The UK government has published a bill today allowing construction and operation of the HS2 high speed railway connecting London to Birmingham.
Following the approval of the Preparation Bill, authorising the government to release financial resources needed for the HS2 development by the House of Lords and the Royal Assent last week, the Hybrid Bill now marks the next step in planning of the controversial project.
The Hybrid Bill, effectively the planning application for the scheme, gives the UK government the powers to construct and operate the Phase One of the HS2 project, foreseen to connect London with Birmingham by 2026.
It will also give those affected by the proposed line the opportunity to petition Parliament, both for and against the proposals, and have their case heard by a committee of MPs.
“HS2 is the most ambitious and important infrastructure project in the UK since we built the M25 30 years ago, and in 30 more it will be just as integral a part of the nation’s prosperity,” said Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin.
“The Bill will give us the powers we need to get the railway built and start delivering the extra room on our railways that this country so desperately needs. It will also start the process of rebalancing the economy and bringing our great cities closer together.”
The government will also publish today an environmental statement for Phase One of the scheme. The document sets out in detail the likely significant environmental effects of the scheme.
It will allow those on or near the route to see exactly how they will be affected and give details of the ways in which the railway has been designed to reduce impacts on the landscape.
These measures include around 23 per cent of the line between London and the West Midlands running in tunnels and around 32 per cent lowered into the ground with cuttings
According to the statement, some 2 million trees will be planted along the route to shield the environment from the noise while the trains itself, utilising Japanese technology, will be fitted with noise-reducing devices. The trains’ wheels might be equipped with fairings, to cut the noise their produce. To boost aerodynamic efficiency and further noise reduction, gaps between trains will be eliminated.
The Phase One of HS2, governed by the currently published Bill, is expected to cost £42.6bn plus £7.5bn for the trains.
A second phase, foreseen to be completed by 2032/33, envisages a Y-shaped extension of the line, taking it from Birmingham to north-west and north east England.
The scheme’s opponents plan to meet in Westminster today to voice their protest against the scheme.
"With the widespread criticism of HS2 from independent bodies, it is quite depressing that MPs and Lords speaking for the project recently are so ill-informed and unwilling to listen to the exceptionally sound arguments which make it clear HS2 should not go ahead,” said Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin.
"People from up and down the HS2 route are descending on Parliament, not to say they don't want HS2 to come near their homes, but to say that they have studied the plans and justifications for HS2 and that it should be scrapped completely. It is sad that people in affected communities know more about HS2 than the majority of Parliamentarians know about what HS2 means, and we hope to change that."
The government, however, remains adamant the scheme is vital for UK economy and will bring widespread social and economic benefits. "HS2 is absolutely vital for this country, providing a huge economic boost which will generate a return on investment that will continue paying back for generations to come,” said A Department for Transport spokesman said.
"Over the last 15 years the number of long-distance rail journeys in this country has doubled to 125 million a year and without HS2 the key rail routes connecting London, the Midlands and the north of England will soon be overwhelmed.This Bill is a crucial step which will give the Government the powers to start construction, get HS2 built and get on with providing the rail capacity this country needs."
Recently, the scheme and its costs have been criticised by its former Labour proponents including former Labour cabinet ministers Lord Mandelson and Alistair Darling.
The transport union TSSA has warned there is a high risk the controversial rail way might only be convenient for affluent businessmen, unless the government keeps a close watch on future ticket prices.
"This is a railway being paid for by every taxpayer in Britain and everyone should be able to afford to travel on it,” said TSSA leader Manuel Cortes.
"We do not want a repeat of our current system, whereby someone earning just £10,000 a year is subsidising the likes of billionaire tax exile Sir Richard Branson to provide sky-high fares on the West Coast line.”
The Hybrid Bill, published today is not expected to be passed before the next election.