Queen's Speech: High-speed rail on fast track?

 
HS2 train mock-up image A second bill allows preparatory legislation which speeds up phase two design work

There are times when what is not in a Queen's Speech causes as much of a stir as what is.

A year ago, a welter of speculation followed an address in which high-speed rail was conspicuous by its absence.

Was the government quietly driving the project into the sidings because of the furious opposition it had encountered in the shires, not least among Tory backbenchers?

So this speech represents an emphatic answer - not just one but two bills on HS2.

The so-called hybrid measure which would give Parliament's backing to the first phase between London and Birmingham but also a surprise second bill, preparatory legislation which would accelerate the flow of money into detailed construction design work, ecological surveys and compensation payments for residents and businesses along the proposed route.

The head of the local transport authority Centro, Geoff Inskip, was quick to see this as a clear signal of the government's determination to press ahead.

'Significant politically'

"This is exactly what we wanted to hear. A continuing commitment and tremendous news for the West Midlands," he enthused.

And the Birmingham and Solihull chambers of commerce said it was time for local firms to get their act together and compete for £33bn worth of contracts.

It is equally significant politically, especially after last week's strong showing in the county council elections by UKIP and Green candidates for wards on the proposed route through Staffordshire and Warwickshire, respectively.

But in Parliament itself, all the MPs with seats on the line still represent only a minority voice. The scheme commands an overwhelming consensus among the three main parties there.

Talking points

Increasingly, the debate appears to be shifting away from whether or not the line should be built at all, to the compensation arrangements and detailed work on softening its environmental impact.

This will be among our main talking points in this week's Sunday Politics programme. I will be joined by the Conservative MP for Redditch Karen Lumley, a member of the Commons Transport Select Committee, and by the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, Tristram Hunt, who has been calling for a reversal of the decision not to give his city its own dedicated HS2 station.

And I hope you will join me too from 11:00 BST on BBC One this Sunday, 12 May 2013.

 
Patrick Burns Article written by Patrick Burns Patrick Burns Political editor, Midlands

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    Far from being a vanity project, HS2 is good sense for the long-term development of our economy across the country.
    Rather than increasing our economy's London-centricity, the experience of other countries has been that high-speed rail spreads development around (eg to Lyon in France or Lerida in Spain.)
    As a long-term investment, over the years, It should more than pay for itself.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 3.

    HS2 is a vanity project - grossly expensive and unaffordable.
    Saving a few minutes here and there is not going to changes this country's fortunes.
    Wealthy business people, travelling on expenses, will be the ones who can afford to use this luxury. They can make far better use of their time by using ever improving technology to conduct their meetings from their own office or even their home.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 2.

    I am not sure why we need to have this new project which would mean more homes which will not be in use, at a time when we are facing a huge housing crisis? As for reducing journey times by 10 or 15 mins, what is the big rush? I feel sorry for those whose homes will be blighted by this project.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1.

    It should be pointed out that the Draft Environment Consultation Document published by HS2 Ltd. stated emphatically in its Chapter 17 that the line through The Chilterns was caused by the tunneling and cutting through its natural underground water supplies NOT to landscape concerns. A hydrogeological report commissioned by The Chiltern Society lead to this change. More are needed.

 

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