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Committee named to scrutinise HS2 after Parliament approves £42bn scheme

HS2 train

Monday night saw a major step forward for the High Speed 2 rail project, with the passing of the hybrid parliamentary bill that will grant the powers required to construct phase one of the proposed £42bn scheme.

Despite a last-ditch effort to derail the bill by Cheryl Gillan MP, the former Welsh Secretary who has campaigned vehemently against the scheme, MPs approved the bill at second reading by 452 to 41 votes, a majority of 411. This included the decision to omit the provision for a link between HS1 and HS2, as proposed by HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins in his recent report HS2 Plus.

Tuesday saw further action, with MPs deciding on the members who would sit on the six-strong bill committee that would hear petitions over the coming months.

These were agreed as the following:

  • Henry Bellingham, Conservative, North West Norfolk
  • Sir Peter Bottomley, Conservative, Worthing West
  • Ian Mearns, Labour, Gateshead
  • Yasmin Qureshi, Labour, Bolton South East
  • Robert Syms, Conservative, Poole
  • Mike Thornton, Liberal Democrat, Eastleigh

Phase 1 of the scheme will run from London Euston to Birmingham Curzon Street with intermediate stations in West London (Old Oak Common) and at Birmingham Airport.

This powerful committee will now start the processs of hearing the many petitions from individuals, local authorities, and companies affected by the HS2 scheme, so as to decide on appropriate action to be taken to mitigate any adverse impacts.

The deadlines for the submission of these petitions has been set as 16 May 2014 for local authorities and companies, and 23 May 2014 for individuals. Hearings in respect of these will then be held, and will in all likelihood last for the remainder of the year.

With the need for a further set of select committee hearings as well as a third reading followed by Royal Assent, it is highly unlikely the HS2 Bill will become an Act of Parliament until after the next general election in May 2015.

Even with Labour renewing their support in recent days, this means for supporters of high speed rail, the fight is not over, and the case for it must continue to put forward. Its opponents still have plenty of opportunities to stop it in its tracks.

The HS2 bill committee in profile

Henry Bellingham, Conservative, North West Norfolk

First elected to represent this seat in 1983, Henry Bellingham lost in 1997 but won re-election again in 2001 and in 2010 was made a government minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, a position he held for two years before returning to the backbenches.  Originally trained as a barrister, Mr Bellingham will bring a sharp legal focus to the bill committee.

Sir Peter Bottomley, Conservative, Worthing West

A member of parliament since 1975 and for the Worthing West constituency since 1997, Sir Peter served in the Thatcher government from 1984 first in the Department for Employment, then as roads minister in 1986. He was moved to the Northern Ireland office in 1989 before returning to the backbenches in 1990. Since then he has cultivated for himself the image of the wise old backbencher, holding positions in various All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG) such as Transport Safety, and being a member of many more like Rail. 

Ian Mearns, Labour, Gateshead

Although only a Member of Parliament since 2010, Ian Mearns has already shown a great deal of interest in regeneration, especially in his native north east, a topic he spoke on in his maiden speech. He is also the vice-chair of the APPG on Rail in the North. These two factors will undoubtedly make him very keen to see HS2 delivered in the best possible way, particularly if he is to see it extend further up the country to Tyneside.

Yasmin Qureshi, Labour, Bolton South East

Another of the 2010 intake, Yasmin Qureshi also trained as a barrister prior to taking her seat in the Commons as Britain’s first Pakistani female MP. In addition to her legal expertise, he is also the daughter of a civil engineer, so will have some experience of, and insight into, the technical nature of this massive, transformative programme.

Robert Syms, Conservative, Poole

Described as ‘an assiduous right-leaning loyalist’, Robert Syms was first elected in 1997 and served in a number of opposition roles including Environment, Transport, and the Regions. He has also sat on the Transport Select Committee, giving him excellent experience of the relevant policy area. His background is in the building contractor sector, potentially making him a useful source of knowledge in the coming months.

Mike Thornton, Liberal Democrat, Eastleigh

The successor to Chris Huhne and only Liberal Democrat on the committee, Mike Thorton was elected to parliament in February 2013, and is chair of his parties’ parliamentary transport group, no doubt a factor in his suitability for, and appointment to, the bill committee. He also sits on the European Scrutiny Committee. His background is in financial services.

Peter Campbell is policy manager for the Association for Consultancy & Engineering