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High Speed Rail

Volume 507: debated on Thursday 11 March 2010

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall repeat a statement that my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made a few minutes ago about high speed rail between London and the major cities of the midlands, the north and Scotland.

Travel and trade between Britain’s major population and economic centres are the lifeblood of our economy and society. They require transport networks that are high-capacity, efficient and sustainable. As we grow wealthier as a nation, so we travel more and move more freight. Nineteenth-century Britain led the world in the development of railways. Serious planning for a national motorway network was begun by the War Cabinet in 1943, and the major motorways were all opened over a 32-year period between 1959 and the completion of the M40 in 1991.

Since the 1990s, increases in demand have been accommodated largely by improving existing roads and rail networks, including through motorway widening and the £9 billion upgrade of the west coast main line. The £6 billion roads programme includes investment for the five years to 2014 in widening a large part of the M25 and the extension of hard-shoulder running across the most heavily used stretches of motorway. We are also progressing with plans to electrify the Great Western main line from London to Bristol and south Wales, and with a £250 million investment in the strategic freight network.

Our preliminary assessment, published last January, was that substantial additional transport capacity would be needed from the 2020s between our major cities, starting with London to the west midlands, Britain’s two largest conurbations. By then, the west coast main line will be full. By 2033, the average long-distance west coast main line train is projected to be 80 per cent. full, with routine very severe overcrowding for much of the time; and there will also be a significant increase in traffic and congestion on the motorways between and around London, Birmingham and Manchester.

The Government’s view is that high speed rail could be the most efficient and sustainable way to provide more capacity between those conurbations, so last January we set up a company, High Speed Two Ltd, to analyse the business case for a high speed rail line, initially between London and the west midlands; to make detailed route proposals for that first stretch of line should the Government decide to proceed; and to outline options for extensions to cities further north and to Scotland.

HS2 Ltd reported to me in December, and I am grateful for the immense amount of expert work done by its staff. HS2 Ltd has shared much of its work and analysis with the local authorities that could be affected, Transport for London, the Scottish Executive and statutory environmental bodies. I am grateful to them all for their constructive engagement.

I am today publishing HS2 Ltd’s report together with the Government’s proposed high speed rail strategy, which is based on HS2 Ltd’s analysis. In summary, the strategy is for the development of an initial core high speed network that would link London to Birmingham, Manchester, the east midlands, Sheffield and Leeds, with high speed trains running from the outset through to Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. That Y-shaped network of about 335 miles in total, with branches north of Birmingham running either side of the Pennines, would be capable of carrying trains at up to 250 mph and could be extended to other cities and to Scotland.

There are six principal reasons why the Government are proposing this strategy, the first of which is transport capacity. The extra capacity provided by a high speed line would more than treble existing rail capacity on the west coast main line corridor. That is not only because of the new track, but because of the far greater length of train that high speed lines and stations make possible, and the segregation of high speed trains from other passenger and freight services.

By contrast, the most ambitious conceivable upgrade of existing rail lines to Birmingham would yield less than half that extra capacity, at greater cost—in terms of both money and disruption—than a high speed line, and without most of the journey-time savings. That analysis is critical to the argument on whether investment in high speed rail unjustifiably diverts investment from the existing railway. The most likely alternative over time is to spend more achieving less. That accords with the experience of the recent £9 billion upgrade of the west coast main line, the benefits of which, although considerable, were essentially incremental and came after years of chronic disruption to passengers and businesses.

Furthermore, by transferring long-distance services to the high speed line, large amounts of capacity would also be released on the existing west coast main line for commuter and freight services, including services to key areas of housing growth around Milton Keynes and Northampton.

Secondly, the journey-time savings from such a line would be significant. The journey time from London to the west midlands would be reduced to between 30 and 50 minutes, depending on the stations used, with Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield all brought to within 75 minutes of London, down from almost 2 hours 10 minutes now. Through services from Glasgow and Edinburgh to London would be down to just three and a half hours.

However, thirdly, the connectivity gains of high speed rail come not only from the faster trains, but from the new route alignments that comprise the proposed Y-shaped network of lines from London to Birmingham, and then north to Manchester, and north-east to the east midlands, Sheffield and Leeds. That new network would provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to overcome the acute connectivity limitations of the Victorian rail network, with its three separate and poorly interconnected main lines from London to the north, each with its own separate London terminus.

By contrast the high speed line, routed via the west midlands, would not only slash the journey time to London from Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield, but nearly halve journey times from those cities to Birmingham, so the east midlands, the north-west and the north-east gain dramatically improved connections within the midlands and the north, as well as to London. Those connections would be further enhanced by the northern hub proposals to upgrade the trans-Pennine route from Manchester to Leeds.

Fourthly, the high speed network would enable key local, national and international networks to be better integrated. In particular, by including on the approach of the high speed line to central London an interchange station with the new Crossrail line just west of Paddington, the benefits of both Crossrail and the high speed line are greatly enhanced. Such a Crossrail interchange station would deliver a fast and frequent service to London’s west end, the City and docklands, giving, for example, total journey times from central Birmingham to Canary Wharf of just 70 minutes, and from Leeds to Canary Wharf of just 1 hour 40 minutes. That Crossrail interchange would also provide a fast, one-stop Heathrow Express service to Heathrow, in place of the long and tortuous journey to the airport currently experienced by passengers arriving at Euston, Kings Cross and St. Pancreas. Similarly, an interchange station close to Birmingham airport would provide an efficient link to the M6 and M42, the west coast main line, the wider west midlands and the airport itself.

Fifthly, high speed rail would be a sustainable way forward. High speed trains emit far less carbon than cars or planes per passenger mile, and the local impact of high speed lines is far less than that of entirely new motorway alignments in terms of land take and air quality. For those reasons, the Government take the view that high speed rail is preferable both to new inter-city motorways, and to major expansion of domestic aviation, even if those were able to deliver equivalent inter-city capacity and connectivity benefits.

Finally, HS2 Ltd assesses that all those benefits far outweigh the estimated costs. With the project yielding more than £2 of benefit for every £1 of cost, HS2 Ltd estimates the capital cost of the first 120 miles of the line from London to the west midlands at between £15.8 billion and £17.4 billion. That is broadly similar to the cost of Crossrail, which is being built over the next seven years. The cost per mile beyond Birmingham is then estimated to halve, taking the overall cost of the 335 mile Y-shaped network to about £30 billion. That cost would be phased over more than a decade after the start of construction, which would not begin until after the completion of Crossrail in 2017. Indeed, the high speed line would be the transport infrastructure successor project to Crossrail, deploying its skill base and project management expertise, and with a similar annual rate of spend.

I now turn to the specifics of the recommended route. As with any major infrastructure project, there will need to be extensive and detailed consultation, particularly with the local communities affected. Significant time will be needed to ensure that that consultation is properly conducted and considered before the finalisation of Government policy and the introduction of a hybrid Bill. Subject to that consultation, the London terminus for the high speed line would be Euston; the Birmingham city centre station would be at Curzon Street; and there would be interchange stations with Crossrail west of Paddington and near Birmingham airport.

HS2 Ltd’s recommended line of route between London and Birmingham is also published today. The Government endorse that route, subject to further work on mitigation that I have commissioned, and to subsequent public consultation. HS2 Ltd’s recommended route would pass in tunnel from Euston to the Crossrail interchange west of Paddington, and leave London via the Ruislip area, making use of an existing rail corridor. It would then pass by Amersham in tunnel towards Aylesbury, before following the route of the A413 past Wendover.

North of the Chilterns, the recommended route would follow in part the disused Great Central rail alignment before passing Brackley and entering Warwickshire. It would then skirt to the east of Birmingham, to enter the city via a short link alongside an existing rail line beginning in the Water Orton area, with the main line extending north to the west coast main line near Lichfield.

In developing its route, HS2 Ltd has been very conscious of the need to minimise the local impacts while achieving the wider objectives of the high speed line. The company will be publishing a full appraisal of sustainability, including noise and landscape impacts, before formal consultation begins, and I am today publishing details of a proposed exceptional hardship scheme for those whose properties may be directly affected. I would like to assure the House that only once full public consultation on the Government’s proposed strategy and recommended route is complete, and its results fully appraised, will the Government make firm decisions.

I turn now to the issue of Heathrow. It is important that Heathrow be connected to any high speed line. A prime purpose of the proposed Crossrail interchange is to provide such a connection, via an 11-minute direct service to Heathrow. However, the overwhelming majority of passengers on a high speed line south of Birmingham would be going to or from London, which is the other reason why the Crossrail interchange station is so important. Crossrail, which is a very high capacity line, will provide fast services direct to the west end, the City and docklands, catering for an estimated one third of all the passengers travelling on the high speed line. Without this interchange to Crossrail, congestion on the tube from Euston would be exacerbated, and passengers would be severely disadvantaged in getting in and through central London.

The question is whether there is a case for an additional station at the site of Heathrow itself. HS2 Ltd, after thorough analysis, advises that the business case for such an additional station appears weak, given the estimated cost of at least £2 billion for the additional tunnelling required to serve the site. Furthermore, Heathrow is not a single place; it is an airport with three widely dispersed terminal centres.

I am conscious, however, that, as foreshadowed in the Government’s January 2009 decision on adding capacity at Heathrow, there may be a strategic case for a high speed station at Heathrow, particularly in the light of that planned expansion. I have therefore appointed Lord Mawhinney, a former Transport Secretary, to advise on the best way forward, having fully engaged with all interested parties. A complex decision of this nature should not be taken in a knee-jerk fashion, but after a full analysis of the facts and options.

There are many other benefits of a high speed project. An estimated 10,000 jobs would be created, with benefits too for UK companies competing abroad. Regional economic growth and regeneration would also be boosted, with released capacity on the west coast main line supporting housing growth. All this is set out in the Command Paper I am publishing today and laying in the Libraries of both Houses.

High speed rail is a long-term strategic project to equip Britain with the transport infrastructure it needs to flourish in the 21st century. Now, as we emerge from recession, is the right time to be planning. The Government’s view is that high speed rail could play a crucial role not only in meeting reasonable future transport capacity requirements, but in transforming the connectivity between our major cities, regions and economic centres. It could help to boost the economies of the midlands and the north in particular; help to overcome the historic north-south divide; strengthen the ties that bind Scotland and England; and, through connecting to the channel tunnel and High Speed 1, reinforce our links with the European mainland where high speed rail networks already extend from the north of France to the south of Spain and Italy, and to the east of Germany.

High speed rail is a policy of huge strategic significance for the country. The time has come to create a credible plan, and for this to be a national cause. This is the spirit in which I set out today’s proposals, and I commend them to the House.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of the statement.

Less than three years ago, the then Secretary of State for Transport stood at the Dispatch box and presented a 30-year strategy for the railways that had no place for high speed rail. The Conservative party refused to accept that because we believe it is vital to start catching up with the high speed revolution on which much of the rest of Europe embarked more than a generation ago. The Conservative party totally transformed the debate with our promise to build a north-south high speed rail line as the first step towards the creation of a national network connecting major cities across England, Scotland and Wales.

Ever since then, the Government have been running to catch up with the lead we have set and the momentum we have generated. So we welcomed Labour’s change of heart on high speed rail with their establishment of HS2, but we made it clear that we regretted the fact that the remit they gave to HS2 lacked ambition and focused only on the west midlands as stage 1, whereas we want to go further and faster with our guaranteed, costed and timetabled commitment to take high speed rail to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds—as that crucial first step to a national network. The second step should, of course, be a connection with Scotland.

We need to test Labour’s last-minute conversion to high speed rail with some searching questions. Will they match our commitment to start work immediately on taking the line beyond Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, as part of stage 1? Will they set a timetable, as we have done, for delivering a line to the north? Why will they not match our commitment to start construction by 2015? What guarantees can they give that fares will be kept within the reach of ordinary families on modest incomes? Will they match our promise to review the blight rules to see whether we can do more to help those affected by whichever route is ultimately chosen? And will they guarantee that the communities affected will have the chance to make their voices heard?

Let me make it clear that we are not prepared blindly to accept the route that Labour propose, and let me also say that when it comes to Heathrow, Labour still does not get it. If we are to get the full environmental benefits of high speed rail, it is crucial that we make it as easy as possible for people to switch from the plane to the train, with the carbon benefits involved. It was a major setback when HS2’s chairman confirmed that modal shift from air was not to be a key objective in its report. Now we know that the closest HS2’s proposals will get to Heathrow is about 10 miles away, at Old Oak Common.

Although we do not rule out use of that site for dispersal, the idea that some kind of “Wormwood Scrubs international” station is the best rail solution for Heathrow is just not credible. It is bizarre that the party elected on a mantra of delivering an integrated transport system is proposing to leave our most important airport out of an upgrade to our transport network that, under Conservative plans, would become the most important for half a century.

At the eleventh hour, however, we have the promise that the Government will think again about the points we have been making for years about the importance of integrating Heathrow with high speed rail. We therefore welcome their decision to appoint Lord Mawhinney to try to find a solution that will command the cross-party consensus we all want.

Although the Conservative party is part of the growing consensus backing high speed rail, we are adamant that Britain’s high speed solution must be the right one for the environment and for the economy. In leaving out Heathrow and setting out plans that do not give costed, timetabled and watertight guarantees to take the line north of the midlands, Labour’s plans are flawed, lack credibility and are undermined by their inability to grasp the basic truth: that high speed rail should be an alternative, not an addition, to a third runway.

The decisions we make now will have a profound impact on our transport system for generations to come, and I can assure the House that a Conservative Government would have the energy, leadership and values to deliver high speed rail’s full potential for this country.

I find that incredible! I am shocked by the hon. Lady’s response. If ever evidence was required of why that lot are unfit to form a Government, she has provided it. Last Sunday, her leader boasted that he is proud to be a salesman. This is the same person who, at the same time as ending the cold war, so he claimed, was planning high speed rail.

Let us be clear: on the one hand, the hon. Lady says that she wants work to begin immediately, which is confirmation—if it is required—that the Conservatives’ plans and route are written on the back of an envelope. That route is: London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. They want to begin construction work in 2015, but they also claim to want to consult. How can they consult as fully as possible with the people affected, follow the guidelines and advice and go through a hybrid Bill—and still start construction work in 2015? They claim to have done the work, but most of the costs will come when construction begins, whether in 2015 or—as we plan—2017. It is quite remarkable that the hon. Lady is asking us to accept 2015 as an ideal start date for any construction, when chapter 5 of the High Speed 2 Ltd report gives a detailed explanation of the work that needs to take place between now and the beginning of any construction.

The hon. Lady also raised the issue of Heathrow. It beggars belief that she has not understood what the people who looked into the report said—I have the evidence here, and it is slightly thicker than the back of an envelope—in working out the value-for-money case for a station at Heathrow, bearing it in mind that most people in London, as well as most people coming into London from Birmingham or elsewhere north of the capital, do not want to be delayed by going to Heathrow. She completely rules out the possibility of an interchange station to the west of Paddington at Old Oak Common, at the same time that Hammersmith and Fulham council and Ealing council are lobbying for an interchange station there. She says that there should be an interchange at Heathrow airport, and goes on to say that this is the most important priority for her party—

Order. May I interrupt the Minister of State for a moment? This has been a most curious exchange so far. First, the statement was a bit on the long side, although it was highly informative to the House, and I am sure that hon. Members appreciated that. Secondly, rather unusually, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) did not pose any questions in her response, which is the norm—[Interruption.] Order. She responded as she thought fit, and I was happy to allow that, but there did not seem to be a series of questions, which is the proper way to proceed in these matters. I fear that the Minister of State is now following suit and devoting quite a considerable amount of time to a dissection of the Opposition’s policy as he sees it, but I know that he will now return posthaste to the Government’s policy.

I said that I was surprised by the response of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers), and I will end with a question: are this lot fit to form a Government?

I thank the Minister for today’s welcome statement. Britain has trailed behind Europe for a long time on high speed rail. I also very much welcome the fact that something for which we have been calling for years—long before the Conservatives, while they were still winning the cold war—has finally been brought forward by the Government. Can the Minister confirm that the Government’s high speed rail scheme will provide extra capacity for the railways, enable modal shift from air, and help economic development in the regions? Will he also confirm that it will be very popular, as I think it will be, given the enormous response to the Javelin trains in the south-east?

I acknowledge the cross-party attempts by the Secretary of State to involve all parties in the House in a constructive dialogue on the issue and to make it a national project. I thank the Minister for the access I have had to HS2 and for the private briefing the Secretary of State gave me a few weeks ago, which for some reason the Conservatives apparently rejected. Does the Minister agree that we are talking about a matter of national importance that requires consensus in the House, and that all parties ought to approach it in that way? Does he therefore share my concern at the Conservatives’ attempt to create a kind of synthetic candy-floss row, rather than trying to move forward in a sensible, constructive way? They appear to be putting short-term politics before the long-term interests of the country, which brings into question their commitment to high speed rail.

Will the Minister acknowledge that funding is a difficult issue, given the current state of the public finances? Will he consider the suggestion put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), the Lib Dem shadow Chancellor—the construction of a national infrastructure bank, perhaps using pension funds, which will help to guarantee stability in the funding for such major national projects? Does the Minister also agree that it is important when such projects are under way that there should be no cuts in existing rail budgets that are designed to promote the network in other ways for passengers? Will he give an undertaking—as my party will, and as all parties should—that other rail budgets will not be raided to pay for high speed rail?

I congratulate HS2 on producing a route that, I think, minimises environmental damage while maximising the usefulness of the line. Obviously the route is a matter for consultation, but what we have now is a useful start for consultation purposes. Can the Minister also confirm that there is a long-term commitment to get to Scotland, and not simply with high speed trains on conventional lines but with a high speed network? Does he have any idea when that will feature in the time scale of the current project?

Will the Minister say something about the link between HS2 and HS1, which he referred to obliquely in his statement? It is important that people should be able to get to Paris and Brussels directly from Manchester and Birmingham, without having to change in London. Lastly, does he accept that if the route goes through Heathrow, there will be a 15-minute penalty for those coming to London from Birmingham or Manchester, which would be severely disadvantageous for the economics of high speed rail?

That is how you do it, Mr. Speaker.

The hon. Gentleman is right that having 1,100 passengers in 400-metre trains will not only lead to more passengers being able to use high speed trains, but release capacity on the west coast main line to start with, and, when the line goes to Leeds, on the east coast and midland main lines. That increase in capacity will help the housing growth channels north of London, too.

As for modal shifts, the figure for those who will shift from domestic aviation to high speed rail is between 8 and 11 per cent. There will also be a shift of 57 per cent. from conventional rail to high speed rail, which deals with the hon. Gentleman’s capacity point as well.

The hon. Gentleman was also right to ask about the benefits of high speed rail to the regions. All the evidence—he has been through the HS2 report—is that it will regenerate parts of the country. There is evidence from parts of France that have benefited from high speed connections, such as Lille and elsewhere.

The hon. Gentleman also paid tribute to the work that High Speed 2 Ltd has done in engaging with stakeholders; let me join him in that. He mentioned that he spoke to HS2 Ltd and met the Secretary of State to discuss the plans and proposals. I am sure he will be disappointed that the cross-party consensus broke down recently, and that there seems to be an attempt, in the lead-up to a general election, to create artificial dividing lines that should not be there.

The hon. Gentleman was also right to ask me about the history of high speed rail in the UK. What he was alluding to, I think, was the fact that when other European countries were building high speed trains, the Government in this country were distracted from doing so because of their ideological obsession with privatising the trains.

The hon. Gentleman asked an important question about funding. All options are being considered. One option, which he will be interested in, is to work with Infrastructure UK to try to reduce the costs. As he knows, construction in the UK tends to be more expensive than in Europe. Why is this? We need to change that and ensure that the costs are reduced.

The final two points the hon. Gentleman made are very important. He asked about Scotland. He will be pleased to know that, in the first instance, high speed trains will connect with existing conventional lines, so that journey times from Glasgow and Edinburgh will be reduced by half an hour from the first phase of HS2. He will also be interested to know that the HS2 Ltd report talks about the benefits of the high speed line going up to Scotland and other parts of the country.

The hon. Gentleman’s final point was about international connections, which are important. Our interest, as I referred to in my long statement, Mr. Speaker, is in connecting HS2 with HS1, and connecting them with Europe. We have asked HS2 to look into the possibility of connecting Euston with King’s Cross St. Pancras, and we hope to report back later on how we can do that cost-effectively.

I am delighted that the vision that the Select Committee on Transport called for is now being translated into reality, but when does my right hon. Friend expect the economic regeneration that, together with the northern hub, is at the heart of his proposals to become a reality?

The HS2 report sets out a timetable for the next few stages, with the formal consultation to begin in the autumn and construction to begin in 2017. I suspect that those considering investing in various parts of the country will see that a high speed line is coming and will start investing now, so we could see some benefits sooner than we would otherwise expect. May I also thank the Transport Committee for its vision?

Order. No fewer than 26 hon. and right hon. Members are trying to contribute on this extremely important matter, so short questions and short answers are required if a large number of Members are not to be disappointed.

The Minister will appreciate that for many of my constituents, today’s statement will come as a pretty devastating blow. What, therefore, in his view, are the environmental benefits of the scheme that will outweigh the environmental costs both of driving a new railway very close to the homes of many hundreds of my constituents—in Aylesbury and Stoke Mandeville—and of destroying countryside that successive Governments, Labour and Conservative, have designated as of outstanding national importance?

The hon. Gentleman raises a really important point. We have asked HS2 Ltd to look into what further mitigation can be done. It will be no comfort to those of his constituents who will be affected, but about 50 per cent. of the High Speed 2 line will use or be sited next to existing or disused rail lines, or be sited in existing transport corridors. We need to minimise the disruption caused to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, and we are carrying out as much consultation as we possibly can to mitigate the damage caused. That includes having meetings now, before the formal consultation begins, to see how we can address some of the serious, legitimate concerns that are being raised.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, whatever the merits of the proposal as presently drafted, the choice of the Euston terminus would have a devastating impact on my constituents? The railway engineers would treat it as though it were a greenfield site, but greenfield it is not. Does he acknowledge that the present proposals would involve six or seven blocks of affordable housing being demolished, and a small park being virtually concreted over? Will he ask the engineers to go back to their computers, and to be more imaginative in getting a lot more of what is needed into the existing curtilage of Euston station, a great deal of which is presently wasted? Will he also bear it in mind that, when the self-same engineers came up with the proposal to put the high speed link from the channel tunnel under King’s Cross station, I suggested that they should use St. Pancras? That was a much better idea than the one the engineers came up with.

We are keen to learn the lessons from the channel tunnel experience, and that includes listening to my right hon. Friend’s representations, as he often has very sensible ideas. I can give him an assurance that we will ask the engineers to try to rationalise the plans as much as they can. He will appreciate that about 27 sites in London were considered as possible termini for the high speed line, but all the evidence suggested that Euston was the best one. He made a good point when he suggested that more could be done to minimise the disruption to his constituents. He has been an advocate of ensuring that there is minimal disruption, and we will continue to work with him to alleviate some of the concerns he has raised.

My constituents benefit from the existing domestic and international high speed links, but they suffered blight, disturbance and stress during the planning and building phases. May I recommend that the Minister and his successors learn those painful lessons so that individuals and businesses are not left to suffer planning blight for many years, as they did in the past? Will he also ensure that the initial compensation offers to those who are to lose all or part of their property are pitched at a realistic level? If he does those things, it will make a huge long-term difference to the acceptability of the project.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I take on board everything he has said. An example of the lessons that we have learned is that we have started consulting today on an exceptional hardship fund, so that there will be non-statutory as well as statutory blight provisions. We have also set up an inquiry line that people can ring if they have concerns about where the line will go, for example. We have deliberately chosen a preferred route, rather than four or five different routes, which could cause unnecessary concern and blight. There is a huge amount of detail on the website as well, but I take on board everything the hon. Gentleman has said. I hope we have addressed most, if not all, of the concerns and learned the lessons from the previous exercise with High Speed 1.

I congratulate the Minister on these excellent proposals, and on rejecting the Conservative proposal for the line to go from Manchester to Leeds, cutting out all of Cumbria and south-west Scotland. Having said that, can we talk about the fork? When they get to the fork, do the Government plan to build both lines at the same time, or one after the other? I suspect that the west coast line is more congested. Also, does he agree that it would be nonsense to run a high speed line 90 miles through Cumbria and not permit it to stop anywhere in that county, especially in Carlisle?

I suspect that whatever answer I give on which line goes first will lose me the support of half the House. That is one of the things HS2 will be looking into when it considers the next phase in relation to Manchester and Leeds. My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that other parts of the country will benefit from the project. On having a stop in Carlisle, it is worth pointing out that one of the choices we have to consider is having fewer stops, and therefore faster trains between areas of mass population, which would free up capacity on the trains that do go to Carlisle.

There will be real concern in parts of the east midlands such as Hinckley and Leicester that the connections to the new link might not be adequate. If the usage of the west coast main line were to decrease, the usage of the lines that feed into it could also decrease and the lines could possibly close. Can the Minister give me any reassurance on that?

All our forward projections tell us that usage is going to go up on the railways. Capacity is the biggest challenge we will face over the next two or three decades. I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that we will work with him to ensure that his concerns are not realised, and that there is no reduction in conventional rail services as a result of what we hope will be the success of high speed rail.

Can my right hon. Friend tell me more about his Department’s analysis of the interaction between this proposal and the Department’s aviation strategy? The proposal to have a link at Birmingham International could significantly transform the way in which people think about the use of Birmingham airport. That link could also provide a fast link into London. Is he absolutely sure that these plans are consistent with his Department’s intentions for Birmingham airport and with its national aviation strategy?

As ever, my hon. Friend makes a good point. When High Speed 2 Ltd was looking at where the interchanges would go, it also considered any unintended consequences. Its report clearly states that, rather than the project fuelling demand for aviation, it will result in a shift from domestic aviation to high speed rail of between 8 and 11 per cent. It will also lead to better journeys for people travelling to airports further away.

I welcome the statement; the project will be good for jobs, for the economy and for the environment. Does the Minister agree, however, that high speed rail really comes into its own for longer journeys? Many people travel from central Scotland to London by air at the moment, with 60 per cent. of the flights from Edinburgh airport going to other UK mainland cities.

At least 10,000 construction jobs will be created, along with a further 2,000 permanent jobs. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the real benefit of high speed rail is felt on the longer journeys, and we are optimistic that people will choose to go on a high speed train that is almost as quick as, and more environmentally friendly than, the alternative options.

I give an absolute welcome to the proposal for a direct line to Yorkshire through the east midlands. That is great news for Sheffield. May I return to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew)? Will the Minister look carefully at developing sufficient capacity in the rail construction industry so that, come 2017, we shall be able to develop both legs of the Y simultaneously? It would be invidious for cities on either leg to have to wait for the other line to be completed before they could get the benefits of high speed rail.

One of the reasons why it would be daft to begin construction of the high speed rail in 2015, while Crossrail is still under construction, is that we would not be able to use the transferrable skills or build the necessary expertise. One of the advantages of the high speed rail project following on after Crossrail has been finished is that we shall be able to use that expertise and have a sustainable form of work using British expertise. If British companies know that we have made a commitment to high speed rail over the next two or three decades, they will invest in the facilities and skills necessary to ensure that they get the work. All the evidence from High Speed 2 Ltd suggests that British companies will also be able to compete for work overseas when European countries decide to build their high speed lines. Finally, my hon. Friend would not have the high speed route going through his patch if someone else had their plans realised.

On this side of the House, we have always supported the principle of high speed rail because of the economic benefits it can bring to the United Kingdom. I am glad, however, that my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) has reserved our position on the route. My constituents will be as devastated as those of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) by the announcement today, and by the plans for tunnelling under Amersham, which would cause considerable disruption if they were to go ahead. What assurances can the Minister give me that my constituents, and all the relevant organisations and councils, will be fully engaged and consulted throughout the process? Will he arrange for me to meet the Secretary of State to discuss the plans in more detail?

I am happy to commit my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to a meeting with the hon. Lady. He and I are happy to meet any Member who thinks that their constituency will be affected by the plans. A lot of the tunnelling will be done in order to reduce the devastation that would otherwise arise in areas of outstanding natural beauty. One of the reasons why we could not rush in and start the construction within five years is that we need properly to consult. We need to go through all the hoops and loops to ensure that everyone is consulted, and we are not committing to a route until that consultation has taken place.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement about what might well be our most important transport project this century? Does he agree that it is understandable that we will want high speed trains coming into Edinburgh and Glasgow as soon as practicable? In that context, of course we accept that the first line will have to start at London and move north, but will the Minister do all he can to help us achieve what we want? It is a little bit of a disappointment—not a major issue—that he is still talking in terms of moving on to the conventional track before the high speed link to Edinburgh and Glasgow is built.

My right hon. Friend knows a lot about this, as in 1997 he had to pick up some of the pieces of privatisation. He is right to suggest that we want to go forwards as soon as possible to allow our colleagues in Scotland to have a high speed link. The initial intention is for the first phase of high speed to be connected to conventional railways. The intention—High Speed Two Ltd is quite clear about this—is to have high speed lines going to Scotland, and indeed Wales, as soon as that is practical.

The Minister of State missed the very important point made by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) about the potential for high speed rail to divert funds from the rest of the regional rail network. Will the Minister address that point head on, and comment specifically on the south-west, which he did not mention at all, and its need for electrification and dual tracking? It would be a pity if those projects were put at risk, as they represent only a small sum, relatively speaking, of the budget he has discussed today.

I give the hon. Gentleman the reassurance he needs—that if this party forms the next Government, we will make sure that the promises we have made to electrify those lines will carry on.

This announcement is really good news for the west midlands. The creation of a new station at Curzon Street will be an excellent gateway to the region, while an additional interchange close to Birmingham airport will help to establish the west midlands as the beating heart of England on the international stage. Given that short-term political games are now being played with this project by the official Opposition, what can we do to ensure that political consensus and confidence in the scheme are not jeopardised by those Conservative games?

What I advise my hon. Friend to do is to get from me the press briefing put out by the Opposition, to print out the comments of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) as recorded in Hansard and then to ensure that every member of the public sees them both and votes the right way whenever the election is called.

While welcoming the Government’s conversion to high speed rail, I am very disappointed, as are many thousands across the country, that this does not mean the end of the Government’s plans for a third runway at Heathrow. To raise a key item for my constituents in Uxbridge, south Ruislip and Ickenham, has the Minister any idea how much wider the existing Chiltern line will have to be?

The second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question is important. This is dealt with in the HS2 Ltd report, which is available in the Library today. If he cannot find the information and lets me know, I will send him the details about the width of the line, which is an important issue in respect of the blight caused to his constituents.

I am delighted that this scheme is coming up and I fully support the principle of the high speed rail network. Will the Minister of State say more about the sources of the capital funding going into it? We have put £9 billion into the west coast main line and huge benefits have been made from it, partly by Virgin Trains. Will he indicate who is going to run the trains when the service begins? Will it be a publicly owned company?

The current projections are for an average of £2 billion to be spent on construction each year. At the peak, about £3.9 billion will be spent on construction; it is comparable to Crossrail, on which £3.9 billion will be spent at peak. As to the details of timetabling and who is going to run which lines, information will be rolled out over the forthcoming period. The important thing now is to get the pre-consultation ready to ensure that consultation begins this autumn. A timetable in the HS2 Ltd report sets out the phases of what needs to take place before we can open the first high speed line in 2026.

Will the Minister of State reassure us that the consultation process on the line of route will not be just for show, but will be a genuine and open consultation process, allowing for the prospect that the route can be changed? In particular, will he take account of the sensitivities involved, for example, in what happens to narrow belts of green-belt land between urban areas such as between Coventry and Kenilworth in my constituency and to sites of strategic interest such as the royal agricultural centre at Stoneleigh park?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. It would be no good and it would serve nobody if the consultation were a sham, which is one reason why I deliberately couched my statement and subsequent comments in the context of the proposals being subject to consultation. Whether the scheme goes ahead at all, let alone the preferred route, depends on consultation. We are spending some time before the formal consultation begins in the autumn to make sure that we get the process right. I say genuinely to the hon. Gentleman that both the Secretary of State and I would be happy to meet him to discuss any specific—and I mean specific—concerns he might have about the line. A CD-ROM is available from today, showing where the plans suggest the route might go, which should help him to come up with some questions to put to us.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his excellent statement, which is very welcome. The Leeds line will have connections into my constituency. However, is this not a bad time for Network Rail to announce hundreds of redundancies of trackside maintenance workers—at the very time when the rail network is about to expand?

My hon. Friend raises a very good point. We are keen to invest in the future. One chapter in the report deals with investment in the future and the new jobs that will be created. It is unwise to shed jobs when there is good news around the corner. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) also asked earlier about investment in the regions. If potential employers know that a high speed line is coming, it may well change their attitude.

The Minister has stressed the economic benefits from HS2, but surely the corollary is that under his proposals, Wales will be the only nation in this island that will remain unconnected to the European high speed network, so it will be economically disadvantaged as a result. Will he explain to the people of Wales—they have, after all, loyally supported his party in successive elections—what they have done to deserve from this Government a policy of brazen and malign neglect?

I am disappointed by the churlishness of the hon. Gentleman’s question. Wales currently has less than one mile of electrified lines. As a consequence of our announcement last year, electrification of the Great Western main line will shortly take place—and at a huge cost. I have already said in response to questions after my statement that HS2 Ltd is quite clear that the intention is for all parts of the country to benefit from high speed in future—and that includes Wales.

I unequivocally welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, but can he guarantee to people in the north of England that the interconnectivity of northern cities—Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield and so forth—will not be put in jeopardy by a crowding out of the capital and other resources needed for the high speed link? It would be bizarre if it were quicker to travel to London from Manchester than to go to Sheffield.

One real benefit of the high speed line is the interconnectivity between northern cities and the regions. It is one of its huge strengths. One problem stemming from the Victorian lines and the through lines going from London to northern cities is that there may be decentish south-north connections, but not very decentish east-west connections. My hon. Friend knows about the trans-Pennine improvements being made. One of the huge benefits of high speed rail is the improved connections between different northern cities. Once he has seen the details—he has not yet had a chance to do so—I am sure that he will be even more welcoming of the plans announced today.

Of course I am delighted for the regions that will benefit from this announcement, but I remind the Minister that an awful lot of the country lies west of Reading. Can he give me a date for the electrification of the route to Bristol and tell me when any action is going be taken to improve the Great Western line via Frome and Castle Cary down to Devon and Cornwall, which seems to be the big loser so far as these announcements are concerned? It used to be God’s wonderful railway; it is not that any more.

I shall be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman specifying the date on which the Bristol electrification will begin. As he said, his constituents will not benefit immediately from high speed rail, but I remind him and the House that they will do so shortly if the right party wins the next two or three elections.

I strongly welcome the Government’s announcement, and the Minister’s earlier reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) about job losses. As he will know, Network Rail is proposing 1,500 job losses, and 12,000 Network Rail maintenance staff announced today that they would strike in an attempt to prevent them. Will the Minister intervene, and explain to Network Rail that the loss of 1,500 skilled staff will not help this project or the long-term future of our railways? Will he take this opportunity to try to prevent those job losses?

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for not being on top of the details. I shall be happy to look into the matter and write to her.

Given the length of High Speed 1 and the proposed High Speed 2, it must be extremely frustrating that their respective central London termini are only a few hundred yards apart. Would it not be worth considering establishing a single central London terminus to facilitate high speed traffic both north and to the Continent?

HS2 Ltd considered 27 sites in London, including St Pancras. One of the questions that it will consider now is how easy it will be to move passengers from Euston to St Pancras and vice versa. There could be a rail link, or some other form of people-mover. It would be fairly expensive as things stand, but HS2 will examine the details to establish the best option.

I particularly welcome the Minister’s announcement that the Birmingham city centre station would be the new Curzon Street station. That means, of course, that Snow Hill, New Street and Curzon Street stations need to be connected effectively. Is the Minister aware that Centro is ready to start work on the city centre metro extension, which would link those stations if only it were given the go-ahead? Will he take a careful look at that project?

My hon. Friend never misses a trick when it comes to lobbying a Minister.

I am really excited about Curzon Street station. Members may not be aware that the original Birmingham station was in grade 1-listed Curzon street, which is the oldest railway monument. We are going to bring it back to life. Would it not be great if we could also have another arch at Euston station, so that it could look as it did originally in 1838?

As always, I am happy to be lobbied by colleagues, and I shall continue to discuss the issues raised by my hon. Friend with her outside the Chamber.

Will High Speed 2 carriages be large enough to be duplex carriages, like the double-decker carriages on continental trains? May I also ask the Minister to ensure that the trains have enough capacity to take bicycles? Such capacity is sadly lacking in the United Kingdom. If we want a modal shift, that is one development that we should try to build into the design of the rolling stock at an early stage.

As ever, my hon. Friend has made a couple of good points. The double-decker issue has been taken into account by HS2 Ltd, which plans to build two 200-metre connections. As for the point about bicycles—which, as far as my hon. Friend and I are concerned, is even more important—I can reassure him that in aiming to design and build a railway service fit for the 21st century, we will make certain that we do not make a mistake and build a railway service that is not fit for purpose.

It is clear from what other Members have said that high speed rail is the future, but it is not, of course, the immediate future. Is it not important for investment in the conventional rail network to continue in the meantime? Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the east midlands is to gain the full benefit of high speed trains, the midland main line needs to be electrified so that it can carry those trains and provide the necessary interoperability?

We will be investing £15 billion in the conventional rail system over the coming period, and we are still considering the possibility of electrifying the midland main line. If that is to take place sooner rather than later, my hon. Friend should continue to lobby.

I, too, welcome the statement, but yet again, when a good, positive statement has implications for Scotland, Scottish National party Members are posted missing. Will my right hon. Friend speak to the Scottish Government, and share his vision of a properly funded transport system with an Executive who consistently deny the opportunity for a direct link to be provided between Glasgow airport and the good city of Glasgow?

It is worth my pointing out to the House that on a day when we have announced high speed rail for a 335-mile link, the Scottish Government cannot even agree to the upgrading of 9 kilometres of existing track and the laying of 1.9 kilometres of new track for the Glasgow airport rail link. However, I am sure that they will have heard today’s announcement and will want to follow the example that we have set at Westminster.

The case for the high speed rail route has been made passionately by Ealing council and persuasively by my right hon. Friend. I do not wish to be accused of being parochial, but we are elected by parishes. I am happy to see regeneration ripple out from Old Oak Common lane, but not at the cost of paying for Perivale. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what average speeds, average track widening and acoustic impact he expects, and will he also provide me with a detailed map showing precisely where in beautiful Perivale we are proposing to run these trains?

I shall be happy to provide my hon. Friend with all that information. The trains will speed up and slow down when they leave the interchange next to his constituency. For the benefit of the constituents who are lobbying him, I shall send him information about the track widening and acoustic impact. We have asked the consultants to try to mitigate some of the noise nuisance. I shall also be happy to accompany my hon. Friend to that fantastic, salubrious part of his constituency to assess the potential implications of the high speed link, including its potential benefits.

I welcome the statement, including the news that the London interchange will be at Old Oak in my constituency and will provide the Crossrail station for which I have long campaigned. This is an excellent opportunity for practical regeneration of a brownfield site, but the work should be done only in a way that protects the quality of life of local residents and the delicate ecology of Wormwood Scrubs. When my right hon. Friend has finished talking to people in Perivale, will he talk to my local residents about protecting the local environment? Will he also use his best endeavours to persuade those on the Tory Front Bench to act with everyone else, including Tory councils, to—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is a bit of a cheeky chappie. He asked one question, and I was very happy to hear it, but he should not take advantage. We have heard the thrust of what he wanted to say.

One of the reasons for High Speed 2’s choice of Old Oak Common was the interchange with Crossrail, the Heathrow Express and the great western main line. It will lead to a huge amount of regeneration in that part of the city, which is why the two councils have been working with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter) to ensure that the interchange is provided. I think it would be insulting to my hon. Friend’s constituents, and to the efforts he has made, to call the station “Wormwood Scrubs International”, and I will ensure that any negative impact on his constituents is mitigated.

I too welcome the statement—especially the news of the Crossrail link with the new high speed rail link, which will enhance the hub that will be created by the Crossrail station at Woolwich—but was High Speed 2 able to assess the impact of the running of freight trains on the same lines as passenger trains north of Birmingham? Perhaps separating freight from passenger trains would be a more effective way of speeding trains up in the long term.

High Speed 2 considered using freight on the high speed line, and one of its conclusions was that it would slow down high speed passenger trains. It preferred the idea of allowing longer high speed trains to run on high speed lines, thus enabling more freight to be carried on the conventional route.

Many people in London suspect that one of the reasons the Conservatives at Westminster support the interchange at Old Oak Common is their opposition to Crossrail.

Although I welcome his far-sighted statement, the Minister would expect me to continue to press for the Leeds link, as that city makes the third largest contribution to the United Kingdom’s economy. May I ask him to insist that the lines from Birmingham, west and east, are developed simultaneously, to ensure that further economic development west and east of the Pennines is not jeopardised or disadvantaged in any way in the future?

The alternative to a high speed connection to Leeds would be to go via Manchester, which we think would be daft. My hon. Friend raises an important point about simultaneous development. I will look into the issue, which clearly is one of resources and availability of the construction expertise required. I have been lobbied by other colleagues and I will go away and look at it.