Fast-track bill marks signal of intent over HS2

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Special legislation is being drawn up to fast-track the government’s flagship £32 billion high speed rail project.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has announced his intention to introduce a public Paving Bill for High Speed 2 (HS2).

It would allow the government the financial powers to proceed more quickly with expenditure on the design of the line linking London to Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester.

The announcement is likely to fuel the concerns of Leeds residents living in the path of the proposed route, who have already called on the government to bring forward consultations on HS2.

Mr McLoughlin said: “High speed rail is an engine for growth that will help drive regional regeneration, secure economic prosperity across Britain and support tens of thousands of jobs.

“It is vital we press ahead with delivering this crucial project as quickly as possible.

“Introducing a Paving Bill will allow parliament to make a clear commitment to high speed rail.

“Crucially, it will also give us the spending powers much sooner that will enable us to get moving on the detailed design work for the scheme.”

The Birmingham-to-Leeds leg of HS2 would be built under phase two of the project, expected to start construction in the middle of the next decade.

It would see 250mph trains travelling through Woodlesford and Hunslet on their way to a new city centre station in Leeds.

Journey times to London would be cut from two hours and 12 minutes to 82 minutes.

About 100,000 jobs are expected to be created from the construction and maintenance of the railway line and the economic impact of new stations.

Politicians in Leeds have broadly welcomed the plan, saying it will being huge economic benefits.

But residents in the affected communities have expressed concern about the impact of HS2 on living standards and house prices.

They have called on project bosses to bring forward consultation, which is not expected to take place until the second half of this year.

Mr McLoughlin said the Paving Bill would be a signal of intent and could act as a catalyst for regeneration around stations.

“This is an opportunity for all three main political parties to reaffirm their support for high speed rail,” he said.