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We are investing in the new intercity express programme, or IEP, trains, which is a massive upgrade of the railway network serving my hon. Friend’s constituency and region, and in this spending round we will be electrifying more than 800 miles of line throughout the country, which will benefit the northern hub, which I have just talked about.
I thank the Commercial Secretary for his work in leading the growth taskforce, developing proposals for maximising the benefits of HS2, alongside senior industrialists, senior trade union leaders and city leaders. That task matters because designing and planning work on the project is already under way and construction is set to begin in 2017, just three years away. Firms throughout the country are bidding for contracts, and places from Penzance to Edinburgh can benefit. Engineering students, currently sitting in classrooms in our towns and cities, will be the ones shaping and delivering the scheme, and pupils who are today in secondary school will be using it.
I come now to the content of the Bill. Put simply, Parliament is being asked to grant planning permission and the other powers needed for the first phase. A number of motions have been laid to facilitate the Bill’s passage, most of which will be debated tomorrow. Tonight the House is being asked to vote on the principle of the Bill: that there should be a high-speed railway between Euston and a junction with the west coast main line at Handsacre. The railway should include a spur to Birmingham Curzon Street and intermediate stations at Birmingham Interchange and Old Oak Common. If agreed tonight, this means it cannot be re-aligned or extended as part of the Bill. The proposed link to High Speed 1 will be removed from the Bill. It is not part of the principle of the Bill; instead, we are working on proposals to improve connections between the rail network and HS1.
Of course, projects of this size do not come without negative impacts. Rather than shy away from the challenges, however, we have been transparent. Parliament, as the decision maker, has a duty to ensure that the Government have met their legal obligations. We have carried out the largest environmental impact assessment of a major project ever undertaken in the UK. We have considered the alternatives, invited the views of the public and presented an environmental statement to Parliament alongside deposit of the Bill. We have observed all the European requirements, taking measures to protect species, to avoid harming special areas of conservation and to comply with the water framework directive. It is, however, not only about meeting our obligations, but about ensuring that we carefully balance the scheme’s progress with its impact. It is right that those directly affected by the scheme will have the opportunity to be heard by the Select Committee.