Labour attempted to place pressure on the Government to speed up construction of a planned high speed rail line between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, by offering a cross-party approach to legislation allowing the line to proceed.
Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle confirmed her support for the £33 billion line known as High Speed Two or HS2, which is expected to bring around 22,000 jobs to the West Midlands alone.
Under the Government’s plans, a hybrid bill will be brought to the Commons next year, authorising the construction of the first phase of the line between London and Birmingham, which is likely to be open around 2026.
A formal consultation on the route for the second phase, including lines from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester, will begin once the proposed route is published, which is expected to be before the end of the year.
But Labour is urging Ministers to legislate for the both phases at once.
In a message to the new Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, Ms Eagle said: “HS2. Delivering new capacity. Cutting journey times across Britain. I say to the new Transport Secretary: ‘It’s time to get behind this project in a way your predecessors failed to do.’
“Let’s work together on a cross-party basis to legislate for the whole route in this Parliament.”
The comments play on concern among some politicians and business leaders in the north east and north west that the second phase of the line may never go ahead, although all three major political parties are committed to building the whole network.
In practice, it is unclear whether legislating for the whole line at once would actually speed the process up or delay the first phase of construction.
The planned new line marks a break from the practice of concentrating transport investment in the south. The £15 billion Crossrail link through Greater London is currently under construction while a separate £5.5 billion scheme to improve Thameslink services in London and the south east is also under way.
Speaking to the Birmingham Post, Ms Eagle said the Transport Department’s failure to manage the West Coast Main Line franchise competition did not affect her support for HS2, and pointed out that the high speed project was being managed by a company created by the Department and not by the Department directly.
She said: “You’ve got HS2 as a separate company that is running that, it’s there to do that job and I hope they are doing it as well as the possibly can.
“I hope, and I don’t think, this will have any implications for getting on with HS2.”
In her speech to the conference, Ms Eagle said transport networks needed fundamental reforms to ensure they can be made affordable for ordinary commuters.
The shadow transport secretary said individual changes would do little to change the problems of public transport being too expensive. She said Labour wanted to see rigidly enforced fare caps on trains and protection for local bus services.
But Ms Eagle said: “This Government has made things worse, but transport costs were already too high.
“Because there are fundamental, long-term problems with our transport system and only real reform will deliver a better deal for farepayers and taxpayers.”