By Max Clarke
The 5 month public consultation period over the controversial HS2 high speed rail proposal has drawn to a close today, marking the end of one of the most extensive public consultations ever undertaken by government.
The £17bn scheme, which would not open until 2026, has polarized public opinion. Its supporters hail it as a long overdue boost to the UK’s sluggish and congested rail network that will regenerate the North and the Midlands, creating thousands of jobs; while its opponents, backed by research from the Institute of Economic Affairs, blast it as an unjustifiably expensive ‘white elephant’ whose economic benefits have exaggerated.
"High speed rail has the potential to transform the economic map of our country, create jobs, drive regeneration and deliver the additional rail capacity we so badly need,” said Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond. “However I also understand the concerns of those who will be directly affected by the proposals, which is why we have done everything possible to allow people to find out about the scheme and to have their say. I am grateful to all who have taken the time to contribute to the consultation and their views will form a vital part of the process as we move towards a decision later this year."
If the decision is taken to build a line from London to the West Midlands, the next stage would be for the Government to introduce a hybrid Bill which would set out the land requirements for the first phase of the project and provide the necessary legal powers to build and operate the new railway. Before such a bill could be introduced to Parliament, work would be required to complete the next stage of engineering design, including more detailed design of the route, its structures and mitigation measures. This process would also see the production of a full Environmental Impact Assessment and would be done in consultation with local communities and relevant authorities to agree mitigation measures.
Should the decision be taken to proceed with a high speed line, the drafting of a hybrid Bill would be likely to take until autumn 2013, when it would be deposited in Parliament. Parliamentary process could then be expected to take about one and a half years with a view to gaining Royal Assent in early 2015. Following a period of preparation, construction would then take approximately eight years, with testing of the line beginning in 2024 and the London to West Midlands line opening in early 2026.
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