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HS2 economic case probed, again, and Tory MP demands high speed rail referendum

HS2 economic case probed, again, and Tory MP demands high speed rail referendum

🕔16.Jul 2014

Is there an economic case for HS2? Well, given that the Government and, probably, the Labour party are both in favour of the high speed rail link from London to Birmingham and the north, you might think the benefits of the £43 billion scheme are understood.

Not so. There is to be yet another inquiry into HS2, this time by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee which has announced it will investigate the economic case for the scheme and has issued a call for evidence.

This inquiry should not be confused with the House of Commons High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill Committee, which is considering petitions for and against HS2. Its deliberations, should anyone be interested, can be viewed live on www.parliamentlive.tv .

At the same time, backbench Tory MP Christopher Chope has tabled a Bill which seeks to have a public referendum on HS2. Mr Chope represents Christchurch in Dorset, which is of course nowhere near the planned HS2 line.

On July 7, 37 Private Members Bills were submitted for the current session of Parliament, which runs until the General Election in May next year.

Mr Chope’s Bill, which is “to make provision for a national referendum on whether the proposed construction of the HS2 railway should be supported financially by the UK taxpayer,” is one of the 37. Supporters of the Bill include Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant, and former Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan, through whose Chesham and Amersham constituency the HS2 line will run.

Normally, Private Members Bills stand little chance of even being debated by MPs.

However, with only 11 Government bills being announced in The Queens Speech, prompting accusations that the current session is a ‘Zombie Parliament’, there may be a possibility that the bill does get debated, and is currently scheduled for a second reading on Friday 23rd January 2015.

There would appear to be little chance of Mr Chope’s Bill ever becoming law, though, since its provisions are certain to be rejected by Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs.

Stop HS2 chair Penny Gaines, who moved from Buckinghamshire to Dorset last year, is taking the credit for having persuaded Mr Chope to lend his name to the referendum bill.

Ms Gaines said: “I’ve met Christopher Chope and discussed HS2 with him on several occasions. He has been vocally opposed to HS2 for some time and I’m delighted that he has taken my concerns seriously.

“It is only right that the people expected to pay for HS2 have the chance to say that they don’t want to.”

Meanwhile, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee will conduct its inquiry into the economic case for HS2, with evidence to be submitted by 15th September, with committee hearings due to take place in October.

The Committee is inviting evidence on:

  • Is there an economic case for HS2?
  • Should the Department for Transport’s Strategic Case for HS2 published in October 2013 have included any other factors in making an economic case for the project?
  • What are the likely economic benefits of HS2 to the Midlands, the North of England and to Scotland?
  • Do they depend on complementary action by government and local authorities, for example by developing measures to attract investment and skilled workers?
  • Will London be the main economic beneficiary of HS2? Might some areas of the country suffer economic disadvantage?
  • How should HS2 be operated? Should it be a franchise in competition with the West and East Coast Main Lines?
  • Should travellers pay higher fares on HS2 than other lines?
  • Does the prospect of HS3 affect the economic case for HS2?

Economic Affairs Committee chair Lord Hollick said: “Our inquiry will attempt to get to the bottom of what the real economic impact of HS2 will be, who will benefit and who might lose out. We will find out whether the Government has taken full account of all the economic considerations in setting out the case for HS2 and what the impact will be in different parts of the UK.”

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