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Transport Secretary 'wants to help UK steel firms supply HS2'

Published 23/03/2016

An image of part of the proposed route for the HS2 high speed rail scheme (HS2)
An image of part of the proposed route for the HS2 high speed rail scheme (HS2)

The Transport Secretary insisted he is helping British steel companies get in the "best possible position" to supply HS2 as MPs gave the green light to begin construction of the railway.

The High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill cleared third reading, its final Commons hurdle, by 399 votes to 42, majority 357.

Both the Conservatives and Labour supported the Bill but a number of MPs, including many whose constituencies will be directly affected by the line, rebelled.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said he hopes the new line will use British-made steel to give a boost to the embattled industry.

"HS2 will need approximately two million tonnes of steel over the next 10 years and we are already holding discussions with UK suppliers to make sure they are in the best possible positions to win those contracts," he said.

The hybrid Bill authorises the construction and maintenance of the first phase of the London-Midlands-North rail link between the capital and Birmingham and gives the state the power to acquire necessary land to carry out the work.

Mr McLoughlin said the £55.7 billion cost of the entire HS2 project is an investment Britain "can afford to make".

He said: "The cost of HS2 equates to around 0.14% of UK GDP in the Spending Review period.

"I respect the fact there are those in the House who take a different view on this project but it is about the future of our nation. A bold new piece of infrastructure that will open to passengers in just 10 years time."

He added: "High Speed 2 is a measure of our ambition as a country. A measure of our willingness to look beyond the immediate future."

Shadow transport secretary Lilian Greenwood urged the Government to confirm plans over phase two of the project, which will connect to Manchester and Leeds.

She added: "We urgently need better connections and more capacity and HS2 is the right project to provide them.

"There are however questions that need to be answered over the Government's stewardship of this scheme.

"HS2 was always conceived as a wider network and ministers were due to confirm the phase two route at the end of 2014.

"That deadline has now slipped by two years. It's compounding planning blight for residents, prolonging uncertainty about station locations and warding off private sector investment."

Tory rebel Cheryl Gillan said the project has been "six years of hell for my constituents".

The former cabinet minister said: "HS2 is being built on the back of my constituents. My constituents are losing their homes, their businesses, their peaceful retirement, their health and their community."

She added: "For all the inequitable and atrocious handling of this project, for the poor value for money for the taxpayer, for the inadequacy of integration of the project and for the damage it will cause my constituents I will be voting against the Bill again tonight."

The Bill will now pass to the House of Lords for consideration by peers.

Labour chairwoman of the Transport Select Committee Louise Ellman said HS2 was about vision and confidence in the railway sector and in public transport.

Tory Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) said he did not believe he could support HS2 because it was "not an integrated railway".

He said: "Only a Labour project could be so unintegrated with the rest of the transport system," adding: "It's about as integrated as my old Hornby 00 railway which I put onto the carpet and it went round and round but didn't connect with roads, didn't connect with other railway systems because it was a toy.

"HS2, I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a toy, but it's damaging, it could have been designed better."

Tory former transport minister Sir Simon Burns (Chelmsford) said the project was long overdue and while there would be disruption and problems for people along the line, there would be "major benefits" improving capacity.

Labour former shadow transport minister Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) said it was "vital we act now", adding: "The railways are filling up and they are crying out for this investment."

Raising a point of order after the vote, Tory Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) criticised the length of time given for the debate, stating: "The debate on third reading on the biggest infrastructure project in this country ever lasted just half an hour, large numbers of honourable members were not able to be called."

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