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MPs vote ‘overwhelmingly’ in favour of HS2

MPs overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to scrap the proposed HS2 rail link between London and the West Midlands last night, despite a Tory rebellion. 

The proposal by ex-minister Cheryl Gillan MP was defeated by 451 votes to 50. A total of 32 Conservative MPs rebelled against the government, and a further 47 were ‘missing’ or abstained from the vote. 

The main vote on whether to go ahead with the second reading of the HS2 hybrid Bill for phase one, which was not held until nearly midnight, then passed by a similarly overwhelmingly majority: 452 in favour to 41 against, a majority of 411. 

Following the decision, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said in a statement given to RTM: “By voting in favour of the hybrid Bill, Parliament has made a clear commitment to a key part of the government’s long-term economic plan. HS2 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create jobs and develop skills, provide the extra space we need on our rail network for commuters and freight and better connect our biggest cities. 

“I am aware of the concerns some who live very close to the HS2 route have. I am ‎confident however that by working together we can ensure this vital new north-south railway is designed in the right way, and we will have spades in the ground in 2017 as planned.” 

Earlier in the evening, he had stated that he was “passionately” in favour of the HS2 proposals – phase one and phase two – but they can go ahead only on an all-party basis. 

By passing the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill 2013-14, which authorises the first phase of the multi-billion project, the legislation proposes to: 

  • Grant the powers required to construct and operate phase one of HS2, between London and the West Midlands
  • Because of its complexity, and opposition to it, the Bill is not expected to become law until after the 2015 general election
  • The Bill does not guarantee that HS2 will be built, but HS2 cannot be built without the Bill becoming law
  • The government proposes to start construction in 2017, with the line between London and Birmingham due to be operational by 2026
  • A separate Bill will be brought in later by the government to allow the second phase –north of Birmingham – to go ahead, with the aim of that part opening in 2033. 

Transport minister Robert Goodwill added that the government has launched an express purchase scheme for land safeguarded for phase one – helping owner-occupiers sell quickly and with less fuss, regardless of whether their property is needed for HS2. 

Those taking advantage of the scheme will get the full un-blighted open market value of their property, plus 10%, plus reasonable moving costs – including stamp duty. Later this year an enhanced ‘need to sell scheme’ to help owner-occupiers who need to sell their property, but cannot because of HS2, will be launched. And a voluntary purchase scheme – giving owner-occupiers in rural areas up to 120 metres from the line the choice to sell their property and receive its full un-blighted market value. 

He added: “We will consult on new home owner payments, for owner-occupiers in rural areas between 120 metres and 300 metres from the line, to help share more of the expected economic benefits of HS2 with rural homeowners –not just helping those who want to move, but also those who need to stay in their homes. 

“We appreciate that, for some, no amount of money or help will be enough. And we don’t pretend that these proposals will satisfy everyone.” 

Following the initial votes last night, supplementary stages in the House of Commons are now required to consider the detail within the Committee stages. 

Today, as part of the process, the Commons will debate on several motions, including a Committal, Instructions and Carry-over motion. 

  • The Committal motion sets up the Committee, names the Committee members and defines the petition period;
  • The Instructions motion establishes the removal of the HS1-HS2 link as something approved by the House and therefore effectively part of the principle of the Bill, and therefore not an issue for the Committee or for petitions;  names the termini and intermediate stations; and will set a broad alignment of the route fixed, as per the plans deposited, but not the exact route;
  • The Carry-over motion  covers the carry over at the end of this session; carry over at the end of this Parliament, with a range of possible instructions depending on what stage the Bill has reached at this point; and a similar but simpler motion will also be laid in the Lords on 8 May;
  • There will also be a motion to allow the chair of Select Committee to be paid a salary as is the case for all other Select Committee Chairs. 

Ben Ruse, lead spokesperson for HS2 Ltd, told RTM: “Monday’s vote in Parliament followed an extremely healthy and productive debate that explored numerous issues relating to the project. While the result of the vote represents a welcome show of support and commitment from MPs up and down the country, we must now focus on the petitioning and committee process that follows. 

“The Secretary of State has indicated that the project will not receive Royal Assent before the 2015 general election; it is important to allow the proper amount of time for debate, rather than working to an artificially short timetable. This consensus keeps us on track for construction to begin in 2017.”

So far reaction to the vote has been mixed, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is calling for policymakers to ensure that all regions are able to get on board and realise the huge potential benefits of the project, with its widespread economic redevelopment opportunities. 

Jeremy Acklam, from the IET, said: “There is great potential through the connections to the east and west coast main lines for cities other than Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds to benefit from HS2, but the challenges around realising these benefits need to be tackled now if these locations are not to fall behind.” 

Dr Richard Wellings, head of transport at the IEA and a consistent critic of HS2, said the failure of HS1 to achieve its aim of ‘transforming’ east Kent raises “serious questions” about the ability of HS2 to rebalance the whole UK economy. 

STOP HS2, the national campaign against the scheme, added that despite the vote it will continue the fight against the national infrastructure project adding that there is “a long way for the Bill to go” before it gets to the third reading – which will not happen until after the next general election. 

Nicola Walker, CBI director for business environment, said: “It’s good to have cross-party support for HS2, and political consensus is crucial to the successful delivery of all large-scale, long-term infrastructure projects.” 

She added that research carried out on behalf of the CBI shows the public wants to hear about the benefits of national infrastructure clearly explained in terms of local concerns, rather than national economic arguments. 

“It’s therefore important that we continue to make the public case for HS2, a project that will deliver new rail capacity, better connections between our largest cities and regenerate local economies,” said Walker. 

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