What price HS2? Rebellion won’t stop rail project

The government will face a rebellion of about 30 MPs today, as parliament votes through the latest stage in the long-gestating project.

The number of MPs opposed to the scheme probably reaches into the 100s, but with Labour having finally decided to support the project, most critics have given up the fight.

"It'd be double the amount of rebellion that we've got now. People are saying, 'Well, if it's going to go through anyway, why use up our stocks with the whips?'," Michael Fabricant told Sky News.

"I can tell you that about 80-100 people have really serious doubts either about the principle of HS2, including its cost, or as in my case, the implementation of HS2."

Opposition to HS2 fell apart once Labour made it clear it would support the project, after months of wavering over the price tag.

The second reading of the high speed rail bill is only the latest hurdle for the £50 billion scheme but with all three parties supporting the project it is virtually impossible to stop.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin will in all likelihood back a report by David Higgins when he addresses the Commons today.

The report recommended the project go further and be completed faster, with a Crewe-London route in phase one.

The Higgins report is thought to have played a key role in convincing Ed Balls to support the project.

But it did little to convince other critics. The Institute of Directors has called HS2 a "grand folly". The Woodland Trust said it could destroy at least 40 ancient woods.

But there is support for the scheme from the Confederation of British Industry, which believes it could spark local regeneration.

Greenpeace has also backed the scheme for its ability to cut short-haul air travel.

The Wildlife Trust, which was a key critic of the scheme, has set out plans for "ambitious, large-scale nature restoration" along its length to mitigate the worst effects.

That final intervention suggests some opponents are starting to give up the fight.

Cheryl Gillan, who was rumoured to have been sacked as Wales secretary because of her opposition to the scheme, said opponents had been robbed of their opportunity to speak out against HS2.

MPs were denied an open-ended debate but given an extra 60 minutes to raise objections.

"There is no doubt that with all three parties whipped to support HS2, there is no chance to stop it," she said.

"But I have to register opposition on behalf of the many people who do not want this project."

Rebels "may have as little as ten minutes to put across our arguments", she added.

"For a government that wants to be transparent and bring people along with them, the right thing would be to allow a full debate. This is rubbish."