Ministers are increasingly aware of an uphill struggle on HS2. Next week, they will try to make the case for the line again, in the face of increasing opposition, with the publication of the Department of Transport’s strategic case paper, which will respond to criticisms from the Public Accounts Committee and National Audit Office on the viability of the project.
Giving up on trying to win the economic case for HS2 (which has been widely lambasted), the government hopes to turn the tide by instead focusing on the capacity arguments. As James reported last month, the DfT will attempt to shift the HS2 debate to why we need a new line, instead of patching-and-mending the existing West Coast railway. There is a hope within the government that the report will, in the words of one source, ‘set the mood, draw a line under the self-doubt and get on with it’.
But there’s plenty more trouble ahead, with the two pieces of HS2 legislation on the horizon — the Preparation Bill and the Hybrid Bill. The report stage and third reading of Preparation Bill is also due next week but it’s not going to be an easy ride for anyone. The Times reports today (£) that the Tory rebellion and Labour fence-sitting exercise have already begun:
‘As many as 60 Conservative MPs are prepared to vote against legislation paving the way for HS2 when it returns to the Commons next Thursday, according to sources organising the opposition to the £50 billion proposed line. ‘Labour, which has significantly weakened its backing for HS2 in recent months, is likely to put pressure on the Government by telling its own MPs they can chose whether or not to attend the vote.’
What happens with the Preparation Bill will set a precedent for the Hybrid Bill, which includes the key powers to allow the line to to be built. When I spoke to Andrew Adonis earlier this week, he stressed the Hybrid Bill must be brought in front of Parliament within the next month, to get a second reading well ahead of the general election.
Insiders claim to be confident this bill will make it into Parliament on time and HS2 is still on track to be shovel-ready by 2017. But the government should be in no doubt the HS2 fight isn’t ending, it’s really just beginning.
Nigel Farage, Matthew Parris, Rory Sutherland and Cheryl Gillan will debate whether the government should ‘Stop HS2!‘ on 31 October 2013 in Westminster. Click here to book tickets.Tags: Department for Transport, HS2, UK politics