Conservative MPs decry HS2 'pain and anguish'

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Rebel Conservatives have set out their reasons for opposing the government over the construction of High Speed 2.

The High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill includes the powers necessary to build the first phase of a new high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham.

But a cross-party group of MPs aligned behind an amendment declining to give the bill a second reading on 28 April 2014.

The lead signatory and former secretary of state for Wales, Conservative Cheryl Gillan, opened by saying she was going to "break the cosy consensus" between the government and opposition front benches.

She enumerated several grounds on which she believed the project to be a mistake, including the estimated cost, capacity considerations, economic benefits and environmental impact, as well as "the pain and the anguish that it brings to so many people" along the planned route.

She said she did not expect to stop the bill, but concluded: "My goodness, we are giving notice to the government and any future government in charge of this project that it will be scrutinised inch by inch."

She was backed by other Conservatives including Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant, who warned that "the implementation of HS2 is deeply, deeply flawed" and confessed it was with the "greatest regret" that he would be voting against the bill.

One Labour MP to join them was Frank Dobson, who summarised the concerns of his Holborn and St Pancras constituents: "They don't object to the railway, they object to 10 years of destruction."

'Break the cycle'

Earlier, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin presented the government's case for HS2.

He said while London and the south east were plagued by over-crowding and soaring housing costs, cities in the north were eager to expand.

"It is time to help break that cycle, time to connect great cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool," he told the House. "It is time for better links north to south and east to west, time to connect to world markets to make the most of their skills and talents, time for HS2."

Labour supports the project as a whole. Shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh cited the need to "cut congestion on the railways, better connect our cities and help deliver a one-nation economic recovery".

But she warned the "key risks to the project costs are political delay" and urged MPs to allow the bill to progress.

Further endorsement of the new line came from Labour chair of the Transport Committee, Louise Ellman, who advised that "upgrading as an alternative will not provide the step change that is required".

Lorely Burt voiced Lib Dems' support for the bill, speaking of the need to "leave a legacy" of "prosperity" for future generations.

You can watch part two of the debate here.

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