Merits of the HS2 projects have again been questioned

Think-tank and Tory MPs question HS2 benefits

HS2 opposition led by senior Tory representatives will try to stop the HS2 Hybrid Bill, which lays down the framework for construction and maintenance of the HS2 Phase One between London and the West Midlands.

Former Conservative vice-chairman Michael Fabricant and former Cabinet minister Cheryl Gillian have both put forward separate amendments to the bill in a bid to block the HS2 project, designed to connect London with the North of England including Manchester.

They say the controversial £50bn venture poses great risk to the environment while its economic benefits remain not properly justified.

Overall 30 to 40 Conservative MPs are expected to join the HS2 opposition during today’s debate about the principles of the first HS2 construction phase from London to the West Midlands, which is scheduled to be concluded by 11pm.

Up to four hours will also be scheduled on Tuesday to debate processes connected to the Hybrid Bill, which allows opponents to submit petitions and certain individuals and groups can state their case before a select committee.

According to Michael Fabricant, some 80 to 100 of his fellow MPs have expressed "really serious doubts" about HS2.

However, he added, several of them were reluctant to "use up our stocks" with the party's enforcers when the project is expected to clear its second reading thanks to support from Labour.

Fabricant, supported by former Cabinet minister Caroline Spelman and ex-minister Sir Edward Leigh among others, wants the coalition to bring forward a cheaper and more environmentally "sympathetic" route.

Former Wales Secretary Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) has tabled a cross-party amendment to block the Bill and vowed to vote against the second reading.

Gillan's objection, which has the support of Labour former ministers Frank Dobson and Kate Hoey, argues that attempts to justify the benefits of HS2 had been "repeatedly unconvincing and still fail to demonstrate a sound economic case for the proposed works".

The MPs say there has been "inadequate opportunity" for those affected by the High Speed Rail Bill to examine all the evidence and condemned Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin for refusing to release the Major Projects Authority (MPA) report.

Backing the stance of the objecting MPs is a new report compiled by the Institute of Economic Affairs, which claims there are "numerous reasons to be sceptical" of the Government's assertions that the new line would boost employment and address the North-South divide.

The think-tank cited east Kent as an area where the impact of high-speed rail appeared to have been "too small to counteract other more important economic factors".

Construction of the first stage of the HS2 project, linking London to Birmingham, should commence in 2017, with the second phase of the scheme then going north to Manchester and Leeds.

The full HS2 link between London, the Midlands and the North of England is expected to cost £42.6bn, which includes contingencies and £7.5bn for the trains.

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