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Shropshire MEP calls for entire HS2 project to be scrapped

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A Shropshire MEP has called for the whole HS2 project to be scrapped as the the Government set out its preferred route for the northern section of the service.

Shropshire Euro MP Jill Seymour marked the announcement on HS2 by renewing calls for the Government to scrap the HS2 rail link, quoting a survey that said 85 per cent of the population thought it was a waste of money.

Mrs Seymour, who is Ukip's transport spokesman and based in Wellington, said: "There has never been a convincing business case made for HS2, so it is no surprise that support for this white elephant of a project is at an all-time low.

"People have had enough of the Government's spin and hype, and can see the cost of this vanity project spiralling almost by the week. Who knows how eye-wateringly high the final cost will be?

"HS2 is an ill-conceived and fundamentally flawed design.

"The project is highly controversial because of HS2 Ltd's failure to evaluate cheaper and better alternatives, its exorbitant cost, insufficient new capacity, poor connectivity, and demolition of 500-plus homes."

A detailed look at the planned HS2 route across the country

Phase 2 of the high speed rail project will see the line run from Crewe to Manchester and the West Midlands to Leeds.

The plan does not include a new station in Sheffield after proposals to run trains to the Meadowhall shopping centre were shelved.

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Ministers have suggested that HS2 should serve the existing Sheffield city centre station, but critics have warned this would mean a new housing estate in nearby Mexborough would face demolition.

The Government has claimed that passengers travelling on the East Coast and West Coast main lines will benefit from more services and extra seats once HS2 is up and running although the current estimate for completion of all of phase 2 is not until 2033.

Phase 1 of the £55.7 billion HS2 railway is due to open in December 2026 and will see trains travel at high speed between London and Birmingham before running on from Birmingham on the existing West Coast Main Line.

There will be an HS2 "hub" in Stafford which will help passengers from Shropshire connect to the high speed network.

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A second Y-shaped phase will open in two stages.

Phase 2a from the West Midlands to Crewe will launch in 2027 and phase 2b, from Crewe to Manchester and from the West Midlands to Leeds, South Yorkshire and the East Midlands, will open in 2033.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: "Our railways owe much to the Victorian engineers who pioneered them, but we cannot rest on their legacy when we face overcrowding and capacity problems.

"HS2 is an ambitious and exciting project and the Government is seizing the opportunity it offers to build a transport network fit for the 21st century, one that works for all and makes clear to the world that Britain remains open for business.

"The full HS2 route will be a game-changer for the country that will slash journey times and, perhaps most importantly, give rail passengers on the existing network thousands of extra seats every day. They represent the greatest upgrade to our railway in living memory.

"But while it will bring significant benefits, I recognise the difficulties faced by communities along the route. They will be treated with fairness, compassion and respect and, as with Phase 1, we intend to introduce further compensation which goes over and above what is required by law."

Former Chancellor George Osborne said he "strongly" welcomed the Government's "renewed commitment" to the second phase of HS2.

He added: "Now let's commit to HS3, the high-speed rail link across the Pennines, so we have a coherent plan to speed journeys across the North.

"We need certainty about the route and effective compensation to help communities directly affected by HS2, including those in my Cheshire constituency.

"Hinkley, Heathrow and HS2/HS3 are the three projects we spent years laying the groundwork for. Time for talking over; now time for delivery."

In June Whitehall spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) warned that the project is under financial strain.

Cost forecasts for phase one exceed available funding by £204 million, while phase two contains some elements that are "currently unfunded", the report said.

It went on to warn that the benefit-cost ratio of the scheme could fall from 1.7 to 1.5 if the programme is not delivered well within available funding.

Joe Rukin, campaign manager at Stop HS2, accused ministers of "simply trying to con the public that HS2 is needed for capacity reasons".

Labour has demanded a guarantee from the Government that HS2 will be delivered on time.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has insisted the plan to complete the project by 2033 was not "unrealistic" but admitted the amount of time it will take to deliver is "more years than I would wish".

Phase 1 of HS2 is due to open in December 2026 and it will see trains travel between London and Birmingham before running on from Birmingham on the existing West Coast Main Line. The second Y-shaped phase will then open in two stages. Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said Labour backed HS2 but sought an assurance from Mr Grayling that it will be delivered without delays.

He said: "The Department for Transport has a track record of being unable to complete works on time or on budget so there is an understandable concern that HS2 will not be delivered to budget or be on time.

"I ask the Secretary of State to confirm unequivocally that the planned start dates will be met and the project delivered on the planned timescale and costings." Mr Grayling replied: "You talk about an unrealistic timetable. I think probably many people in this country would share my frustration that actually it will take 17 years from today to complete the whole of HS2.

"Now if that is an unrealistic timetable, if it should take much longer, heaven help us. This is a project that has taken a long time to get to this point, will take more years than I would wish to complete but we need it to be completed.

"The idea that this is an unrealistic timetable to complete this project by 2033 seems to me to be a strange one."

Labour also called for HS2 to be run in the public sector. Mr McDonald said: "The Government seems determined to hand over vast swathes of our public services to Richard Branson en masse.

"As billions of pounds of taxpayers' money is going into HS2 it is right that the revenues go back to the Exchequer and not into the hands of train operating companies. HS2 should be run as a public service."

But Mr Grayling said: "Since the railways were privatised after decades of decline the number of passengers has doubled and new stations have opened."

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