HS2 go-ahead: Support and criticism among MPs

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Reuters

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that the controversial HS2 high-speed rail link will go ahead.

It follows a five-month review which he ordered last August, and an election at which the Tories failed to commit fully to the project in their manifesto.

The first phase of the route will travel between London and Birmingham, with a second phase going to Manchester and Leeds.

The rail link was signed off by MPs in 2017, but has since faced opposition from a variety of quarters.

This has ranged between outright opposition on cost or delivery grounds, to local concerns from those MPs whose constituencies are on or near the route.

When completed, the rail link will run through about 70 constituencies, most of them currently held by Conservative MPs.

Given the government’s 80-strong majority, the future of the project is all but assured, but support and criticism within Parliament is bound to continue.

After the announcement was made, long-term HS2 critic Dame Cheryl Gillan said she remained convinced HS2 will not deliver “value for money”.

She said that she was also concerned construction would cause “substantial environmental destruction” to her Chesham and Amersham constituency, in Buckinghamshire.

“Its construction will prove highly disruptive and by a construction industry who by its own admission lacks the capacity to deliver on alongside other infrastructure projects in the pipeline,” she added.

However fellow Conservative Kieran Mullan, whose constituency will benefit directly from HS2 services calling at Crewe, was more supportive in the Commons.

“The prime minister has well and truly swept the leaves off the line of transport infrastructure investment in this country,” he told MPs.

“I know businesses in Crewe and Nantwich will benefit locally, not jobs and businesses in London, but locally in Crewe and Nantwich”.

However, another MP in the area, Sir Graham Brady, questioned why the planned station for Manchester airport was due to be be built in his Altrincham and Sale West constituency rather than at the airport itself.

He also called for an urgent review into a section of the line to Manchester which will cut through a number of villages, which he said would cost more than £1bn and prove “entirely unnecessary”.

Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood, who used to chair Parliament’s transport committee, said the go-ahead for HS2 was “welcome news”.

The Nottingham South MP asked for a guarantee that a later part of the route, from the West Midlands to Leeds via the East Midlands, will be rubber-stamped by Parliament within the next five years.

Questioning the PM in the Commons, she expressed concern that this part of the route could be “delayed further or downgraded to cut costs”.

Long-term HS2 critic Andrew Bridgen was the sole Conservative MP during Tuesday’s Commons debate to continue to voice outright opposition to the project.

The high-speed link, he added, would “adversely affect” his constituents in North West Leicestershire.

“HS2 is unloved and unwanted, and has been grossly mismanaged,” he said.

“Does the prime minister appreciate my and my constituents’ concerns that this could well be an albatross around this government’s and the country’s neck.”

However, another previous Conservative critic, Victoria Prentis, signalled that she would now be getting behind the project.

“The last three years have given us a few lessons in what gracious defeat looks like,” said the MP for Banbury, Oxfordshire.

“Although I remain worried by the environmental, financial and governance issues of the project, I really do wish it all the best.”

Labour’s Mike Kane, who told MPs that HS2 will run underneath his own house, in Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester, also welcomed the news.

Quicker journey times to the north of England, he said, would open up “a plethora of opportunities for the poor people of the south-east and the great city of Manchester”, said the Wythenshawe and Sale East MP.

He did, however, suggest to the prime minister that the project would have benefitted from a change in its starting position.

“If he wants to level up and have a northern powerhouse, why does he not start building the line from Manchester down?” he asked.