MPs last night rejected Labour’s proposal for an independent peer review of the controversial HS2 scheme as debate raged over its future.
The latest stage of the legislation needed for the £55.7 billion high-speed project was passed comfortably in the Commons.
But a senior Tory backbencher warned that Theresa May’s attempt to push through HS2 legislation in her Government’s “dying days” was a “complete disgrace”.
Senior Conservative Sir Bill Cash criticised the decision to push ahead with measures linked to the West Midlands-to-Crewe section of the high-speed rail scheme given Mrs May’s departure in the coming days.
He noted Conservative Party leadership hopefuls Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have differing views on HS2 and also warned the project is the “biggest white elephant that has ever been seen in modern history” connected to the UK rail system.
Labour’s proposal for an independent peer review of the West Midlands-to-Crewe leg was rejected by 253 votes to 213.
Moving the amendment, Shadow Transport Minister Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central, said: “We’re calling on the Secretary of State to bring quarterly reports on the environmental impact, costs and progress of the HS2 project to this House.”
Ms Maskell added that scheduling, integration, engineering of parts of the route and its scope need to be reviewed, telling MPs: “We cannot simply have HS2 saying ‘this is what it is’.
“Labour is therefore calling for the whole of HS2, and that includes phase 2a, to undergo a complete peer review appraisal by independent engineering and economic specialists.
“We believe this will be the only way that Parliament and the public can have full confidence in the HS2 project.”
Ms Maskell said this would not delay the high-speed rail project but “enable it to proceed but in a way that delivers maximum benefit”.
HS2 is proposed to open between London and Birmingham in December 2026, with a second Y-shaped phase launching in two stages.
Phase 2a from the West Midlands to Crewe will begin in 2027, followed by phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester, and Birmingham to Leeds, in 2033.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, said there were “serious issues” that needed to be reviewed over whether HS2 “is the right priority now, given the need for investment in our towns”.
Mr Lewis also told MPs last night: “I’d like to reveal to the House today that consultants’
reports were commissioned costing at least £1m from a well-known consultant, who didn’t say what HS2 wanted it to say – and that report was more or less shredded.”
Conservative William Wragg, MP for Hazel Grove in Greater Manchester, also made clear his growing opposition to HS2.
He suggested that a “fraction” of the HS2 budget could be spent in the North to improve connectivity across the region rather than “wasted on this vanity train set”.