Labour’s cold feet over HS2 rail plans ‘betray North’ says Clegg

NICK Clegg accused Labour of betraying the North by toning down its support for a new high speed rail line as campaigners took the Government to court in an effort to block the plans.

Nick Clegg

The Deputy Prime Minister launched his attack yesterday after Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman challenged him to respond to research suggesting the line, known as HS2, will help the economy of London and the South-East more than Yorkshire.

The Sheffield Hallam MP said: “I find that sort of research just utterly specious and I do wish the Labour Party would decide are you for or against HS2.

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“It is betraying the North of England, it is betraying the great cities of the North by being so equivocal about HS2.

“In my view it is one of the most important infrastructure projects for this country’s future and it will play a crucial role in healing this long, long divide which has existed between the North and the South of our country.”

Last month, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls used his Labour Party conference speech to question whether HS2 is “the best way to spend £50bn” and warned there would be “no blank cheque” triggering speculation Labour is considering abandoning its longstanding support for the project.

Opponents of HS2 took their fight to the Supreme Court arguing the Government should be forced to revisit the proposal because it failed to meet European Union rules over the assessment of its impact on the environment.

Questions raised by the case may have to be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union, delaying the scheme for several months, if not longer.

HS2 is due to be built in a Y-shape with the first phase running from London to Birmingham before the second phase sees legs built further north to Yorkshire and Manchester.

David Elvin QC, representing the HS2 Action Alliance, told the panel of seven Supreme Court justices that at least 10 sites of special scientific exercise, more than 50 ancient woodlands, four Wildlife Trust reserves and numerous local wildlife sites are on the proposed HS2 route.

However, a key Government document published in 2010 had “no assessment of the Y network as a whole – the assessment of phase two has not happened yet.”

Mr Elvin criticised the Government for failing to consult as widely as it had promised and considering alternatives.

“What we have here is a cutting of corners,” he said. “This is not simply an academic exercise seeking to identify breaches of European law. It is a real defect because the Government intended the consultation exercise to be wide ranging.”

The Government plans envisage a stop at a new station at Meadowhall before continuing on to a point north east of Leeds. Services will be able to continue on the existing line to York or head into Leeds where another new station will be built on land near ASDA House.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “HS2 is absolutely vital for this country if we are to meet the urgent capacity needs we face. Attempts to obstruct HS2 have already been firmly rejected by two courts.

“The Government will continue to defend any challenge in the Supreme Court, but strongly believes Parliament is the right place to debate the merits of HS2, not the courts.”

The Government and HS2 Ltd, the company overseeing the development, is coming under increasing pressure to show how the project will benefit the North.

The Supreme Court is due to hear further evidence today.