A BILL will set down in law when the high-speed rail network will reach the North – to calm fears that the line will stop at Birmingham.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced plans for a ‘paving Bill’ to press the accelerator on the controversial £33bn HS2 project.

And he pledged the legislation would include a commitment to build phase two – taking 225mph trains from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester – by 2033.

Phase two will slash the London to Newcastle journey time from 2hrs 52mins to just 2hrs 18mins – and the Newcastle-Birmingham time to 2hrs 7mins, from 3hrs 14mins.

Labour has thrown doubt on the commitment to the North, because the legislation will only take the legal powers to build the line from London to Birmingham.

But Mr McLoughlin said the paving Bill would specify “when, not if” HS2 will reach Leeds and Manchester, to answer that criticism.

And that would send a “clear message to investors” that the project was going ahead, unlocking further opportunities for regeneration around stations.

The Transport Secretary said: “Introducing a paving Bill will allow parliament to underline our commitment to high-speed rail.

“Crucially, it will also give us the spending powers much sooner that will enable us to get moving on the detailed design work for the scheme.”

Trains will run at 225mph to south of York, switching to conventional tracks to serve Darlington, Durham City, Newcastle and York.

Hitachi will bid to design and maintain the HS2 fleet at the factory planned for Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, but that decision is many years away.