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Shadow chancellor says no "realistic chance" of law to build HS2 before next election



Shadow chancellor Ed Balls says no "realistic chance" of law needed to build HS2 rail line being passed before general election


Labour could delay the law needed to build the £42 billion high speed rail line between London and the north of England until after the election to give the party more scope to kill off the scheme, it has emerged.

Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, said that that there was no "realistic chance" of the law needed to build the line being passed before the general election.

This could make it easier for Labour to kill off the plans, or radically scale them back, if the part wins the general election in May next year.

The admission will be a blow to the Government, which is desperate to get the mammoth HS2 Hybrid Bill, which is 50,000 pages long, onto the statute books to guarantee the scheme will go ahead.

The Bill is necessary to address the environmental impact of the route and how this will be mitigated.

The news comes days after Sir David Higgins, the chairman of the scheme, warned that any delay to passing the law would inevitably drive up the costs of the project. "The meter is always ticking," he said.

During a campaigning visit to Manchester ahead of next week's Wythenshawe and Sale by-election, Mr Balls made clear that Labour was in no rush to help the HS2 Bill onto the statute books.

He told The Telegraph: "I am not sure anybody is realistically thinking there is any realistic chance of this Hybrid Bill going through by next spring. People have been talking about longer timescales than that."

He said that Labour - as the Opposition - was planning to "scrutinise" hard the Bill when it was going through Parliament.

"Let's wait and see," he said. "Our job as the Opposition is to scrutinise this hard in Parliament. That is what we are going to do."

Mr Balls continued: "We have not had the date for the second reading of the legislation and there is going to be a lot of scrutiny in Parliament.

"It is not my job to duck the difficult questions. I have got to say at all times - this is the Treasury's role - 'do the costs add up, are you really bearing down on the costs, are you ensuring this is properly value for money?'"

Labour could not decide to back the scheme now when it had not seen a report by Sir David into the scheme, which is being presented to ministers and Labour later this month.

He said: "What I am not going to do is before we have even seen David Higgins report is give it the seal of approval - I think that would be an imprudent thing to do."

Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, has previously said that he wants the hybrid bill to become law by the 2015 general election.

He said last week: "The timing that it takes to go through Parliament is a matter for Parliament. What I am very pleased about is when the paving bill was passed by Parliament just a few months ago there was overwhelming support.

"I kept reading that there was going to be 60, 70 people voting against it. In the end there was 30 people voting against it and overall there was a good majority in the House of Commons.

"The bill will have started its progress through the House of Commons by 2015, it will have started its progress and it may well have concluded."

In his interview with The Telegraph on Monday this week, Sir David warned that a long drawn period of Parliamentary scrutiny will crank up the costs on the project.

He said: "The longer you take in committee stage, you take the risk of adding cost. And if it takes three years instead of one, it adds two years of inflation to the project. The meter is always ticking. It's the biggest risk to the project."

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