HS2 runs out of time: Minister admits legislation won’t pass before election

Legislation for the controversial High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) project will not make it through the Commons before the 2015 general election, the transport secretary has admitted.

Speaking to the Spectator, Patrick McLoughlin says the project has been held up by MPs voicing opposition to the rail line passing through their constituencies.

"I think one has to accept that perhaps through all its stages within the next 12 months is slightly ambitious," he said.

The transport secretary said the legislation would have "started its parliamentary progress" by the time of the general election, but when asked if it would be completedhe answered simply: "No".

He added: "You have to accept that certain people, certain constituencies are heavily impacted by a piece of national infrastructure. Those MPs have got a duty to stand up for their constituents and make the case for their constituents. You'll never hear me criticise that."

McLoughlin's admission raises the possibility of HS2 becoming a major election issue.

Ed Balls looked set to end Labour's support for the project last autumn, although his statements over the new year seemed to indicate a more sympathetic attitutde.

Speaking in January the shadow chancellor said HS2's supporters had not won the argument over whether the current scheme is "the best way to spend the money".

Labour originally gave the green light to the project, but it is now under pressure to find savings so it can undo some austerity measures while still sticking to Tory spending plans.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: "We are confident that we are on track to have spades in the ground in 2017 as planned. A hybrid bill will continue its passage through Parliament once it has started even after a general election. What matters is construction and completion and we are on course to deliver."