HS2 steams ahead despite ‘white elephant’ criticism from Tory MPs
HS2 has faced opposition from Tory MP’s who called the project a “white elephant” and criticised it for ballooning costs and its environmental impact.
The £55.7bn high-speed railway will open between London and Birmingham in December 2026, with a second Y-shaped phase launching in two stages.
Phase 2a from the West Midlands to Crewe will begin in 2027, followed by phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester and Birmingham to Leeds in 2033.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling urged MPs to support the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill, insisting it is “enormously important” and would ensure Britain has a “21st-century transport system”.
Not everyone in the house is satisfied with the project as it stands.
Conservative former cabinet minister Dame Cheryl Gillan argued “old technology” is being used on the HS2 high-speed rail link and it appeared to be “something that is from the last century” rather than “something for the future”.
Senior Tory MP Sir Bill Cash (Stone) later warned costs for the project were “escalating all the time” and that phase two would have an “immensely destructive effective” on the environment.
He branded it as a “white elephant in the making” while Tory colleague Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) bemoaned the “blindness” over HS2’s design from the Government and Labour as it was not the integrated railway line originally floated.
Despite their criticisms, the Bill was given a second reading by 295 votes to 12, majority 283, meaning it will progress on to line-by-line scrutiny by MPs.
Dame Cheryl, Sir Bill and Mr Fabricant were among six Tory MPs who voted against the Bill. They were joined by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, three Plaid Cymru MPs and two Labour MPs.
Speaking during the debate, Dame Cheryl said her opposition stemmed from the cost of the project and the impact it would have on the environment.
She later urged the government to appoint a minister directly responsible for HS2.
Dame Cheryl said: “I wish we could actually have a minister dedicated to HS2 on its own because this project is such a gargantuan project that it really does deserve to have ministerial attention completely focused on it.
“If you look at its history, since its inception the catalogues of failures and problems that have been thrown up by this project means that a minister dedicated to this would be very welcome and much needed.”
Labour MP Gareth Snell (Stoke-on-Trent Central) added: “This Bill is entitled the ‘High Speed Rail West Midlands to Crewe Bill’, when in reality it should be called ‘the devastation of Staffordshire Bill’.
“What it does is lay an iron scar across our county, delivering very little in the way of economic benefits.”
In November, five companies were shortlisted to receive HS2’s £2.75bn contract to build the 225mph-capable trains that would be running on the HS2 network.
Yesterday [30 January], HS2 began the process of finding bidders for two massive contracts on the London-Birmingham and Birmingham-Crewe phases of the project, with the publication of a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ).
The major track and overhead catenary system (OCS) package is worth around £1.55bn, and covers oversight of HS2’s construction, including 180 miles of track and overhead lines as well as construction work in stations and tunnels, and its dynamic testing phase, before handing it over to the operator for trial running.
The second contract is worth £330m for the tunnel and lineside mechanical & electrical and tunnel ventilation works. It covers the design, installation, testing and commissioning of HS2 safety equipment including tunnel ventilation fans, lighting, handrails, fire safety equipment and tunnel alarm systems.