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McLoughlin hits out at HS2 critics
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is accusing Labour of "playing politics with our prosperity" over the £50 billion HS2 high-speed rail project.
He said those in opposition "learn nothing from the past" and said Labour could not claim to want one nation "if you won't back the things that will bring it together".
Concerned with the expense of the project, Labour appear to be cooling towards HS2 which will see the scheme's first phase run from London to Birmingham in 2026, with a second Y-shaped route due to be completed to northern England in 2032/33.
Mr McLoughlin's comments came at a rail conference in Manchester as the Government publishes a strategic business case for HS2, a project estimated to cost £42.6 billion, with a further £7.5 billion for the trains.
With the strategy document, the Government is also releasing a report prepared by Network Rail and management consultancy Atkins.
This is believed to have concluded that there would have to be 2,770 weekend closures - totalling 144,000 hours of work - on the East Coast, West Coast and Midland main lines if it was to replace the intended capacity of HS2.
The study warns that, during a typical weekend, the journey time from London to Leeds could more than double from two hours 10 minutes to more than four-and-a-half hours.
In his speech, Mr McLoughlin says: "There is a lively debate (on HS2). I respect that. I respect the fact that not everyone will agree and that some people are concerned about the impact on the places they live.
"I respect those with serious proposals for improvements which we can take on board. But I also respect what (former Network rail chief) Sir John Armitt said in his recent report for Labour on infrastructure: t hat big projects need ' broad political consensus' as well as 'resolution' from political leaders.
"That's why the new north-south railway must be a national project with broad support across parties or in the end it will be nothing."
He refers to some Labour city council leaders "who know this project is right"
Mr McLoughlin goes on: "L et me say something very direct to those in the opposition who have learnt nothing from the past. You can't say one day you back better infrastructure only the next threaten to stop it being built.
"You can't go on claiming to want one nation if you won't back the things that will bring it together. You can't play politics with our prosperity. The new north-south line is a multibillion, multi-year investment in the future of Britain.
"And to those who say there's no blank cheque, I just say: that's obvious. Did anyone ever claim there was? Britain has shown it can build great infrastructure like HS1 or the Olympics on time and on budget."
Robin Gisby, Network Rail's managing director of network operations, said that any attempt to upgrade existing lines would inevitably lead to "very heavy disruption" to services.
"We saw that with the upgrade of the West Coast over the last decade," he added.
Transport minister Robert Goodwill said the Network Rail-Atkins study made clear that upgrading existing lines was a non-starter - despite costing less than half the projected £42 billion cost of HS2.
He went on: "Spending £20 billion on upgrading the existing network isn't an alternative. The disruption that would be caused would be a nightmare. This report makes that absolutely clear.
"It would only give us a third of the additional capacity which would mean that we would not be able to put more freight on the rail, we would not be able to put additional services into intermediate stations."
Penny Gaines, chair of the Stop HS2 organisation, said: "The Government are complaining that the railways are nearly full and the only option is HS2.
"The big flaw in the Government's argument is that phase 1 of HS2 won't open to the travelling public until about 2027, meaning that there would be no change for passengers until the middle of the next decade.
"But building HS2 would cause years of disruption at (London's) Euston (station), and other places on the rail network as well as chaos along the route of HS2, with roads being diverted during the build and in some places permanently shut."
Shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh said: "I look forward to reading the Government's revised cost benefit analysis when it is published tomorrow.
"We must address the capacity problems that mean thousands of commuters face cramped, miserable journeys into cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London. But there can be no blank cheque and ministers must get a grip on costs."
The reports come during a crucial week for HS2 when the Government may need Labour support in the Commons as a number of Tory MPs are preparing to rebel and vote against a Bill paving the way for the project.