The draft legislation is placed before the House of Commons today while opponents of the £42bn project plan a mass demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster.
Phase one of the project is the construction of a new railway line between London and Birmingham. Phase two will add lines to Manchester and Leeds.
If the hybrid bill receives royal assent, it is expected that construction of the line from London to Birmingham will begin by 2017, allowing the Birmingham line to open in 2026.
The government will also publish today (25 November 2013) the environmental statement for Phase One of the scheme. It will allow those on or near the line of route to see exactly how they will be affected and give details of the ways in which the railway has been designed to reduce as far as practicable impacts on the landscape.
Approximately 23% of the line between London and the West Midlands will be in tunnels and around 32% in cuttings.
Landscaped earthworks and the planting of more than two million trees will further help to screen the railway, reducing noise and visual impact. Much of these earthworks will be constructed from tunnel and cutting spoil to minimise material transport.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “HS2 is the most ambitious and important infrastructure project in the UK since we built the M25 30 years ago, and in 30 more it will be just as integral a part of the nation’s prosperity.
“The bill will give us the powers we need to get the railway built and start delivering the extra room on our railways that this country so desperately needs. It will also start the process of rebalancing the economy and bringing our great cities closer together.
“That is why the bill is so important – it marks the move from aspiration to delivery. Now is the time to be bold and ensure HS2 becomes a reality.”
The government insists that new rail capacity if needed to meet future rail demand. Northern councils favour the project as a boost to regional development. Opponents question the value for money and the localised environmental impacts.
Business interests, in general, are supportive. CBI chief policy director Katja Hall said: “This bill is a key milestone in delivering an important piece of national infrastructure investment. HS2 will tackle the looming capacity crunch on the West Coast mainline, connect some of our biggest cities and bring significant economic benefits. We would urge politicians on both sides of the House to back this important project."
British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) director general John Longworth said: “We have consistently said that investing in HS2 is the best way to deliver increased capacity to our overstretched railways. And it’s not just existing capacity that’s a problem. If we want the economy to grow and businesses to prosper, we are going to need more capacity in the future. The problem is not going to go away and we are at risk of stifling future growth.
“Major infrastructure projects have always been controversial in the past. The M25, Crossrail, and the Channel Tunnel were not universally called for, yet look at the economic benefits they have delivered over the years. A new high-speed rail network, as part of a wider infrastructure investment strategy, will release capacity on our roads, and enable firms to move both staff and goods with ease.”
Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese said: “HS2 is a once in a century opportunity for Manchester, and it’s one we should grasp tightly. The deposit of the hybrid Bill into Parliament is a major milestone in making the new north-south high speed line a reality.”
Today’s lobby of Parliament by the Stop HS2 campaign will here from MPs Jeremy Lefroy and Bill Cash, Robert Oxley of the Tax Payers Alliance, and former Network Rail director Philip Lund.
Mr Lund said: “There is in fact much about the case for HS2 which simply does not make sense. It is for this reason, as well as because of the effects on their own lives and properties, that many of those protesting in and around Parliament want the project to be scrapped now. Whether or not this is done it is surely necessary to call a halt and have a fundamental review of the proposed scheme in the light of the points made above and by such authoritative bodies as the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office.”
Rejecting accusations of ‘nimbyism’, Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said: “People from up and down the HS2 route will descend onto Parliament, not to say they don’t want HS2 to come near their homes, but to say that they have studied the plans and justifications for HS2 and that it should be scrapped completely. It is sad that people in affected communities know more about HS2 than the majority of Parliamentarians, and we hope to change that.”
Last week the High Speed Rail Preparation (Paving) Act received Royal Assent, authorising expenditure on preparatory work for the project.