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High Speed Rail

Volume 507: debated on Thursday 18 March 2010

1. What his most recent assessment is of the likely effects on residents in the west midlands of the construction works associated with the establishment of high-speed rail links. (322748)

We would seek to minimise the effects of construction wherever possible. Initial decisions on whether to build a high-speed line and what route that line should take will be taken in the light of the autumn 2010 consultation. Thereafter, the full effects and any associated mitigation measures would be subject to an environmental impact assessment as part of the hybrid Bill process, which would itself be subject to further public scrutiny.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. While I would welcome a high-speed rail line through the midlands because of the benefits it would bring, there is a concern about the corridor between Coventry and Warwickshire, particularly in the Burton Green area. Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be both adequate public consultation as soon as possible so that residents’ views are taken into consideration, and a realistic impact study undertaken of the possible effects in the area? Let me conclude, however, by repeating that I would welcome this scheme and the benefits it would bring, especially given that the west midlands unemployment rate is 10 per cent. and its manufacturing base has been eroded. That link would be a shot in the arm for the region.

My hon. Friend has been a keen advocate of High Speed 2, but he has also been keen to ensure that we are aware of some of the downsides of a high-speed line. Consultations with local residents have already begun in advance of the formal consultation in the autumn. In fact, there was a public meeting in the west midlands earlier this week. I will make sure that my hon. Friend is kept abreast of developments and that his views about the need to consult as many people as possible are taken on board before the autumn consultation begins.

As the Minister knows, the proposed line would run right through my constituency, including Burton Green, which the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) mentioned. In respect of the impact of the construction work, may I ask that information be made available on two specific matters? First, will there need to be any extra land-take in order to complete the construction work? As the Minister will appreciate, the proposed line passes very close to residential properties in Burton Green and elsewhere, and if people’s gardens are to be affected, it would be helpful to know about that. Secondly, can he inform residents about any particular implications that may arise from the building of access shafts?

The hon. Gentleman has raised very important issues, as he did the other day. On any potential extra land-take, he will be aware that the broadest width of the area for the high speed rail will be about 25 metres, which is a lot, and the narrowest width will be 15 metres. We have asked High Speed 2 to go away and do further work to minimise the disruption caused and to mitigate the effects on the constituents of the hon. Gentleman and other Members, and I will make sure he is kept abreast of the progress we make. It is important that we keep Members involved before the formal consultation begins, and that we minimise any blight caused to their constituents. I give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking to do just that.

We who live in the region welcome this development. Although we are, of course, concerned about the environmental impact, the Minister should give priority to highlighting the economic development opportunities that will arise from the line. Will he also ensure that we develop the line in such a way that all those towns and cities just north of Birmingham do not miss out on what is an once-in-a-lifetime economic opportunity?

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the preferred route will lead to benefits not only for his neck of the woods, but for other parts of the country, as it will go to both Manchester and Leeds. In the construction phase, more than 10,000 jobs will be created, and there will be 2,000 permanent jobs. The economic benefits to our country will be enormous. That is, of course, why my hon. Friend has been one of the keenest advocates of High Speed 2.

Will the Minister bear it in mind that during my time in the House the residents of South Staffordshire have had their lives disrupted by the building of three motorways? Will he take that carefully into account and try to ensure that there is the minimum possible disruption from this welcome development?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We have been keen to try to learn the lessons from previous mass infrastructure projects—not only massive motorway projects, but High Speed 1. Fifty per cent. of the preferred route will be either along existing transport corridors next to motorways, or next to used or disused rail lines. That leaves 50 per cent. on virgin land. We need to make sure we learn the lessons and learn from previous mistakes, in order to minimise the disruption caused to the constituents of the hon. Gentleman and those of many more Members in other parts of the country.

My constituents will be affected by this track. They have just had to go through the four-tracking of the west coast line. That caused disruption with no benefit to the people in my part of the world. What can the Minister say to two of my constituents who have now found out via the media that their property will be knocked down as it is on the permanent way for the building of this new line, when they were, in fact, actively seeking to downsize for health reasons? What can the Minister offer them apart from a consultation for the next six months? Can we afford to buy these people out, who need get off the permanent way?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. First, I am happy to meet him and his constituents to discuss their concerns. Secondly, we have begun consultation on an exceptional hardship scheme, over and above the statutory blight provisions for constituents such as those he mentioned. Although I am confident that those two measures will deal with some of the concerns and they will mitigate the problems, I am afraid that they will not solve them altogether. I look forward to meeting him and his constituents to try to address the genuine problems that he has raised.