Historic Bills set to enshrine £33bn rail link in law

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MINISTERS will take the historic step this week of enshrining in law for the first time the creation of a new high-speed rail link between Yorkshire and the capital.

The Queen’s Speech at the state opening of Parliament on Wednesday will contain two Bills paving the way for the construction of the £33bn HS2 project, as the Government seeks to bounce back from its dismal showing in last week’s local elections with a series of legislative measures.

The first, to be introduced before the end of 2013, will be the long-awaited “Hybrid” Bill, which seeks planning approval for the construction of the project’s first phase between London and Birmingham.

The second will be a so-called “Paving” Bill, to prepare the ground for the second phase – a Y-shaped spur from Birmingham to Sheffield and Leeds in the East, and Manchester in the West.

The two Bills will mark the first time actual legislation related to HS2 has been brought before Parliament, and Government sources hope their passage – however stormy – will finally lay to rest any suggestions from rebellious Conservative backbenchers in the South that the project may yet be cancelled.

Labour, which supports the project, has called for the entire route from London to the North to be set out under a single Hybrid Bill – but the Government says this would delay construction.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has said the Paving Bill will make clear Parliament’s firm commitment to phase two of the project, and give the Government extra spending powers to begin preparatory work.

“Introducing a Paving Bill will allow parliament to make a clear commitment to high speed rail,” he said in February. Crucially, it will also give us the spending powers much sooner that will enable us to get moving on the detailed design work for the scheme.”

Business leaders in the region welcomed the news that this year’s Queen’s Speech will contain the two crucial pieces of legislation to push ahead with the controversial project.

Mark Goldstone, director of policy at the Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “HS2 will be the most significant investment in rail infrastructure in our region since the Victorian era.

“We are delighted that finally our 21st century city will have the 21st century transport network it needs. The Chamber has lobbied successive Governments to ensure that HS2 ran down the East Coast as well as the West Coast.

“HS2 will bring significant extra capacity – not only improving the journey experience between Yorkshire and the capital, but just as important it will free up space on existing infrastructure allowing for greater freight usage and more efficient local connectivity for commuters.”

James Newman, chairman of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said: “High Speed 2 will link Sheffield City Region with the UK’s other biggest and most productive City Regions – providing a substantial and much-needed increase in capacity, cutting journey times, and helping to take freight off our roads.

“This important decision underlines the Sheffield City Region place at the heart of the Government’s longer term economic growth plans. “In the shorter term, the electrification and enhancement of the entire Midland Mainline between Sheffield and the south of England will be critical to boosting economic growth in the Sheffield City Region.”

The first phase of the project is due for completion in 2026, with the spurs to Yorkshire and Manchester earmarked to carry passengers from 2033.