bn railway, which will run from London to Birmingham. Fresh laws will be needed for the extensions to Manchester and Leeds.
An environmental assessment of the project, also published yesterday, runs to 50,000 pages. The Woodland Trust estimated that to get through all the pages in time to respond, a reader would have to finish the equivalent of War & Peace every two days.
And Ray Puddifoot, vice chairman of the 51m Alliance of councils against HS2, added: “By launching something as important as this just before the Christmas holidays and cutting down the time we have to respond shows a level of desperation and a practical contempt for public consultation.” A DfT spokesman said “the public have already had over a year’s worth of consultation on the HS2 phase one route.”
“It’s likely we will see a severe testing of the Hybrid Bill process because of the sheer number of people who will want a say in it,” said Robbie Owen, head of infrastructure planning and government affairs at law firm Pinsent Masons. “As we go into 2014 and the Bill starts its parliamentary journey, we expect the ride for HS2 to get far bumpier than in recent months, which has hardly been a smooth one.”
HS2 currently has cross-party backing, though shadow chancellor Ed Balls has hinted that Labour could drop support if the budget increases again. A poll by ComRes today finds that 57 per cent of foreign investors agree that HS2 will make Britain a more attractive place to invest, while 10 per cent disagree. One in five said infrastructure was in their top three reasons for doing business in the UK.
HS2 FACTS AND FIGURES
1 HS2 will link London Euston to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds with trains running at up to 250 miles per hour.
2 Its less-than-catchy name follows the original high speed line – HS1 – which runs from London to the Channel Tunnel. The coalition has recently been avoiding the HS2 moniker, instead talking about a “north-south rail line”.
3 Around 2m trees will be planted along the 330-mile route.
4 The initial budget was set at £33bn. It now sits at £42.6bn – and some analysts have put a price tag of up to £80bn once trains and station upgrades are included.
5 The route might link up to Heathrow – but this has been left off the plans for now while the government’s Davies Commission ponders the future of the airport.
6 While the new trains have not been ordered yet, they will be up to 400m long, with as many as 1,100 seats each.
7 Camden residents, local councils and pressure groups brought a judicial review against parts of the government’s consultations in early 2012. The Supreme Court is now deliberating on the outcome of a final appeal on parts of the case.
8 KPMG found that the UK economy will get a £15bn annual boost from HS2. However, some regions will lose money as investment flows towards towns with stations.
9 The first phase will create an estimated 40,000 jobs.