Legislation that kick-starts building the controversial high speed railway line linking London to Birmingham and the North has been granted royal assent.

MPs were informed that the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Act 2013 has been formally agreed by the Queen, with the legislation allowing the Government to spend money planning the HS2 route in detail and buying up property from residents and businesses along the proposed track.

Former Wales secretary Cheryl Gillan, who has campaigned against HS2, was next to speak in the Commons during a debate on stalking following the announcement from Deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing.

To laughter as MPs recognised the situation, Ms Gillan said: "I could have done without the announcement of the royal assent to the Bill, which I think colleagues know causes a great deal of difficulty for constituents in Chesham and Amersham."

The project, estimated to cost around £50 billion, is intended to link London to Birmingham by 2026, with two branches then heading to Manchester and Leeds, via Sheffield, being built by 2033.

HS2 Ltd chief executive Alison Munro said: "The passage of the Paving Bill is a critical milestone in the delivery of the programme, ahead of the deposit of the Hybrid Bill next week.

"We can now continue to take forward the early activities for delivery of HS2, such as early ground investigation works. We will also be able to start working with the private sector on developing skills and training in preparation for the delivery of HS2."