A planned high-speed rail line linking London and northern England passed a parliamentary hurdle with the support of most of the House of Commons after the opposition Labour Party backed it.
The 50 billion-pound ($84 billion) rail link, known as HS2, is opposed by some lawmakers whose districts are along the route, many of them from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party. Among them are two government ministers who were absent for last night’s vote because they were traveling abroad. The bill passed its second reading in the Commons in London this evening by 452 votes to 41.
“Yes, HS2 is ambitious; yes, it will take a great deal of investment; yes it will take time to complete,” Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told lawmakers at the start of the debate. “But so did the canals, railways and motorways which previous generations left as their legacy. Our age can achieve something just as great.”
Newly appointed Treasury Minister Andrea Leadsom was absent from the vote owing to a meeting in Brussels. Foreign Office Minister David Lidington, who was in Estonia, had already told his local newspaper, the Bucks Herald, that he would be abstaining. He also threatened to resign if an acceptable compensation plan for those along the route wasn’t agreed to.
London Mayor Boris Johnson said in a magazine interview published yesterday that environmental concerns are a pretext for opponents’ fears about the effect the line will have on the value of their homes.
“They’re not campaigning for forests, they’re not campaigning for butterflies,” he told Total Politics. “They pretend to be, obviously, but what they’re really furious about is that their house prices are getting it.”
Trains reaching speeds as high as 225 miles (362 kilometers) an hour would run along the proposed 335 miles of track connecting London to Birmingham in central England, as well as with Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. The bill will now receive detailed scrutiny by a parliamentary committee.
The first phase of the project, which will run to the West Midlands, is scheduled to be completed in 2026. The second phase would connect the line to Leeds and Manchester, and eventually Scotland.