Sir Bill Cash brands Theresa May's HS2 move 'a complete disgrace'
Attempts to force through HS2 legislation in the "dying days" of Theresa May's Government have been branded a "complete disgrace" by a West Midlands MP.
Stone MP Sir Bill Cash slammed the decision to go ahead with a vote on the West Midlands-to-Crewe section of the controversial line, with the Prime Minister due to stand down imminently.
Despite a small Tory rebellion the Bill for the Phase 2a route through Staffordshire was approved by a majority of 246. It will now go to the Lords for further scrutiny.
It followed a heated Commons debate on the issue, which saw Labour call for an independent review of the £56 billion project.
Shropshire Conservative MP Owen Paterson called for "the most expensive railway ever imagined" to be scrapped altogether, with the cash saved invested in broadband instead.
Meanwhile HS2 has revealed plans for its groundbreaking 'automated people mover', a driverless transport system that will link the Interchange station in Solihull with Birmingham Airport and the NEC.
Addressing MPs ahead of the vote, Sir Bill said: "I think it is a complete disgrace that the Government has brought this Bill forward in the dying days of this Government.
"We are about to experience a new government effectively with a new Prime Minister depending on the outcome of the leadership elections.
"Now it goes without saying that some of the contenders in that leadership – the two of them – have had differing views on HS2.
"One is in favour and the other says that he wants to put it under a review.
"Now, I can only say that although rumours are like bats that fly in the night, the fact is that there are also very strong feelings in favour of abandoning this entire project."
He said HS2 would cause "unbelievable havoc" for his constituents, with property owners along the route put under "intense anxiety".
"I shall be campaigning, not only for a review of these proposals, but in pretty short order to have this act repealed, because that's the only way that this can actually be sorted out," he added.
He called HS2 "the biggest white elephant of all time", and urged ministers to "put the money where it needs to go", on new train lines running "across the country from east to west".
Sir Bill also said that the plans for HS2 "almost certainly would not survive" a future review of the project – which Tory leadership favourite Boris Johnson has promised should he become Prime Minister.
Labour said an independent peer review of HS2 was required to give Parliament and the public "full confidence" in the project.
Shadow transport minister Rachael Maskell made the claim as part of a range of measures, including adequate compensation payments for homeowners and businesses impacted by the line, and the scrapping of non-disclosure agreements for former staff to ensure that management was held accountable.
She said that Labour backed HS2 in principle, believing that the route needs "tweaking, changing and integrating, but that doesn't mean ripping everything up because you are never going to be able to satisfy absolutely everyone."
Labour MP Yvette Cooper 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".
Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy was among those to question the cost of the line, saying that an accurate figure should have been presented before MPs were tasked with voting on it.
Transport minister Nusrat Ghani said there was "only one budget" for HS2 – £55.7 billion overall, with Phase 2a projected to cost £3.5bn.
HS2 has been backed by business leaders in the West Midlands. CBI regional director Richard Butler described it as "a massive stepping stone to delivering this vital national project".
He said MPs had given "a vote of confidence in HS2", and added: “HS2 is more than just a railway line, it’s a key that unlocks future jobs, training and regeneration opportunities that will benefit us all.
"Committing to HS2 in full, once and for all, will spread the flow of investment across the Midlands, the North of England and into Scotland.”
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.
Work on elements of the first stage have gathered pace since the turn of the year.
The latest development is a 'people mover', which bosses say will carry up to 2,100 passengers per hour on an elevated viaduct between Solihull and Birmingham Airport.
The 1.4 mile route will feature stops at Birmingham International railway station, the NEC.
Mark Thurston, CEO of HS2, said: “HS2 is about connecting the country, and the people mover is another example of how we will do that."