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Each phase of the line must receive approval from the government, which Phase 1 received in February.
The move to split the Phase 2b bill was confirmed by the parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Department for Transport, Baroness Charlotte Vere, during the first day of the House of Lords committee stage for the High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill, which will pave the way for Phase 2a.
Construction on the 225km Phase 1 from London to Birmingham and Lichfield formally began in September. The 57km Phase 2a will run between Fradley in the West Midlands and Crewe in Cheshire. Phase 2b will form a Y shape, with a 198km eastern leg and an 82km western leg.
Lord Andrew Adonis, who unveiled the HS2 project in 2010 while secretary of state for transport, told the committee hearing there was a risk that splitting Phase 2b into separate bills could delay the eastern leg or, at worst, cancel it.
Splitting the project into Phase 2b and “Phase 2c,” as he called it, could see the section to Manchester prioritised over the line to Leedsas well as resulting in planning being split in two, reducing continuity, Adonis said.
“The separation of the bills makes it all the more likely that phase 2c will be delayed for a substantial period beyond phase 2b,” he said.
“I hope that local authority and political leaders in the east Midlands and Yorkshire will have taken very careful note of what the government have said today – a categorical statement that they intend to downgrade and possibly deny entirely the benefits of HS2 to the east Midlands and Yorkshire.”
This was refuted by Vere, who said Adonis was reading into a simple statement that “a very large and complex bill may be broken up into smaller bills to make it more manageable.”
“All I have done is confirm that one big bill may be split into smaller bills,” she said. “That is it.”
Vere confirmed that if the current bill was not delayed through the House of Lords, work on Phase 2a could begin early next year.
“It will not surprise, noble Lords, to hear that there is a window in the early part of next year in which the work needs to start; much of it is environmental work that is sometimes limited by the time of year in which it can take place,” she said.
Vere said plans to “provide the benefits of high-speed rail to the east Midlands, Yorkshire and beyond” would be confirmed following the publication of the integrated rail plan, which is due to be released by the end of the year.
“Both the prime minister and the transport secretary have been clear that it is not a case of ‘2b or not 2b,’ and that a properly connected line from the Midlands up to the north will be a key part of the HS2 project,” she said.
“As the prime minister recently confirmed, there will be a doubling down on the strategy to level up across the country. Delivering HS2 is a major part of it and the integrated rail plan, which looks specifically at connectivity, is a major part of getting it right.”
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