HS2 rail project essential to UK's future, say MPs

Potential HS2 design

The HS2 high-speed rail project is "essential" for the UK's future and the potential gains "significantly outweigh" any risks, MPs have said.

The Commons Transport Committee also said the estimated cost of up to £50bn had been exaggerated, leading opponents to think ministers were offering a "blank cheque".

And extending the link to the north of England should be speeded up, it added.

But the Stop HS2 group called the report "a cheerleading whitewash".

Tunnelling

HS2 would cut journey times between London, the Midlands and the north of England.

The first phase, from London to Birmingham, is due for completion in 2026, with a second Y-shaped section from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds due to be finished in 2032-33.

Map showing the route of phases 1 & 2 of the proposed HS2 rail service

The committee said serious thought should be given to building the two phases at the same time.

It said incoming HS2 Ltd chairman Sir David Higgins should report to ministers by the end of next year "on options for speeding up HS2 so that trains run north of Birmingham on high-speed routes well before 2032-33".

The cost of the project in its entirety is estimated at £42.6bn, with £7.5bn needed for the high-speed trains. Of the £42.6bn, a total of £14.56bn is contingency.

The committee said: "The Department for Transport's (DfT's) communications about HS2 should emphasise that the estimated cost is £28bn, not £50bn, and that cost increases to date have largely been due to the decision to undertake more tunnelling and other work to mitigate the impact of the project on people living near the route."

'Limitations'

But its support for HS2 "was not unqualified", the committee added, saying it remained concerned about how Heathrow would be incorporated into phase one and what impact including a stop at the airport would have on the budget.

Sign on side of country road says "HS2 will destroy the Chilterns"

Joe Rukin, campaign manager for the Stop HS2 group, said: "It was clear that this inquiry was going to be a cheerleading whitewash when the transport committee only called people who support HS2 to give evidence.

"Despite the official cost of HS2 standing at £50bn, the committee want to pretend it is £28bn, even though they said it would be £34bn in 2011.

"In saying this and telling the DfT they should abandon their standard assessments to improve the case for HS2, they are effectively ordering the government to 'spin harder' on HS2."

Graphic showing how HS2 will reduce journey times: London-Birmingham 32 minute saving; London-Nottingham 35 minute saving; London-Sheffield 46 minute saving; London-Leeds 49 minute saving; London-Manchester 60 minute saving.

Dot Whittaker lives in West Gorton in Manchester and has been told her home is one of 40 that needs to be demolished to make way for the line.

"It's going to cut about half an hour off a journey," she told BBC Radio 5 Live. "At what cost?

"We already live on top of the existing line that runs into Piccadilly and now we're being told that we've got to make way for another one, and it's absolutely horrendous."

But Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said HS2 would be a "heart bypass for the clogged arteries of our transport system".

"We therefore welcome the Transport Committee's conclusion that the new North-South railway is the best long-term solution to increasing capacity and that alternative proposals would simply not cope with the predicted increase in demand."

On BBC Radio 4's Today programme, committee chair Louise Ellman recognised the importance of continued investment in existing lines, but added: "It's very clear that HS2 is the only way that much-needed capacity on railways can be produced and it will also bring better connectivity between the country."

Labour's Mary Creagh said her party supported HS2 "because we must address the capacity problems that mean thousands of commuters face cramped, miserable journeys into Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London", but she criticised the government for allowing costs to "balloon".

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  69.  
    Norman Smith, BBC News Assistant Political Editor

    tweets: Total campaign dontions from @unitetheunion to Labour so far = £2.5 million

     
  70.  
    @BBCGen2015 15:50: Are you a young voter?
    BBC Generation 2015 logo

    If you are aged between 18 and 24, and eligible to vote in May's General Election, the BBC wants to hear from you.

    We are building Generation 2015, a UK-wide group of young voters who will take part in local and national BBC programmes in the run up to the general election in May.

    You could find yourself on the One Show, Radio 1 Newsbeat, or Newsnight - in fact, anywhere across BBC output where the election is being discussed.

    You can find out more, and apply (deadline is midnight on Monday) here.

     
  71.  
    Missing data

    Data relating to three inquiries, including two fatal police shootings, have gone missing in the post, the Ministry of Justice says. A spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner's Office tells the BBC: "We have recently been made aware of a possible data breach involving the Ministry of Justice. We will be making enquiries into the circumstances of the alleged breach before deciding what action, if any, needs to be taken."

     
  72.  
    @michaelsavage Michael Savage, chief political correspondent for The Times

    tweets: The executive council of the Unite union has agreed today to donate £1.5 million to the Labour Party's campaign funds.

     
  73.  
    Papers for parties? London Evening Standard Newspaper
    Newspapers

    Writing in the Evening Standard, Roy Greenslade, a media commentator and Professor of Journalism at City University, London, says: "The national press has become more genuinely independent of party than at any time since World War Two. The formal links have been broken, and their allegiance is no longer assured."

    He adds: "Newspapers have turned on politicians as a breed, encouraging public cynicism towards politics itself."

     
  74.  
    Cameron in Exeter

    The party leaders are out and about today, with David Cameron visiting Exeter Science Park.

    In a press release issued by the science park, the prime minister spoke of the importance of "giving local communities the power and the money to unlock growth and development and make the spending decisions that work for them".

    David Cameron in Exeter
     
  75.  
    @Kevin_Maguire Kevin Maguire, Daily Mirror associate editor

    tweets: Oooop...Sinn Fein's Pat Doherty says he was approached by Tory MP asking if the party would take its seats. Look forward to new Con poster

     
  76.  
    15:36: Labour "completely out-played" over NHS The Independent

    The Independent on Sunday's chief political commentator John Rentoul says: "If the NHS is Labour's strongest issue in the election campaign, the party will need to do better than this."

    Commenting on the ongoing row over whether or not Ed Miliband spoke of "weaponising" the NHS, Mr Rentoul says the Labour leader "has played politics with the NHS and Cameron has played politics with Miliband's playing politics, and the Labour leader has been completely out-played".

     
  77.  
    15:33: Boris on a 'Brexit'

    London Mayor Boris Johnson continues in his Time magazine article on a theoretical British exit from the European Union: "I must be clear. I think there would be a pretty testy, scratchy period... [but] it wouldn't be disastrous." Mr Johnson also fails to rule out running in a US election (he holds dual citizenship), but he rejects any comparisons with Winston Churchill outright. "My resemblance to Churchill is as great as my resemblance to a three-toed sloth," he says.

     
  78.  
    15:29: Boris on a 'Brexit'
    Boris Johnson at the Conservative party conference

    London Mayor Boris Johnson has given an interview to Time magazine in which he offers a fairly positive prediction on what would happen if Britain left the European Union. "I think Brexit is possible ... [Britain] would very rapidly come to an alternative arrangement that protected our basic trading interests," he says.

     
  79.  
    @daily_politics BBC Daily Politics
    Fracking protesters

    tweets: Shale gas and #fracking plan hold-ups across the UK, reports @EllieJPrice in #bbcdp film from #Lancashire http://bbc.in/1ty7agN

     
  80.  
    15:11: Missing data Dominic Casciani Home affairs correspondent, BBC News

    BBC home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani reports that the government so far thinks there was no "malicious intent" relating to the missing data, but one member of staff has been suspended. Concurrent investigations are being conducted by the Ministry of Justice and the Information Commissioner.

     
  81.  
    15:06: Miliband responds to Milburn's NHS attack
    Ed Miliband

    Ed Miliband has responded to criticism earlier this week of the party's NHS plans by the former Labour health secretary, Alan Milburn. Mr Milburn warned it would be a "fatal mistake" not to promise reform as well as extra funding.

    Mr Miliband said: "We're putting a very clear offer to the people of Britain on the National Health Service. Labour is the only party with a funded and credible plan to raise extra resources for the NHS for more doctors, nurses, midwives and care workers. It's a plan to invest in the NHS and to reform it as well, linking it up from home to hospital."

     
  82.  
    15:01: Missing data Danny Shaw Home affairs correspondent, BBC News
    Ministry of justice

    As we've been reporting, discs containing information from three of the UK's most sensitive inquiries have gone missing after being put in the post. The material relates to inquiries into the role of the police in the deaths of three members of the public - including Mark Duggan and Azelle Rodney. The Metropolitan Police - whose officers were involved in those cases - says it is taking the data breach "very seriously".

    The Met says it has "risk assessed" the material and taken "appropriate" steps, as well as offering its support to the Ministry of Justice investigation. But it is not conducting its own investigation.

     
  83.  
    @BBCDomC Dominic Casciani, BBC Home Affairs Correspondent

    tweets: Missing data story: Ministry of Justice won't say what's missing, where it was sent from and who to. No evidence so far it was malicious

    and

    tweets: Major investigation involving security-vetted lawyers. Officials won't say if missing info includes personal details of protected witnesses

     
  84.  
    14:46: 'Come to terms with failure' in Iraq House of Commons Parliament
    Rory Stewart

    Conservative MP Rory Stewart says a major factor in the continuing debate on the Iraq war is an inability "to come to terms with failure, our inability to come to terms with what went wrong in Iraq".

    The chairman of the Defence Select Committee argues that the debate "can't just be reduced to legality and post-war planning" but is about the UK's role in the world and understanding "our limits".

    In 2003, Rory Stewart, a former army officer, was appointed as the Coalition Provisional Authority's deputy governor of a province in southern Iraq.

     
  85.  
    @GuidoFawkes Guido Fawkes

    tweets: Boris TIME "I think Brexit is possible... [Britain] would very rapidly come to an alternative arrangement that protected our basic interests

     
  86.  
    14:36: Post-election scenarios
    Nick Clegg and David Cameron

    For the New Statesman's May2015.com site, Philip Cowley highlights four issues he feels are being misunderstood - or outright missed - in all the post-election forecasting being done.

     
  87.  
    14:30: 'Demand that report' House of Commons Parliament

    Pete Wishart rises to make his own speech in the Iraq Inquiry debate.

    "If anyone needs to know why this House was duped it is us, the parliamentarians," he argues.

    He says the wording of the backbench motion for debate today "should have demanded that report".

    The SNP MP adds that his vote against the Iraq invasion in 2003 was "the proudest vote of my 14 years in this House".

    Pete Wishart
     
  88.  
    PoliticsHome blog

    tweets: SNP MP Pete Wishart on Iraq: "I do believe this is going to go all the way to The Hague. This was an illegal war."

     
  89.  
    @RebeccaKeating Rebecca Keating, BBC parliamentary reporter

    tweets: . @Ed_Miliband tells the BBC @David_Cameron needs to "man up" and agree to televised election debates #GE2015

     
  90.  
    Labour and immigration The Daily Telegraph
    Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage

    After Labour MP and mayoral hopeful David Lammy attacked his own party's campaign leaflets for trying to "out-UKIP UKIP" on immigration, Telegraph columnist Dan Hodges has joined the debate, describing the leaflets as "an aberration" and accusing Ed Miliband of hypocrisy over immigration.

     
  91.  
    14:20: Tough at the top London Evening Standard Newspaper
    Nick Clegg

    Joseph Watts at the Evening Standard reports that one (unnamed) senior figure in the Liberal Democrats has claimed today that the party must win at least 45 seats in the general election if Nick Clegg is to stay on as leader: "The respected figure argued that fewer would make it impossible to join a governing coalition, predicting that the Lib Dem leader would 'fall on his sword'."

     
  92.  
    14:08: Breaking News

    The Ministry of Justice confirms the missing material - which it says went missing after being sent in the post - relates to three investigations that examined the roles of police in the death of three members of the public. Two inquiries relate to fatal police shootings of crime suspects in London - Mark Duggan and Azelle Rodney. The third relates to the 1997 murder of Robert Hamill in Northern Ireland, which campaigners allege involved the collusion of police officers. In each inquiry there were witnesses, including police officers, who were given anonymity because of possible threats to their safety - but officials have refused to confirm whether any of the missing documents include personal information relating to these witnesses.

     
  93.  
    14:05: Breaking News

    The Ministry of Justice says data from three semi-secret inquiries has gone missing on discs lost in the post.

     
  94.  
    @DArcyTiP Mark D'Arcy, Today In Parliament correspondent

    tweets: Congrats to @Plaid_Cymru Westminster leader Elfyn Llwdd just promoted to the "Hon Member for Wales" in @HouseofCommons debate on #Chilcot

     
  95.  
    14:01: Blair-Bush Iraq notes to be revealed
    George Bush and Tony Blair

    As MPs debate the Iraq inquiry in the Commons, the chair of the inquiry Sir John Chilcot has said former prime minister Tony Blair's notes to former US president George W Bush will be published with only "a very small number of essential redactions". That's a big shift from last year, when only "quotes and gists" were set to be made public.

     
  96.  
    13:58: Migrant voters The Guardian

    Over at The Guardian, Robert Ford and Ruth Grove-White of migrant support group The Migrant's Network write that with immigration set to be a key debate in the election campaign, "remarkably little is known about the millions of migrant voters who will be eligible to cast a vote".

     
  97.  
    13:42: Miliband in Scotland

    Ed Miliband is in Scotland to make a promise: an incoming Labour government will bring forward a home rule bill within the first 100 days. Mr Miliband is campaigning in Glasgow with the Scottish Labour leader, Jim Murphy to win over wavering voters who may be attracted by the SNP. He announced plans to change the party's constitution in Scotland to allow Mr Murphy to make decisions on devolved issues. "It is absolutely for Jim to make those decisions," Mr Miliband said. His visit comes as bookmaker William Hill makes the SNP odds-on to win more seats in Scotland than the Lib Dems will across the whole of the UK.

     
  98.  
    13:35: Iraq inquiry debate House of Commons Parliament
    Elfyn Llwyd in the Commons

    Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd says the big problem with the Iraq inquiry was the questioning. He would have liked a judge-led inquiry with a counsel doing the questioning, as was the case with the Leveson inquiry. "Something must be done urgently, otherwise this parliament will be the laughing stock of the world."

     
  99.  
    Leader effect? Democratic Audit

    tweets: What effect does a leader's visit have on a party's vote in a constituency?

     
  100.  
    13:31: Iraq inquiry debate House of Commons Parliament

    Former attorney-general Dominic Grieve says the delay to the report is "very regrettable" - and the most concerning bit is the delay since mid-2014. "I find it strange we should now be in February 2015, and it seems the Maxwellisation process [providing witnesses with an opportunity to the bits of the report in which they're mentioned] is going so very slowly." He thinks it should only have taken "a few months".

     

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