Government poised to publish HS2 bill

Legislation to pave the way for the first phase of the High Speed Two (HS2) rail network is due to receive its first reading in the House of Commons this afternoon.

An artist's visualisation of the proposed HS2 scheme
An artist's visualisation of the proposed HS2 scheme

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin is also due to publish an environmental impact statement on the proposed London-Birmingham rail link - construction of which could start in 2016/17 - and a strategy for replacing social housing that would be lost to the works.

In a written ministerial statement to parliament, McLoughlin said that the environmental statement contained responses to issues raised in response to the Department for Transport’s earlier consultation on a draft environmental statement for the project.

He said this would allow those on or near the line of route to see how they would be affected and would give details of the ways in which the railway has been designed to reduce as far as practicable impacts on the landscape.

He said that following publication of the environmental statement, a public consultation would be held that will close on 24 January 2014.

McLoughlin said he would also publish the government’s response to a consultation on design refinements for the project.

Last month he announced that additional tunnels would be constructed for the high-speed line to take it through Northolt in west London and Bromford in Birmingham, meaning that almost one quarter of the London-Birmingham route would be underground.

Business groups have welcomed the publication of the bill. John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce said HS2 was the best way to deliver increased capacity to the railway network.

"HS2 simply must be built if we are to avoid crippling delays, stifling carriage conditions and weekend chaos that conventional upgrades will bring," he said.

"Major infrastructure projects have always been controversial in the past: The M25, Crossrail, and the Channel Tunnel were not universally called for, yet look at the economic benefits they have delivered over the years."

Katja Hall, chief policy director at the Confederation of British Industry, urged politicians of all political persuasion to back the bill.

"HS2 will tackle the looming capacity crunch on the West Coast mainline, connect some of our biggest cities and bring significant economic benefits," she said.

Roger Marsh, chairman of Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership said the hybrid bill’s first reading was an "extremely important move forward".

"The new north-south high speed line will give a serious boost to the Leeds city region economy through the transformational reduction in journey times not just to London but between the cities of the Midlands and North and by greatly increasing the capacity of the railways," he said.

A Department for Transport spokesman told Planning the bill was expected to be published after 4pm.

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