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HS2: Government faces rebellion from senior Tories over High Speed 2 rail plans

Former Conservative vice-chairman Michael Fabricant has tabled an amendment designed to derail the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill. Picture: PA Former Conservative vice-chairman Michael Fabricant has tabled an amendment designed to derail the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill. Picture: PA

Monday, April 28, 2014
12:11 PM

The government is facing a rebellion today over proposals to build a £50 billion high-speed rail link between London and the north of England.

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Senior Tories will lead efforts to block HS2 in the House of Commons, amid reports that between 30 and 40 Conservatives will make a stand against the controversial project.

Former Conservative vice-chairman Michael Fabricant and former Cabinet minister Cheryl Gillan have tabled separate amendments designed to derail the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, warning the line would cause major environmental damage and not produce the economic benefits claimed.

The principles of the first phase of HS2 from London to the West Midlands are expected to be debated until around 11pm in the Commons today, despite Speaker John Bercow previously signalling he would be willing to sit until the early hours.

Up to four hours will also be scheduled tomorrow 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.

Mr Fabricant (Lichfield) claimed yesterday he knew between 80 to 100 of his fellow MPs have “really serious doubts” about HS2.

But 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.

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

Mrs Gillan’s objection, which has the support of Labour former ministers including Holborn and St Pancras MP Frank Dobson and Vauxhall MP 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.

Mrs Gillan said she was disappointed the Government had not listened to demands to allow an open ended debate, instead curtailing discussion at 11pm.

“We may have as little as 10 minutes to put across our arguments,” she said. “For a government that wants to be transparent and bring people along with them, the right thing would be to allow a full debate.

“This is rubbish.”

A “stop HS2” demonstration is set to be held outside Parliament today.

And the Institute of Economic Affairs has also published research today 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.

Construction of the first stage of the HS2 project, linking London to Birmingham, is proposed to begin 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 £42.6 billion, which includes contingencies, with £7.5 billion for the trains.

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