Thursday 31 March 2011
[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Michael Fabricant.)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I speak as a representative of the Backbench Business Committee, and will briefly set the scene for this debate. As Members know, every Tuesday we hold an evidence session for Members of Parliament, who come to the Committee to try to secure a debate. They have to overcome many hurdles: the subject should not be Government business, or business that the Labour Opposition might want to discuss; and a number of Members must be interested in it. Judging by the numbers present this afternoon, that hurdle has probably been overcome. There must also be cross-party interest, and we like there to be internal dispute between the parties on the issue. The ideal debate, of course, is one that Members on neither Front Bench would want put on.
This debate on high-speed rail ticks almost all those boxes. We want this to be a wide-ranging debate. The Backbench Business Committee did not want it to be just about local constituency interests; we also wanted it to be about the principle of high-speed rail, and whether it is correct to spend billions of pounds on it. A Member who represents a constituency in the south-west might feel that it is not appropriate to do so, and that the money could be spent elsewhere. We hope that those points will be debated today.
We in the Backbench Business Committee are keen to stress that this Chamber is on a par with the main Chamber. Members taking part in Westminster Hall debates have absolute privilege, as they do in the main Chamber. The only difference is that we are not able to table a substantive motion in this Chamber. In the past, when a debate in this Chamber has produced a lot of interest and a lot of different points of view, we in the Backbench Business Committee have been keen to put on another debate on the same subject in the main Chamber, where there might be a substantive motion.
One of our problems in the Backbench Business Committee is that we are not in control of the allocation of time. In the main Chamber, we are given only limited notice by the business managers of when our time will be. Moreover, we do not know how many days we will get this Session. We have more certainty about Westminster Hall, which is why high-speed rail is being debated here today. That does not mean that we would not be prepared to consider, at a later stage, putting on this debate in the main Chamber.
Many Members want to speak, so I shall conclude my remarks. I have parliamentary business elsewhere, Mr Walker, so I apologise for the fact that I shall have to leave shortly.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I have a great interest in rail and, generally speaking, I am positive and passionate about the railways. Unfortunately, however, on this occasion I have to speak negatively about High Speed 2. I am deeply sceptical of it, for a variety of reasons. It is an unnecessary route and will be very expensive, and that money would be better spent elsewhere on modernisation, electrification, re-signalling and a variety of other expenditures. Eddington took the same view in his report. He was absolutely right to say that the focus should be on commuter and inter-urban routes, above all to relieve congestion, which causes extreme expense for the whole economy; that expense will rise to tens of billions of pounds in the next two or three decades, unless we do something to relieve congestion.
Congestion is caused by a number of things, the first being passengers using cars when we should be using rail. It is also caused by heavy freight, not directly so much as indirectly, because heavy freight on roads causes road damage. What is known as the fourth power law of road damage relates axle weights to road damage, and it is lorries that cause damage to roads. I am not against lorries per se, but a lot of the traffic that goes by road should actually go by rail. Road damage means that motorways have to be coned off time and again so that roads can be repaired, which means having two lanes for long stretches instead of three. The same applies to towns. It is necessary, for the future, to get heavy freight off road and on to rail.
I spoke on this theme in a recent debate in this Chamber, and explained how we ought to spend the money in alternative ways. For example, HS2 will run from north to south. There are already north-south routes, but they have not had sufficient investment, despite their modernisation, and they do not have enough capacity as they stand. They could, however, have enough capacity if we invested heavily in modern signalling, got many more train paths on the same tracks, and got freight off those lines. Before anyone jumps in and says, “Ah, but if we build HS2, we can put the passengers on that and leave the other lines free for freight,” that is nonsense, because it is impossible for the gauge sufficiently to provide, all the way up the backbone of Britain, for getting trailers on trains and even full-scale containers on flat-bed trucks. It is not possible to rebuild all those mainline railway lines on a gauge that is sufficient to take all the freight necessary. Moreover, scores of other major stations on those lines have to serve passengers, so passenger trains have to run on those routes, whatever is done about HS2.
HS2 serves only major cities. All those hon. Members who are enthusiastic about HS2 but who are not actually served by it might find that money that could have been invested in their own routes will be sucked away and spent on HS2. People who live in Milton Keynes, Coventry—my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) is sitting to my right—Luton and many other areas are not served. Before anyone says that I am a nimby, I am not, because HS2 will not serve or go anywhere near Luton.
Those of us in Perivale certainly feel the pain, and there is no discernible indication of gain. On my hon. Friend’s analysis of the finances, can he enlighten us about the extent of private sector investment and involvement in this great, vast, glittering scheme?
That is for the Minister to pronounce on and explain. I am a traditional socialist of the left and believe in public investment, which I think is much cheaper—the markets can be borrowed from much more cheaply, but I will not go into that now, because we will end up getting into private finance initiatives, public-private partnership and all those other financial disasters. I do not want to tread on dangerous ground, but the tube was not exactly a success, in terms of PPP. I believe in public investment, but wherever the investment comes from, it will be a very large sum that could be spent elsewhere. The opportunity costs will be great.
It would be easy to modernise the east coast main line. We could double the viaduct north of Welwyn to make four tracks instead of two; it is a pinch-point at the moment. A flyover is already being built for the Cambridge line at Hitchin. We would then need a passing loop at Peterborough, which would not be difficult, and a flyover at Newark. The whole line would then be open for 140 mph working, non-stop from King’s Cross to Edinburgh. In 1992, a test train did that route, non-stop apart from a two-minute stop at Newcastle, in three and a half hours. Interestingly, the proponents of HS2 suggest a time of three and a half hours—the exact same time that could be achieved on the existing route with a bit of modernisation.
The west coast main line is much more heavily used and serves more areas. Modernisation could get it to work at 135 mph, and similar route modifications could make it much better. We need to get the freight off that line. I repeat that freight and heavy axle weights cause more damage to tracks, which then need more repairs and more maintenance work. If we got freight off that line, and had modern signalling and many more train paths, we would have what we need up the west coast. As for passenger numbers, certainly the east coast has plenty of scope already; on the west coast, there is enough to cope for the long-term future.
I am arguing for a new, dedicated rail freight line; some hon. Members may know that I have been proposing that for a long time. I have been involved with a group of people who have a scheme that has been thought through in detail and involves a precise route. It would use old track bed and existing routes, and would involve only 14 miles of new line, nine of which is in tunnels. There would be a dedicated rail freight route up the backbone of Britain, serving all the major conurbations and linked to the channel tunnel; freight could go from Glasgow to Rome direct. The trains would be able to take full-scale lorry trailers, and double-stacked containers if necessary, all the way from the continent of Europe right through to Scotland. That is what Britain needs. That proposal would take 5 million lorry-loads off the roads, and much of the north-south freight off the east coast and west coast main lines. The supermarkets and a number of commercial organisations support the scheme.
Does the hon. Gentleman not think it is absolutely crackers that I can get to Paris quicker than to Leeds, which I go to when I travel to my constituency, Skipton and Ripon? Is it not absolutely crackers that Britain is one of the only developed nations not to have a high-speed network?
High-speed networks work brilliantly in areas where there are long gaps between major conurbations—in Spain, France and so on. Britain is much more densely populated. There are many stops and more towns en route. As I have suggested, we need more investment in the conventional railways that we already have, so that we can get to those destinations more quickly. I am sure that we can easily raise the speeds to Leeds, and certainly to other areas, with a lot of investment.
The point is often made that high-speed rail works better over longer routes. Would he concede that the Paris-Lille, Osaka-Tokyo and Cologne-Frankfurt routes are all about 120 km long, which is quite similar to the first part of high-speed rail that is planned?
We would have to be prepared to spend that kind of money. I have been on the Cologne-Frankfurt route and it is fantastic. A third of it is in tunnels, which are vastly expensive. The Germans have decided to build that route and it is a wonderful line. We do not have the resources to build lines like that everywhere. Some high-speed routes do not go through much on the way; we almost invariably have significant towns en route that have to be served on the same line.
In the best of all possible worlds, it would be nice to have fast routes everywhere. However, we must consider the resources involved. The significant routes are where people would choose to travel by air, rather than by land; people would go by aeroplane from Madrid to Barcelona, for example. Routes become economical where large numbers of people want to travel between conurbations that are fairly widely spaced, there is not a great deal in between, and it is easier to get the high-speed track without too much cost.
My hon. Friend’s proposition for a dedicated freight line has been around in one form or another for a very long time and has always attracted the same level of opposition as HS2. Is it not almost inevitable when such a major infrastructure project is planned that there will be huge opposition to it?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is always opposition to such plans. I stressed at the beginning that I do not object to the line because it goes near me or anybody else; I am objecting to it on the basis that it is unnecessary and expensive, and the money should be spent elsewhere. I am taking up too much time, Mr Walker. I can see that many hon. Members want to speak.
I have made my main points. I have made them before in this Chamber, and I shall continue to make them, because they are rational. A lot of people in the industry also support my view, which is not based on nimbyism but on what Britain really needs. Britain does not need HS2; it needs more investment in conventional rail and, indeed, in rail freight.
On a point of order, Mr Walker. For several months, the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) and I have attempted to secure this debate via the Backbench Business Committee. We have been preparing for this incredibly important debate for a long time, and I was assured only yesterday by the Table Office that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) would make a few brief comments, and then I would be the first speaker.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Walker. I am delighted to see so many right hon. and hon. Members in this Chamber. I would particularly like to mention my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Mr Randall), who are present today.
I am sick to the back teeth about the way in which the debate on high-speed rail is being trivialised into the nimbys versus business recovery, the poverty-stricken north versus the privileged south, and the commuter versus the community. The debate about high-speed rail should be about how best to deliver the transport infrastructure that Britain desperately needs to ensure a rebalancing of our economy, with prospects for private sector recovery coming from all parts of the UK and not just the dominant south-east.
High-speed rail will be an eye-wateringly expensive project, costing at least as much as the renewal of Trident. It is crucial that a project that would cost each family in Britain £1,000 is properly scrutinised to deliver not just the benefits of extra capacity, but the value for money that taxpayers are entitled to expect. I will make the case that high-speed rail does not deliver value for money. That is not a nimby perspective. I have spent 23 years in banking and finance, including in project finance. I do not believe that the economic case stacks up and I am certainly not alone in that view.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), Chairman of the Treasury Committee, gave a speech immediately following the Budget. He said:
“In our efforts to return to sustained growth, we need to make the best use of every pound invested in our public services. Another example of the need to make sure we have coherence in growth policy has been put to me by colleagues on both sides of the House. They have asked whether spending £17 billion on a high-speed rail link is better use of the money than investing in modern rolling stock and improving the existing tracks.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 973.]
That is precisely the question that Parliament needs to debate and resolve. Others who question high-speed rail, and whom, I feel sure, could not be accused of nimbyism, include the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Adam Smith Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs, Friends of the Earth, the Sustainable Development Commission, rail experts and the Countryside Alliance. So let us have a proper debate today and acknowledge that all who speak here are in favour of the central goal of achieving better transport infrastructure, in support of rebalancing our economy and a private sector-led recovery.
The proposal was, of course, in our manifesto. That is a particularly important point for my constituency because we were deadly opposed to the third runway at Heathrow. One of the most important alternatives our party suggested was putting people on trains rather than planes. I appreciate that the proposal will not make a difference to travel from Birmingham, because there are no planes from there to Heathrow but, when we push up north, it could make a significant difference to the use of domestic flights to Heathrow. For that reason alone, it is very easy for me to support the proposal.
I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. We desperately need to improve dramatically the capacity in our train infrastructure. I hope that she will bear with me, because I intend to show that we can achieve that without needing to spend the amount of money that we are talking about for high-speed rail.
On that point, lest people think that that argument means that this is somehow a green solution, is it not the case that any slots freed up at Heathrow from domestic airlines will be taken up by long-haul airlines, thus increasing not decreasing emissions?
Yes, indeed. There have been plenty of anecdotal reports from low-cost airlines suggesting that they would welcome the opportunity to put on more cheap long-haul flights.
I plan to challenge four aspects of the case for HS2: the business case, the environmental case, the claims about job creation and the potential for regeneration. I am a firm believer that one cannot attack something without providing an alternative. I will therefore also discuss a viable alternative to HS2. I have based my challenges on phase 1 of HS2, in spite of the fact, unfortunately, that the consultation incorporates the entire Y-shaped project. There is too little detail on the assumptions underlying phase 2 to be able to assess the figures properly. I also need to point out that the original business case, written by Atkins for the Department for Transport in March 2010, was updated last month. The new business case is considerably less attractive than the old one.
I will deal first with the business case for HS2. HS2 Ltd claims a net benefit ratio, which includes the wider economic impacts, of 2. That means that for every pound spent, there will be £2 of benefit. That is about the minimum return that could be expected from a rail project—the bar for roads projects is significantly higher. Even that modest claim, however, makes enormous assumptions. Specifically, one of the core and somewhat ludicrous assumptions is that all the time spent on a train journey is wasted, and therefore that every minute of a train journey that is saved can be given a value in pounds—the number of minutes saved, multiplied by the earnings of an individual. That would not matter so much except that the journey time savings account for more than 50% of the £20 billion of total economic benefit claimed for the project. I urge the Department for Transport to look again closely at that point.
On the first point, the ratio of 2 is for the London to Birmingham link. As my hon. Friend will know, the ratio is 2.6 for the link to Manchester and to Leeds. Including the wider economic benefits, it is 2.6. I have the business case for Crossrail, which my hon. Friend may have had the chance to have a look at. The business case in that is 1.87. The final point that my hon. Friend might wish to consider is the idle time point, which is very important.
I am struggling to follow some of my hon. Friend’s numbers, because I think that he might be looking at the numbers from the original business case, not from the current one. I do not want to address his points specifically because those numbers do not quite register with me. I apologise for that.
Passenger forecasts are another major assumption in the business case, relying on a 216% rise in demand for train travel. That figure remains wildly optimistic, in spite of being downgraded from the original business case, in which growth of 267% was forecast. The Department for Transport’s own national travel survey shows that overall transport demand is no longer growing with GDP. Eurostar’s passenger numbers in 2009 had reached only 37% of the level that was forecast, as a result of building the HS1 link. The Public Accounts Committee took evidence from the Department for Transport on that point and was reassured by it that lessons had been learned and that any future major project would factor in more severe downside assumptions—that has clearly not been the case. The only comparable forecasts for long distance rail travel by 2036 are from Network Rail, which predicts a range of growth of 45% to 89%, versus that forecast by HS2 Ltd in its original business case of 133% growth by 2033. I urge the Department for Transport to look closely again at that assumption.
Of course, in cash terms HS2 will never pay for itself. Once built, only one third of the total claimed benefits will be captured through fares. The value of the net revenues once it has been built—with a presumption of fares of £14 billion, less operating costs of £6 billion over a 60-year project life—will cover only less than half of the capital costs. At a time when families up and down the country are feeling the pinch, we must make sure that infrastructure projects offer value for money. Many people would argue that not a penny will be spent until 2015 anyway, but between 2009 and 2015 the Department for Transport expects to spend around £1 billion just on preparing the way for high-speed rail.
Secondly, on the environmental impact, HS2 Ltd itself says that the project is, at best, carbon neutral. It predicts that 65% of passengers will either transfer from existing rail services, where faster trains inevitably increase carbon emissions, or are additional new journeys as a result of the faster trains, which will also increase emissions. The shorter journeys by air that will transfer to HS2, will ironically, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) said, provide more capacity at our regional airports for cheaper long-haul flights. It is estimated that the modal shift from car to high-speed train will be approximately 7%. In fact, HS2 Ltd forecasts that the traffic volumes on the M1 will be reduced by only 2% as a result of HS2. So, it is not green. There will also be a significant environmental impact during construction, as well as permanently, to the English countryside, wildlife and historic sites.
Thirdly and fourthly, on the prospects for job creation and regeneration, the Department for Transport claims that HS2 will create 30,000 new jobs. Some 9,000 will be construction jobs and are likely to be temporary. The rest are skewed towards property development and retail near stations.
It is not often that I am at odds with my hon. Friend and her point of view. However, only yesterday 90 business leaders from Yorkshire published an open letter in the Yorkshire Post, which sent a resounding message to the Government and said very clearly that high-speed rail is vital for Yorkshire’s success in the future. Who is right: the 90 business leaders in Yorkshire, or my hon. Friend?
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is very unusual for us to disagree. The reality is that we all share the same goal: to regenerate our economy and to provide good value for money to the taxpayer. What we are arguing about is how we achieve that. Surely my hon. Friend would agree that HS2 is not the only possible means by which to achieve that regeneration. We have to look at what gives us the best value for money.
Up to 70% of the new jobs created by HS2 will benefit London, where Old Oak Common is believed to be the best location for regeneration. I am sure that many hon. Members across the House do not feel that regeneration benefits to London represent good value for money. In fact, research on capital expenditure in the wider economy suggests that the cost of creating one job in the first phase is about four times the cost of capital expenditure in the wider economy. Again, I urge the Department for Transport to consider whether the project will create jobs. Would it be better to spend the money elsewhere and get four times the number of jobs in the wider economy?
The hon. Lady is falling into the trap into which she said she did not want to fall—the north-south divide. In the ward in my constituency where the interchange will be based, just over half the working-age population are currently in employment. Investment in employment is needed in large parts of London, and in the south as well as the north, and she should perhaps have regard to that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Of course, he is absolutely right, but one of the key advantages that is talked about by those who advocate HS2 is the regeneration potential for the north of the country, and the scheme’s contribution to rebalancing our economy between the north and the south. I am sure he will agree that while there are benefits to regeneration in some desperate parts of the south as well, HS2 will not provide the regeneration in the north that is claimed for it.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I absolutely am a supporter of the northern hub—there is no doubt about that—but I refer him to my comments. HS2 is an extraordinarily expensive way of achieving jobs. In the wider economy, the cost of providing one job through capital expenditure is believed to be some 25% of the cost of providing one job through this project. I do not believe that it is a good way to create jobs, whether in the north or the south.
In summary, I believe that HS2 is a deeply flawed proposal that will not deliver the economic, environmental, employment or regeneration benefits that are claimed for it. However, I absolutely recognise the shortcomings of our existing transport infrastructure, and I commend the Government for the many measures they are taking to sort out long-standing bottlenecks.
The rebalancing of our economy and a private sector-led recovery will depend on significant investment in infrastructure, but there is an alternative to HS2 that can achieve the capacity the country needs at far better value for money: Rail Package 2. RP2 can provide 135% extra capacity, extendable to 176%, and a significant advantage is that it can be introduced incrementally as passenger demand increases. It requires certain things: lengthening all Pendolino trains to 11 cars from the current mix of nine and 11 cars; replacing some commuter trains with 125 mph stock so as not to delay faster trains; dealing with bottlenecks at seven specific points along the line; adding platforms at Euston and Manchester, and considering laying more track into Birmingham.
RP2 to the west midlands has a benefit-cost ratio of 1.9 versus 1.6 for HS2 London to west midlands, excluding the wider economic impacts. The benefit-cost ratio of the whole Y-shaped project is higher, at 2.2, but there is not enough information about the assumptions to evaluate that. In any case, I have provided plenty of information to challenge the assumptions.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the analysis of the business case for RP2 does not take into account the huge cost that would come from disruption to services as a result of the kind of upgrade she is talking about?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her intervention. I had not written that into my contribution because there is so much to say. As she well knows, HS2 requires the complete rebuilding of Euston station, and it would be extraordinarily difficult for services to be able to continue on the west coast main line during that period. In addition, as I am sure she knows, the proposals in RP2 are not the same as the first incremental improvements to the west coast main line in the first phase of regeneration, which required rebuilding virtually the whole of the track and the signals. The incremental proposals are entirely achievable while existing network services are utilised along the west coast main line.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the more intensively a transport system is used, the higher the price paid in terms of lack of resilience? One of the major concerns about RP2 is that the line is intensively used at present, and the kind of even more intense use that she advocates would have a significant impact on it and cause major deterioration in reliability. There would be a significant negative impact on the quality of the passenger experience.
I thank the Minister again, but I have to disagree with her. There is no evidence that suggests that RP2 would involve a desperately intensive use of the west coast main line. Not only that, the capacity created by it would significantly exceed the likely demand, certainly in the short and medium term. Other rail experts argue that the forecasting model that is being used by the Department for Transport is suitable for forecasting demand up to 10 years only, not the 43 or 45 years for which the Department is forecasting. There is no clear evidence that my proposal would entail that intensity of west coast main line usage.
Another significant benefit of RP2 is that it can be delivered far quicker than HS2, thereby dealing with the problems of overcrowding now, rather than leaving the commuters of Manchester, Birmingham, Rugby and Milton Keynes to wait until 2026 for proper relief. The danger that is inherent in forecasting out to 45 years, as the Department has done, is removed by using RP2. It can be implemented incrementally—it is not all or nothing—and problems can be dealt with as they arise.
I fear that HS2 is a flawed project. There is no doubt that we have to improve our transport infrastructure, but I urge the Department to reconsider RP2, which is cheaper and more environmentally friendly. It would deal with the problems sooner and far more accurately than HS2.
I shall conclude with a final call to action. The original mandate of HS2 Ltd was to look at the feasibility of, and the business case for, a new high-speed rail line between London and the west midlands, and to consider the case for high-speed rail services linking London, northern England and Scotland. Because of that mandate, HS2 Ltd inevitably has a vested interested in seeing HS2 built. For the credibility of the project, the Department should undertake an independent comparison of the merits of HS2 versus RP2. Legitimate concerns have been ignored because of the insistence that opposition is just nimbysm. We must put that aside and have a rigorous debate on how to achieve our shared goals while getting the greatest bang for our buck. Thank you, Mr Walker.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). This is, indeed, a most important debate, and I would like to thank the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who is a member of the Backbench Business Committee, for giving it to us. As he made clear, we had wished for a debate on the Floor of the House, and he almost promised us one once we are further into the consultation period. I am pleased to see such a good cross-party alliance forming here against HS2, and I hope briefly to follow the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire in setting out some of the reasons why it is a monumental waste of money and diversion of scarce resources.
I assure my hon. Friends who represent certain London and home counties constituencies, and others such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), that those who oppose HS2 absolutely recognise the need for more capacity. We recognise that greater connectivity would be of great benefit, but we believe—I agree here with the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire—that Rail Package 2, which was worked out by Atkins, as the Minister knows, offers a much better prospect for being able to do that in a shorter time and on a much more cost-effective basis than HS2. I will say a few more things about that in a moment, if I may.
Those who represent Manchester and Leeds will naturally have an interest in seeing their constituents and businesses able to come down to London much more quickly than they can at present. I urge them to read about and get into the alternatives in RP2. It does most of what they could reasonably expect, given the scarcity of resources for capital projects, and all other areas of revenue expenditure as well, that this country faces in this difficult period.
The project mysteriously appeared at the tail end of the previous Government’s tenure of office, and was somehow or other—remarkably quickly—brought to the fore by Lord Adonis. One has to congratulate him on his coup in that respect. To many people, it came out of the blue, and provided the preponderant Tory part of the present Government with a marvellous reason for being able to cover their strange decision against the Heathrow extension—I know that many people had an interest in it. They managed to cover it by being able to say that they would replace it with HS2 going up to Birmingham and on to the north. It does not really do that at all. It is a great pity that the coalition Government missed the opportunity at least to subject this huge expenditure to a proper review. Instead, they jumped on the bandwagon to justify their stance over Heathrow.
As for the justification for HS2, I pay tribute to the work done by the HS2 Action Alliance against the project and I recommend its papers to everyone in the debate—I am sure some of them will be available, and Members should study them. For those of us who are against the project, it is a relief not to have to fix the numbers or to choose the numbers that suit our case best, as all Governments and Oppositions do, because every time we look at the Government’s numbers, they collapse. The Department for Transport brought some numbers out last March, and they brought some more out this year. Every time they bring numbers out and we examine them—there is no party political point in this—they are downgraded, just like current Government forecasts. At the end of my speech I will return to the point about what the Government should do in the present situation.
If one adopts some realistic assumptions on demand for HS1 and on the time benefit, the net benefit ratio is now down to 50p per pound spent. No time currently spent travelling by rail is counted at all, but the entire time spent on HS1 is counted at an annual rate of £70,000 a year, and every minute is brought into the so-called net benefit ratio. That is a monstrous distortion. One does not have to calculate other figures; one simply has to expose what the Government and the Department are up to.
Another point that has been made is that there is no alternative. I will deal with the subsidiary points in a moment. As I said, there is an alternative: it is called Rail Package 2, and it is in the Atkins alternatives. Before the Department published the revised forecast earlier this month, we urged it to study RP2. Instead, it bundled it together with two or three inadequate alternatives and tried to tar them all with the same brush. What we need the Government to do—they have made a useful start in this respect—is to set up an office to objectively and independently consider major infrastructure projects, in the same way that they set up the Office for Budget Responsibility. We do not have such an office, and nobody has looked at this issue other than the Government and the Department, whose minds are set in favour of HS2. What we are embarking on is not consultation; those who are against the project and those who are in favour of it can put their points, and ne’er the twain shall meet. The outcome, of course, will be a Division in the House in due course.
The Government are not listening; their mind is made up. Instead of just putting forward the same old flawed figures, why do they not look at the situation again, study RP2 objectively, try to develop it and see what alternatives emerge? They should do that productively and positively, not so that they can dismiss RP2 before they have made a decent analysis of it.
I am sure I am not going to convince the hon. Gentleman on everything, but I hope that I can convince him that the Government have an open mind on this issue. We are listening to the concerns that are being expressed now and that will be expressed during the consultation. That is one reason why about half the route we inherited from our predecessors has been altered with a view to mitigating its local environmental impact.
I am grateful to the Minister. I hope that we can take that assurance at face value, as we are meant to. The test will be whether the Department is prepared objectively to get into the detail of RP2, because it has not done so yet. The Government should just study the papers produced by the HS2 Action Alliance and look at where they have tried to conflate a whole set of different alternatives. The Government and the Department—not the Minister, of course—should look at where they have tried to obfuscate the obvious advantages of RP2. From being 25% of the capital cost of HS2, RP2 has suddenly become 50%. That is all about the sudden increase in the cost of the rolling stock for RP2. Why has that happened? Can the Minister answer that basic question? After all, the Government say that they have studied this objectively.
We have suddenly gone from finding rolling stock available to having to purchase it. The change is not justified; it is not even spelled out. People will have their houses razed and they will suffer enormously. Every taxpayer will have to pay well over £1,000 towards HS2, but there is no real justification for this project yet.
If the Department is serious, if it wants to get back some credibility with those who look at these issues and if it wants to justify a real national case to people, including some in my constituency, as well as citizens elsewhere in Coventry and in Stoke, who will simply be bypassed and have a much worse service from HS2—businesses in Coventry will be adamantly against it, and those in Leeds and Manchester can no doubt be brought to say that they are, too—the least it can do is set up a proper inquiry into the business case for HS2 and explain why RP2 would not be a far better alternative or, at the very minimum, a valid alternative.
Conversations with Centro have made it clear that we need the added capacity, and no one in the debate has any doubt that HS2 would provide it, but at what cost? It will cost £18 billion to Birmingham and £30 billion to Manchester and Leeds. The cost per job created will be £600,000, which is monstrous. It has been said that that is about four times more than a normal job, for which the cost is £150,000, but even that figure is a gross exaggeration, and infrastructure projects can create jobs elsewhere in the economy at a much lower cost. The figure of £600,000 is mind-blowing.
Incidentally, I cannot imagine where the Treasury is on this. It has never been known to be terribly favourable to transport projects—on the contrary. It is also notorious for cutting waste and stopping projects that do not have a proper financial justification. How has the Department managed to convince the Prime Minister and now the Chancellor that it is in favour of the project? I cannot imagine why the Treasury has not stopped it. The only reason can be that the Government need something to explain why they have come out—this was purely for electoral reasons—against the development of Heathrow.
We have these generalisations, and people talk about a classic British compromise. We have all these platitudinous, stupid arguments, with people saying, “The Germans have one”, “We’ve got one” and “My dad’s bigger than your dad.” I have never heard anything so daft. We should look at the facts and figures and study these things objectively. If the hon. Gentleman cannot, the people in the Department can.
One Government Member has said that the terms of reference mean that the whole process has been hijacked by the pro-HS2 lobby, and there it has stayed. Nothing else has been analysed objectively. The OBR was set up to make sure that the Government’s general finances, economic policy and investments at the national level that are unrelated to infrastructure are properly evaluated, and the case for doing the same for infrastructure projects is stronger still. The Government should introduce such a body, and I would commend them if they did.
The green case has also collapsed. There is no net benefit in terms of the reduction in carbon from the scheme. The movement from air traffic constitutes only 7% of the eventual traffic to be carried on HS2, which is terribly small. Most importantly, this project is so long term that all the forecasts are meaningless; they have to be. Many of us will have heard Robert Chote on the “Tonight” programme saying that forecasts are very difficult. Robert Chote has all the power of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and all the stuff that he has brought into the new OBR, but the OBR has not got a forecast right from the Budget last June, to last November’s pre-Budget report, to the Budget this month. In about 10 months, it has changed its mind three times. To justify their demand forecasts, the Government have pushed them out 35 years; they have added 10 years on to get the volume increase they need to justify the project. What they are doing is so obvious, and that sort of stupidity is invalidating their case and making all of us who will be affected by this project, including those whose homes will be torn up, increasingly angry.
That is a very fair point. It is difficult when one looks at such wildly different forecasts. One has to look at the history. Let us take demand forecasts for the rail industry. Nine out of 10 have been grossly exaggerated by at least twice. That is roughly the proportion we have between the conservative forecast and the Department for Transport’s forecast today. In the case of HS1, it has only just now, after nearly a decade of some sort of operation, reached the lowest level of forecast we ever thought remotely possible. As we know, HS1 has just been sold off as a dead loss, at a loss of £3 billion.
I do not think I can talk to that point. We come back to the fact that it can be done much more cheaply—I hope the Minister is listening. RP2 should be analysed and developed properly. It can also be done much earlier. In this period of difficult recovery, we need projects that generate growth and employment now. This is not going to come in—on the best of cases—until 2026 to Birmingham, and then it goes another 20 years beyond that. That is far too late. I was speaking to Geoff Inskip, managing director of Centro the other day, and he said we cannot wait so long, we need the increasing capacity now, as soon as possible. He is convinced that four-tracking between Coventry and Birmingham should be proceeded with forthwith. That is the first step towards RP2 and it should be taken now; we should not wait until 2026. That is an absurd proposition for meeting the country’s capacity needs for rail transport.
By raising the historical context, my hon. Friend is making a good case against every major infrastructure project that has ever been built. All the Victorian railway lines went broke; the channel tunnel never made any money; HS1 has just been exposed by my hon. Friend. Is he suggesting that we should never have built any railways, we should not have built the channel tunnel and we should not have built HS1? He appears to be saying that we can squeeze yet more—and there is a law of diminishing returns—out of the existing infrastructure. We have had years of disruption on the west coast main line for an upgrade. He is saying that huge benefit can be gained by yet more disruption to the existing lines.
That point was made earlier. My right hon. Friend asserts one thing that leads me to assert another. I believe it can be developed in that way. I believe it because the Atkins report, which also made a projection for the HS2 line, said it and worked it out in detail. It very clearly dealt with pinch points, length of trains, length of carriages, and calculated the number of problems it would create in disturbance on the line. We want it worked out and properly investigated by an independent body. That is what we need. Nobody is against it; we all want to extend the rail line. We all want to extend rail capacity and increase speeds.
In fact, I am a humble Back Bencher, and proud to be so. I do not wish to intrude in family grief in Coventry, but I think that the hon. Gentleman is failing to make his best point. His best point on behalf of Coventry should be a concern that HS2—which quite rightly, if it goes ahead, will connect certain cities in the country—is likely to be to the disadvantage of other cities, such as Coventry. He has not made that point in terms, and I am sure it is one he would wish to.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was trying not to participate in nimbyism. I have been sworn not to do that. I make no apology: I am here to represent Coventry’s interest. Call me a nimby or whatever. I can find nothing in the proposal that brings any benefit to Coventry. I think that if my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) were here he would agree with that point. I can see that many others have a different point of view. We want capacity, we want modernisation, we believe we can get it, there is an alternative, and we want it evaluated. I cannot see what is wrong with that proposition. I cannot see how anyone could oppose it when, looking at capital costs on present forecasts, it would cost half of what HS1 cost.
We have taken up a bit of time. The hon. Gentleman will have better use of his time if I curtail mine.
Welcome as a public consultation is, it is no more than an opportunity for the pros and cons to be stated on a large project on which the Government have already made up their mind. Opening up the mind is very good, and I appreciate what the Minister has said on that point. I have to warn all those who for personal and national reasons are joining us in opposition to HS2 that it is going to require a sustained, strong exercise in parliamentary and people power to get the Government to change their mind. Do not underestimate the difficulties we all face in that respect.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on securing the debate after months of dogged perseverance, along with myself and the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), and for her tour de force of a speech, which I think we all agree made the points very eloquently. I am also delighted to see Mr Speaker here; he obviously has a great interest in the matter.
The high number of Members attending demonstrates the importance of the issue, not just to those whose constituencies are affected, but to the entire country. It also clearly demonstrates the need for a full debate on the matter on the Floor of the House before the end of the consultation period. This involves a huge sum of money on a hugely important national infrastructure project. I believe it deserves full debate and discussion by the House.
Due to the large number of Members wishing to speak, and in particular due to the excellent job that my hon. Friend made in pointing out the serious flaws in the business case, I will not speak for too long. I see no need to repeat many of the points that have been made. We have heard that the net benefit ratio is potentially lower than some of the alternatives that we do not believe have been adequately explored. The NBR depends on extremely optimistic passenger growth numbers over which there are serious questions. As the hon. Member for Coventry North West said, we know that the Department for Transport’s record on estimating passenger numbers for HS1 was frankly diabolical. To risk £17 billion of taxpayers’ money on what might be equally diabolical passenger forecast numbers would be very wrong, without considerably more work being done.
I oppose the proposal in respect of the national business case. However, I would also like to point out my serious concern about the possible impact of the project on the regions. There has been a lot of discussion and talk about the benefits of rebalancing the economy and pushing economic growth from the south-east to the regions. That is often used as a principal argument in favour of this project. However, I do not believe that the Department or HS2 Ltd have adequately analysed the evidence from existing high-speed rail networks in other countries. The impact assessments produced by HS2 Ltd clearly demonstrate that one of the costs of HS2 will be slower and less frequent train services for some of the surrounding towns and cities—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). I am less shy than the hon. Member for Coventry North West in saying that Coventry will see its direct rail services potentially slashed from three to one an hour. The remaining one will be slower.
That is simply not true. There are some indicative forecasts in the HS2 analysis about how services might be configured in future. The reality is that Coventry is going to continue to enjoy frequent fast services. With HS2, it gets additional capacity for other journey opportunities, in particular, commuters get vital relief from overcrowding and lack of reliability as a result of overcrowding on the network.
I would like to make the point that it is not possible for my right hon. Friend to make that claim. The transport network is actually in the private sector. Therefore, if the rail operators find that they are losing revenue because there is no longer the overcrowding that there was because of the 65% transferral of passengers to high-speed rail, they will inevitably either put up fares or reduce services. The most likely outcome is a reduction of services, because fares are capped.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. The very fact that the Minister referred to indicative figures—they are out there in the public domain, are causing concern, and are often quoted—shows that we have not yet had sufficient discussion or debate about the impact. From a sedentary position, hon. Members have rubbished some of the claims for Rail Package 2, and say that work has been done and shows that some of our claims for it are simply not true. Where is that work? Why is it not being published? Why is the Department for Transport not addressing the questions that opponents of HS2 are asking? Instead, it is addressing motives, and using words such as “nimby” and so on instead of addressing arguments. The Department should address those questions, but it is not doing so adequately.
Of more concern is the fact that there is evidence from studies of existing high-speed rail services in other countries that, far from pushing economic growth from the centre to the regions, they may have the opposite effect. They may suck economic activity from the regions toward the centre. There is a real danger of economic growth draining away from, for example, Birmingham and the surrounding region towards London. The Research Institute of Applied Economics at the university of Barcelona studied existing high-speed rail networks in Japan, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Its findings should cause policy makers in the UK to sit up and take notice. It suggested that smaller cities linked to larger cities by high-speed rail lines sometimes suffer from a negative agglomeration effect. That may take several forms, but the report is very clear about the risks for smaller cities such as Birmingham when linked to a larger city such as London.
I shall quote briefly from the report. It states:
“It is consistently reported that HSR does not generate any new activities nor does it attract new firms and investment, but rather it helps to consolidate and promote ongoing processes as well as to facilitate intra-organizational journeys for those firms and institutions for whom mobility is essential.”
“In fact, for regions and cities whose economic conditions compare unfavorably with those of their neighbors, a connection to the HST line may even result in economic activities being drained away and an overall negative impact”
The business people of Yorkshire are not particularly interested in rebalancing on a regional basis. All they want is a balanced playing field. It is unacceptable for Yorkshire businesses when competing in our capital in our country that it takes longer to get here than it takes the French and Belgians.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. It sounds ideal to suggest that linking the two systems will benefit the regions, but the university of Barcelona looked at high-speed rail systems on the continent, and found that the benefits often flow the other way. Economic activity might drain away from the north towards the south.
I am listening carefully to the point that my hon. Friend is making. He will know, of course, that the 1970s experience in Japan is contrary to the findings of the study. More importantly and more locally, the study from the North West Business Leadership Team only yesterday points in a completely different direction from that in the Spanish study.
I want to make the same point. A recent survey by the West Midlands Chamber of Commerce, which I think includes Coventry and north Warwickshire, estimated that there would be £6 billion of wider economic benefits. Does my hon. Friend not believe that some of that would go to his constituency?
North Warwickshire council and, I believe, Warwick district council, as well as Warwickshire county council and Staffordshire county council, have all come out formally against the proposal. They obviously do not believe that there will be wider economic benefits for the midlands and their council areas.
The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) demonstrates that we need to do more work before spending 17 billion quid of taxpayers’ money. If some reports say one thing, and others say something else, where is the fundamental, independent, root and branch economic analysis of existing high-speed rail systems in other countries around the world? I genuinely do not believe that what HS2 and the Department for Transport published represents that.
I am delighted that the Transport Committee has said that it would look at the matter. I have the greatest respect for the Select Committee system in the House, and I hope that the Transport Committee will take an independent view of the various economic evidence.
The fact is that there are high-speed rail systems in operation throughout the world, and some of the evidence from some of those systems suggests that the claims being made for high-speed rail’s ability to regenerate regions are questionable. I have not yet seen a fundamental or overarching review and analysis of existing systems. We can physically look at them, and measure the numbers and the impact, and some of those numbers are negative. We must discuss that, and analyse the figures before we spend the money.
I am interested in my hon. Friend’s core argument that high-speed rail may suck economic growth from the regions, because that seems to run contrary to what most people lobbied for—greater speed of connection to the capital. Most places in the regions that have travel times to London of one hour or less market themselves heavily on the basis of the shorter journey time. They see it as a positive advantage, and that seems to run contrary to what the academics in Barcelona are saying.
I will sum up with a quote from the conclusion of the report from the university of Barcelona, which looked at five high-speed rail systems around the world. It states;
“Finally, the economic impacts of HSR are somewhat limited. The largest cities in the network might receive limited gains, but this is not the case for intermediate cities, which might see economic activities being drained away and suffer an overall negative impact.”
The report is not definitive, but before we spend £17 billion of taxpayers’ money, the issues raised in it should be addressed. I will be delighted if the Transport Committee looks at that, and I shall certainly send it a copy. We must thoroughly understand what we are doing, because we could do untold damage to our country at very great cost if we do not get it right.
I declare an interest as the representative for King’s Cross, Euston and St Pancras stations, and as a member of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—I pay it a subscription; it pays me nothing. I do not apologise if I seem nimbyish. I understand that the Secretary of State has attacked people for being nimbys, but 350 to 360 people in my constituency face the demolition of their homes, and “nimby” does not cover that. For many of my constituents, it is not “not in my backyard”, but “not in my front room”. My job is to try to represent them.
The proposed 50-metre extension to the west of Euston station would involve, in addition to knocking down people’s homes, concreting over a small park and preventing the proposed rebuilding of Maria Fidelis convent school. In addition to the formal extension, all sorts of changes would be needed to the approach roads. There would have to be provision for off-station taxi ranks and all sorts of other things, which would involve further demolition outside the lines that have so far been drawn on the map. My opposition started with those points, and I make no apology for it.
However, the more I look at the proposals, the more doubtful I have become. Let us assume that High Speed 2 is a good idea. Even if it is, it is not a good idea to have Euston as the terminus. It has no connection with the Heathrow Express, and never will. It will have no connection with Crossrail, and it has no connection with High Speed 1, so it is not well connected.
As I understand it, because Euston does not have a connection to Heathrow Express and Crossrail, it has been necessary to propose a parkway station at Old Oak Common that will have connections to those lines. That additional expense could otherwise have been avoided. As a result of the inadequacies of Euston, the parkway proposition for Old Oak Common—alias Wormwood Scrubs—had to be added to the proposal. Instead, the line could be brought into Paddington station, which already has links to Heathrow Express and will be on Crossrail. When I pushed that point, people from High Speed 2 said that Paddington could not cope with the number of passengers. Paddington has as many tube connections as Euston and, as I have pointed out, it will link to Heathrow Express and Crossrail. That excuse for not using Paddington appears to be of little relevance.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Another point is the connection with HS1. We are told that great strategists with vinegar-soaked towels around their heads came up with HS2 as the first stage of a great, high-speed rail network. They seemed not to notice that they had not proposed a connection with the only existing part of the high-speed rail network, High Speed 1, which comes into St Pancras station.
I know the Minister is an optimist, but if she thinks I am going to leap to the defence of Lord Adonis, she is a super-optimist. There was no connection—oh dear, the great strategists clean forgot. Now they have bodged a connection. There will be a third bore—if hon. Members will excuse the term—from Old Oak Common, coming out at Primrose Hill. The tunnel will be bored in parallel with the other two tunnels coming into Euston, and will proceed along the North London line to connect to HS1. So far, no one has explained whether it will connect to HS1 through the HS1 line, or by going into the HS1 part of St Pancras station. Perhaps the Minister can elucidate, but I doubt it because I do not think the people at HS2 quite know what they are talking about. Something else that did not appear in the announcement is that the proposal is for that tunnel, and the bit on the North London line, to proceed only at conventional speed. It will be HS2, then a slow bit, then HS1—and we are still supposed to regard the people who came up with that proposition as a set of railway strategists.
When HS1 was being built, I recall that the people from Bechtel looked at the possibility of using the North London line as the route into St Pancras. They decided that the cuttings, embankments and bridges along that line were so lousy that it would be cheaper to bore through to St Pancras, which was a considerable distance. When I pointed that out to someone from HS2, they were unaware of that small and apparently irrelevant fact.
If we talk of strategy, we must look at the promises made for the high-speed rail network. People have been told that it will be a great network, and that we will continue it further north. Under the strategy, the line will split at Birmingham and part of it will go to Manchester and eventually to Glasgow. In the east it will go first to Leeds and then to Newcastle and Edinburgh. The proposal is for the line to get as far as Birmingham by 2026. I, however, am confident enough to make two forecasts of my own about the London to Birmingham line. First, it will not be in operation by 2026, and secondly it will cost more than the present estimate. I am willing to take bets from any hon. Members present at the end of the debate. If I lose, they will no doubt have to pursue my grandchildren for the debt.
I do not pay attention to the prognostications, if there are any, about the likely weight of traffic on the route, or what the scheme is likely to bring in. As my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) said, if the Office for Budget Responsibility cannot come up with a suggestion for what is likely to happen at the end of the current year, there are slim chances of anyone—whether for, against or doubtful about the project—coming up with an accurate prognostication about what will happen in 2025-26 or, in the case of Leeds and Manchester, 2035 or 2040. Then there are Glasgow and Edinburgh. My grandchildren, who now reappear in this story, are likely to go on the train from London to Glasgow using their senior railcards; that is the time scale we are talking about.
The right hon. Gentleman speaks well about the difficulties in forecasting, particularly far into the future. That is why it is extremely important that the business case for the scheme is based on a conservative estimate. Does he admit that while long-distance rail travel has increased by 5% per annum over the past 15 years, in its business case, the Department for Transport has put that increase at 1.4% over the next decade or so? That is pretty conservative.
I do not wish to be rude, but the only thing to add to the hon. Gentleman’s contribution is, “Or I will eat my hat.” I do not have the faintest idea which of those estimates is true, and the odds are that neither will prove true. He knows that as well as I do. We should not be whacking in all this money on the basis of estimates that nobody can back up. All we are really faced with is the proposition that we should support a fast shuttle between Birmingham and London.
I will be very brief. The right hon. Gentleman’s case seems to be that we should never do anything on the basis that we might not be absolutely certain about it. Sometimes projects have to be started. If we never start a project, we will never get any progress.
I will finish on that point. I was always a strong supporter of the channel tunnel and the channel tunnel link. When the same preposterous railway strategists came up with a proposal to place the terminus for High Speed 1 in a cave under King’s Cross station, I was among those who led the opposition to that and proposed St Pancras station instead; we were not entirely nimbyist. Whatever anybody says, that has been a brilliant success. I do not believe that the people who come up with these proposals have done the work properly. If we are to have a proper high-speed network, this is the last way and last place in which to start it.
It is a great pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I add my congratulations to my hon. Friends the Members for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) and for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) and to other right hon. and hon. Members who lobbied for the debate.
I wanted to speak for three reasons. First, I have a long-standing interest in the subject. One reason why I came into politics was to help shape the big strategic decisions that we have to take as a country. I do not want us to look back in 30 or 40 years and realise that we have made the wrong decision.
Secondly, I have a local, constituency interest. My Milton Keynes seat is not on the proposed route for High Speed 2, but it could benefit from the knock-on effects that High Speed 2 would deliver in freeing up capacity on the west coast main line for both commuter services and longer distance stopping services. Anyone who wants to commute from Milton Keynes in peak hours will know that we are severely overcrowded. My other local interest is that although the line does not come through Milton Keynes, it comes close enough for me to have a real understanding of the fact that communities along the line of route will be severely affected. We should not just dismiss the concerns of local residents as though they were Lady Ludlow in “Cranford” objecting to the coming of the railways. They are real communities with real concerns about the impact of the line.
Thirdly and most significantly, I am a member of the Select Committee on Transport and we have recently agreed to conduct a strategic inquiry into high-speed rail. It will not relate specifically to this line of route, but look more widely at the strategic cases for and against high-speed rail in the United Kingdom. I can genuinely say that I will consider all the arguments and evidence objectively. If the strategic case is not made or the detailed plans do not meet the strategic need, I will not support them. However, my starting point is to give high-speed rail in the United Kingdom a fair wind.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), who is no longer in his place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) have mentioned, the other countries that have developed high-speed rail networks—Spain, Germany, France, China and Japan—cannot all be wrong. Yes, there will be differences of detail, but they cannot all be wrong, so we must give high-speed rail a fair wind.
It is clear that we need additional north-south rail capacity in the United Kingdom. Anyone travelling on the west coast main line knows that. I will not go into the detailed arguments now, because of the time constraints. Upgrades could be made to that line and to the east coast main line. There is the Rail Package 2—RP2—project. There are measures such as lengthening trains, improving signalling and removing some of the pinchpoints. All those things can and, I would argue, should happen, but I fear that that is not the complete answer. Those upgrades would buy time. If the High Speed 2 proposals went through, the first trains would start running in 2026—15 years from now. The upgrades to the classic rail network would buy us time over those 15 years, and they should happen, but we need to consider what comes next, because I fear that the upgrades have a finite capacity. This is not an either/or situation; we need to consider both.
The nub of the issue is this: what long-term strategic capacity do we need on our railways? I hope that in the course of our investigation in the Select Committee, we will be able to test robustly the likely demand in respect of freight and passengers, for both inter-city and commuter journeys. All the evidence is that there will be upward pressure, but we need to test that robustly. We also need to consider whether High Speed 2 will be active or passive in meeting that demand. Do we simply assume that that increase in demand will happen, or is there a finite point at which, without any other economic change, a total number of journeys will be reached? In my view, it should be active in looking at how high-speed rail can stimulate economic growth.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire referred to the university of Barcelona, but there are also many other studies. I draw right hon. and hon. Members’ attention to the work of Professor Roger Vickerman of the university of Kent, who has written widely on this subject and gave evidence to the Transport Committee in a separate inquiry that we conducted into transport and the economy. I will not summarise all his work—it is very detailed and complex—but one of his findings was that the issue is not just putting in a new line. That in itself will not be enough. It is what else happens, connecting towns and cities around the sites of the termini—the extra capacity and the linkage that go in there. That makes a difference.
Of course, my constituency is at the end of the High Speed 1 network. I do not think that we would find anyone in east Kent who does not see the High Speed 1 connection as a catalyst for further economic regeneration that will be delivered for many years to come.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We need to consider that broader strategic case. Yes, we are considering the first phase, from London to Birmingham, and then the second phase, the Y shape, to Leeds and Manchester, but we need to go further than that. We need to consider the case for connecting this to Scotland. Recently, I was at a launch jointly held by the leaders of Glasgow and Edinburgh city councils, who have proposed that as well as building from south to north, we should build from north to south. We need to ensure that we consider the case for connecting the airports and for freeing up capacity on the classic lines to ports so that increased freight can be transferred there. All those lessons can also come from abroad to influence our considerations here.
I come now to the environmental points. Again, we need to consider what has happened abroad. The proposed high-speed line will have an operating speed of 250 mph, which is a significant increase on the operating speeds of most high-speed lines in the country. I urge caution on that point. Let us consider Japan, for example. The new generation of the Shinkansen or bullet train can operate at about 250 mph, but it is being limited in its speed because of noise pollution concerns.
I would need to dust down my physics textbooks from school to go into the detail, but there are concepts such as tunnel boom noise—if a train operates at such a high speed, it creates additional noise pollution that does not affect conventional TGV lines. We need to consider that. It is significant because some of the possible routes for High Speed 2 have been ruled out by the 250 mph operating speed. That has to do with the curvature of the line. If we conclude that we can operate a high-speed network at a lower speed, at about 180 or 190 mph, we open up the possibility of looking at the high-speed line following the line of route of an existing transport corridor—perhaps the M40, the M1 or the M6. We need to consider all those points.
I am conscious of the time; I know that many other hon. Members want to speak. The point is that we need to consider all the arguments carefully. This is one of the biggest and most significant transport infrastructure projects that we have had to face for a generation. Get it right and we will have a world-class transport system in this country. Get it wrong and we will have wasted billions of pounds and disrupted many communities without having proper gain from it.
I am glad that we are seeing all-party support as well as opposition to High Speed 2 today. I believe that the UK needs and deserves high-speed rail. Notwithstanding the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), I wonder who now regrets the building of High Speed 1 or the channel tunnel. Crossrail was a very difficult project to get through. Again, it affects my own constituency. The Thames tunnel is another one of those major infrastructure projects that this country used to be well known for, and used to have the courage to go ahead with, but which we are now seen to be fearful of pursuing. Unfortunately, the spirit of Brunel does not seem to have infected many of those on the Government Benches.
Why should the benefits of high-speed rail, whether as an alternative to air travel, as something that provides commercial benefits for trade or simply as a more civilised way for people to get around and meet friends and relations, be restricted in this country? Why should people in this country be restricted simply to getting to the continent and getting beyond that? Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), I would praise the contribution of Lord Adonis. He took it by the scruff of its neck and pushed it forward. I shall resist praising the Secretary of State, because I may be lynched if I mention his comments to Metro. He said:
“There is not much more to their argument than Nimbyism. I hear lots of arguments about whether the country can afford it, value for money and the business case. But 95 per cent of these arguments come from people who just happen to live in Wendover, Aylesbury or Amersham.”
I suspect that invitations to the Secretary of State for constituency dinners are rather fewer; perhaps that is why he said what he did. I rarely disagree with my right hon. Friend, but I do on this occasion. I have never before heard Shepherds Bush described as a parkway.
I visited the site of the Old Oak interchange two weeks ago; it is in the north of my constituency. It is a large brownfield site that has always been railway land, and it is a wholly suitable location. There will be six new platforms for High Speed 2, and eight new platforms for the Great Western line, Crossrail and the Heathrow express—and, indeed, the direct link to High Speed 1. It seems entirely sensible to put the interchange just outside London; it is only a few minutes away from Euston but it gives a direct link. It will be the UK’s major rail interchange, and it is a sensible place to put it.
I shall say a word in favour of nimbyism in a moment.
Yes, it is true that my constituency will suffer no loss of property, and I am obviously delighted by the fact. Indeed, 5,000 jobs and a minimum of 1,600 homes will be created by the new infrastructure. It will be a positive development in one of the most deprived areas of the country—White City, Shepherds Bush and Old Oak. I should say that I live five minutes from there, but it will put my constituents 10 minutes from Heathrow and just over 40 minutes from Birmingham. These are the sort of projects of which the country used to be proud, and it used to seek mitigation for them rather than avoiding them altogether on the basis that such decisions are difficult to make.
Having said that, I believe that the project is good not only because the route and the interchange have some parochial benefit but because they give direct access to the Great Western line, Crossrail, the Heathrow express and HS1 just a few minutes outside central London. That is an improvement.
I have two caveats for the Minister, if she will take the advice. First, the Government need to look for friends wherever they can, but they have not done that so far. Last year’s debate was on 11 March, almost a year ago, and the Minister was then Opposition spokesman. Her aggressive stance rather belied the fact that she supported the announcement made by Lord Adonis. Her questions then are ones that she could answer today. She asked:
“Will they match our commitment to start work immediately on taking the line beyond Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds as part of stage 1?...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?”
Those are all questions that the Minister might want to answer today. Rather churlishly I thought, she then said about Old Oak:
“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.”— [Official Report, 11 March 2010; Vol. 507-08, c. 450.]
I remind the Minister of this every time the subject comes up, and I know that she is happy to eat those words.
Absolutely, but that was always in Lord Adonis’ mind. The report that he commissioned from Lord Mawhinney clearly said that Old Oak was an appropriate, good-quality terminus and connection point to the airport, and pointed out that the Conservatives’ previous scheme of having the interchange at Heathrow would cost between £2 billion and £4 billion more; he effectively rubbished that scheme in favour of the Adonis project, which is what we have gone back to.
As I say, we should let bygones be bygones—except for this point. When the Secretary of State launched the scheme on 20 December, he made a statement in the House without presenting Members with plans and documents, so we were entirely in the dark. He went to Old Oak and launched the scheme that morning, giving notice to everyone, including the Conservative party, but not the constituency MP. The Minister and HS2 are rather short of friends at the moment, and they should look to cultivate people a little more if they wish to continue to have them speak out on their behalf.
As far as I am aware—other Members may have seen it—there is no HS2 briefing for this debate. I had no correspondence until I approached HS2 about a visit to the site. The consultation is not adequate. The only consultation for my constituents is to be held at the Westfield shopping centre, which is a long way from the site and an entirely inappropriate location, for one day; it happens to be tomorrow. If the Minister has some influence, she could take the message back to High Speed 2 that it is not making friends through its their approach.
A more serious point is this. Notwithstanding what I said in response to the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) about the effect on individual constituencies, mitigation will be the key to the project’s success. That applies to my constituency, as much of the tunnelling will take place from the Old Oak interchange. When it comes to the disposal of spoil, the road network in the area is entirely inadequate given the traffic that will be generated. We may not have anything quite like the Chilterns in Shepherds Bush, but we do have Wormwood Scrubs. It is a large open space that is ecologically sensitive, and I have been protecting it not for years but for many decades. If HS2 and the Government wish to have, if not their support, then at least the acquiescence of hon. Members, they need to go a lot further.
I shall be very brief, as I know that my hon. Friend is reaching the end of his peroration. I know that people are listening, as ever, to his words with great interest, but does he agree with Councillor Ed Rennie of Perivale, who says that it is ludicrous to hold the HS2 consultation that affects Perivale in Greenford, and would it not be better to hold it in Perivale? That is very much in line with what my hon. Friend said about the vast echoing distances between Wormwood and Westfield.
We are all agreed that we want the UK economy to grow, and that we want a greater rebalancing of the economy. That means giving more impetus to the regions. We are all agreed that we want to reduce internal aircraft flights so as to reduce carbon emissions. The question for the House is whether spending the same, or even a lesser, amount of money than is proposed for HS2 in other ways would give us the same or better policy outcomes.
The right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) was right to say that the policy was put upon us, fully formed and out of the blue, shortly before the general election. This is the first debate in which the House has had the chance to give intensive scrutiny to this multi-billion pound project. That puts an enormous responsibility on the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) and the Select Committee on Transport; on behalf of the House, they have undertaken to inquire into HS2 and the alternatives. We all need to look to the Select Committee to carry out an independent and objective inquiry. One thing that I have learned in my time in the House is that when both Front-Bench teams are in agreement, the Back Benchers have to start counting the spoons. It is always dangerous when both Front-Bench teams are in agreement.
The inquiry being undertaken by the Transport Committee is of a strategic nature. Its terms of reference have been set out, and I would not want there to be any misunderstanding about the scope and nature of the inquiry.
I understand the exact terms of reference. In holding a strategic inquiry, the hon. Lady and her Committee are doing the House a great service, because the earliest that the House could consider this matter otherwise would be in the hybrid Bill Committee. Such are the curious rules of the House that many of us would not be able to submit evidence to that Committee. This is exactly the time when we need a strategic inquiry into the principles of HS2 and the alternative. As I said, when both Front-Bench teams are in agreement, there is always a danger that things can get overlooked.
Let me explain how it is possible for our country, in its understandable desire to incorporate and embrace what was in the 1960s called the white heat of technology, to get things really badly wrong. More than 20 years ago, my first job in Government as a junior Minister was helping John Wakeham to privatise the electricity industry. Part of my brief was responsibility for nuclear power. We had to consider whether we could incorporate nuclear power within the privatisation. I could not understand why no one had thought of the contingent liabilities of decommissioning the nuclear power stations and the cost of nuclear waste. I will not detain the House, save to say that I went back and looked at the ministerial papers and press cuttings of some 20 or 30 years previously, when nuclear power stations were first being built. No one, either in government or outside, had given any proper consideration to the costs of decommissioning nuclear power stations, or of storing and disposing of nuclear waste.
We are all here representing the taxpayers. I think this is the first debate in Westminster Hall at which Mr Speaker has thought it appropriate to be present. It was also telling that for quite a long time my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) was in his place. Unless I have badly misunderstood the routing of HS2, it does not affect Isle of Wight strategically, either in a nimby way or any other way. He was here, as we all are, representing taxpayers and the national interest. This is a project that will cost billions and billions of pounds. If we get it wrong, we get it seriously wrong. We all have a collective duty to get it right, so far as taxpayers are concerned.
I do not pretend to be a rail engineer. I do not pretend to know or to be able to make a value judgment on the benefits of HS2 versus the benefit of the Atkins or other reports. I hope that the Transport Committee and others will start to give some independent and objective analysis of that. I hope that they will pick up the rather important point made by the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), with a little prompting from me: the scheme could have a detrimental impact on parts of the regions. Birmingham might benefit from the line, but Coventry might not; Leeds might benefit, but Wakefield might lose out. All those things have to be properly assessed.
This is not a debate that can be dealt with in set-piece forums such as this. We are talking about an issue that the country will live with for years and years. It behoves Parliament to get it right, and it behoves us, as Back Benchers, to ensure that the structures of the House, and especially the Select Committee, subject the project to the intellectual rigour and investigation that it needs, so that present taxpayers and future generations get the right answers.
It is a pleasure to serve for the first time under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) suggested that when both Front-Bench teams are in agreement, we should count the spoons. Given that I broadly agree with him, I am not sure what we should be counting. Hopefully, as a member of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association and a former Network Rail employee who worked on a number of civil engineering and major projects, I will bring something to this debate.
The past 30 years of rail infrastructure projects in the UK have been somewhat chequered. There are some great successes: we have reopened a number of rail lines; reconnected communities; and brought social and economic benefits to large parts of the United Kingdom, and a permanent link to mainland Europe. Those are, I hope, benefits in everyone’s eyes. However, we have had some significant failures in those rail projects. Each one has been over budget, if we look at what the politicians claimed originally and the actual bill the taxpayer received. Many require ongoing subsidy and many communities have been blighted, including one in my area, thanks to the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway.
The hon. Gentleman was right to make a point about budgets. This is not a party political point. The channel tunnel came in desperately over budget, and there has been talk about ongoing problems with High Speed 1. To look at a small-scale project, the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway, which only involved the reopening of seven miles of track, went from being £20 million originally to £77 million when it was finally delivered, and compensation cases are still to be resolved. The Airdrie Bathgate project, which I helped to deliver, was £40 million when it was first mooted and £300 million when it was actually delivered. For that reason alone, I do not believe a single figure that has been bandied around for the cost of any section of HS2 and its successor projects.
If the line reaches Edinburgh, a whole new station would have to be constructed, because Edinburgh cannot take high-speed rail. The current station is right in the city centre and there is no capacity left for any more track or platforms. That means that a whole new set of connecting track would need to be laid from the parkway station that would be required to the network, and those costs have not been worked out.
The question is: who benefits from high-speed rail? It only works if it travels great distances between stops. It needs to get up to high speed to make the time savings. This is a blindingly obvious thing to say, but every time we add a stop, it adds several minutes to the journey. That is not just because the train has to slow down and pick up speed again, but because passengers have to get off and on the train.
I hope that the Minister will learn from successive Ministers, both in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, that leadership is required. When a route is set out, she must not give in to the very eloquent lobbying that she will get from many Members who will say, “Of course I support it, but you need to add my local area to it.” The line can only work if it is genuinely high-speed and connects only the great conurbations. I doubt that either Warrington or even Carlisle will qualify on those grounds, despite the eloquent cases that will be made for them.
The Minister must recognise that we need to have rolling stock in place before we start to build. One of the great reasons for the failure of the Edinburgh airport rail link was that Ministers in Scotland tried to build a rail link under a live airport without any clear sense of what the rolling stock would actually look like. For instance, for safety reasons, it is impossible to send a diesel train underground, and a whole network would need to be electrified. That project floundered because it was impossible to find suitable rolling stock that worked anywhere in the world. One of my great concerns about High Speed 2 and its successors is that I have not heard a clear articulation of what the required rolling stock is. Perhaps when the Minister responds to the debate she can say whether the Government have identified suitable rolling stock that actually exists somewhere on track, rather than on paper.
I sound a final note of caution about the independence of the business case. The Minister is fully aware of the ongoing dispute between the TSSA and Network Rail, which she has been helping to mediate. That dispute is about the past leadership of Iain Coucher, the former chief executive of Network Rail. I do not wish to detain the House, but there are some very serious concerns about Mr Coucher’s financial practices and about why he has spent so much taxpayers’ money lobbying for a high-speed rail project. I hope that the Minister will give a cast-iron guarantee that Mr Coucher and his associates will play no part in the delivery of high-speed rail, if and when it goes ahead.
In conclusion—I am trying to stick to your six-minute limit, Mr Walker—there are five key things that the Minister must demonstrate for this project to go ahead. First, there must be robust and independent analysis of the business case and the time savings. Secondly, clear leadership must be given on delivery. Thirdly, there must be no compromises on stations once the route is set out. Fourthly, there must be rolling stock that actually exists on track somewhere, rather than in someone’s head. Fifthly, there must be honesty about ongoing costs for the subsidy of the line of route and the rolling stock.
I am grateful to you, Mr Walker, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
First, I want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on securing this debate. I know that this issue is a major concern for her constituents and she is an extremely diligent campaigner who serves them well. I also regard her as a much-valued colleague.
I have been very keen to have the opportunity to debate the plans for high-speed rail. Indeed, just last month I called for this debate so that Members would have the chance to take on the misinformation that has been spread by the alliance of luddites and nimbys who oppose the plans. It appears that my comments sparked outrage in some quarters and I am truly sorry for that. I did not intend to cause offence. My only aim was to describe accurately the opponents of High Speed 2 and I firmly believe that my description of them was accurate.
That belief was compounded after I was bombarded by letters from furious people. Curiously enough, they all live very near to the proposed route for HS2 and many of them wore the “nimby” label unashamedly and with pride. Having said that, my favourite of those letters said:
“I am not a nimby, I just don’t want a railway line built near my house.”
Other letters suggested that northerners should be grateful that they already have a railway line and a motorway, and should stop complaining.
I could joke all day about the ridiculous comments made by nimbys, but on a serious note it is worrying when a very small group of people from a tiny slither of one of the wealthiest areas in the country seeks to thwart a major infrastructure project that would be of huge benefit to the whole country and that was a manifesto promise of all three main parties, which received a combined 88% share of the vote at the general election.
The nimbys are attempting to thwart the project by peddling a series of myths. First, they are trying to present the debate about high-speed rail as a false choice. They claim that, instead of funding HS2, we should focus on improving rail capacity, but the high-speed rail link will free up capacity for existing commuter lines and, crucially, for freight on a network that is already overstretched. Network Rail supports the plans for that reason, saying:
“HS2 solves the capacity challenge”.
That leads me neatly to the second myth, that doing nothing is an option. Our key rail routes are expected to be completely full in the next 20 years. Our international competitors are already ahead of the game and have invested heavily in high-speed rail. If we do not act now, we will be left behind and the long-term effects on our global competitiveness could be devastating.
Thirdly and most importantly for our nimby friends, let us deal with the myth that the proposals for high-speed rail will lead to the destruction of the countryside. The Government have rightly gone to considerable lengths to reduce noise and to minimise the number of properties that will be affected by the route. In total, 340 properties will be affected, 216 of which are in central London. Only 10 properties will suffer from high noise levels.
Next, let me answer those who claim that the business case has yet to be made for high-speed rail, despite conservative estimates that the project will have initial economic benefits of £43 billion and will create 40,000 jobs. I have already touched on the importance of high-speed rail to our international competitiveness, which is very hard to quantify. However, the benefits to businesses based in my constituency and the rest of the north are very clear.
Does my hon. Friend accept that, in less than 12 months, the new business case has already halved the estimated economic benefit and that that does not give us a great deal of confidence in the business case as it stands, including the figures that he cites?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. Varying and conflicting figures are bandied around, but there is a fundamental issue that was mentioned earlier. These train stations will not be built and these train lines will not reach my constituency until the 2020s. I have a young family and I am thinking of the futures of my children and my children’s children. It is very important that we make these very difficult decisions now. We could argue all day about conflicting figures, but it is very important that we push ahead with this project, which is important for our country’s future, including that of our children and our children’s children.
High-speed rail gives businesses the gift of time. Anyone who has a business background, as I do, knows the truth of the old saying, “Time is money”. In this case, that means more than slashing travel times to less than 80 minutes between Manchester and London. Neil Stephenson, the chief executive of a Newcastle-based IT firm, put it best in a recent article. He wrote:
“The failure of Britain’s transport system translates into missed meetings, unexpected overnight stays, disappointed customers and frazzled staff. A quick, cheap, reliable train service means I can build a customer base in places our employees couldn’t previously service without expensive hotel bills and missed night-time stories for their kids. And it means I can recruit from the high-end IT talent pools of London. These are tangible benefits that will help me build my business.”
Would the business case for high-speed rail be even better for some of the businesses up north if there was a stop on the main route at Heathrow? Part of the case that is made for extending high-speed rail up to the north is that business men who want to travel abroad and need to get to Heathrow could go on a train rather than a plane. Therefore, would it not be sensible and would it not make the business case even more persuasive if Heathrow was on the main route, which of course it was in some of the alternative proposals?
I thank my hon. Friend. He mentioned the business man in the north who wants to recruit high-quality IT talent. Does he not think that that high-quality IT talent might be using the internet rather than wanting £34 billion of money to be spent on high-speed rail infrastructure?
Well, I am sorry that I gave way to my hon. Friend. [Laughter.] I can only go on what business men in the north of England are saying and it is true that markets in the south-east of England should be open to the whole of the UK. That is why many high-profile business leaders have backed high-speed rail and why it will help to reduce the north-south divide. My colleague from Yorkshire, my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), is no longer in his place but he made that point earlier.
There are many reasons why the south is more prosperous than the north, but one of the most obvious is the south’s proximity to our major trading markets in Europe. High-speed rail allows us to close that gap between north and south, and to bring our country closer together. I am therefore very proud to support the Government’s high-speed rail plans and I also praise the previous Labour Government and Lord Adonis in particular for the important steps that they took.
Having said that, I am increasingly concerned about the current Labour party and its position on HS2. The shadow Transport spokesman, the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), has indicated that HS2 has been dumped by Labour, along with every other policy now that Labour has started again with “a blank piece of paper”. Last week the deputy Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), said that most of Labour’s cuts would come from holding back on capital investment. Some clarification is urgently required. If Labour were to oppose this once-in-a-lifetime investment in the north, I know that my constituents would never forgive them.
Let me conclude by saying that railways have always been a crucial part of Britain’s economic prosperity. They drove the massive growth in living standards during the 19th century and created new opportunities for people from every corner of our country, but even then small-minded obstructionists stood in the way of progress who were not too dissimilar to those we have today. The ladies of Cranford eventually came round to the idea of the railway. I hope that the opponents of high-speed rail will also see the light some day, as our future economic competitiveness depends on high-speed rail.
I shall adhere to your injunction to be brief, Mr Walker. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) for securing the debate, and also my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant)—who is not in his place—for leading the charge to secure an inquiry from the Transport Committee into HS2.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) that I shall not invite him to any of my supper clubs in the near future. My constituents are not nimbys. I have spoken to several hundred of them over the past months, and I saw about 80 last Saturday. They tell me that if it can be demonstrably proven that the business case stacks up, if there are proper mitigations in place in their vicinity, and if they get fair and reasonable compensation for the loss they suffer, they will, through gritted teeth, accept the proposal. The trouble, as we have heard today, is that the business case has not been proven, mitigations are not yet known—the route was announced last December but in the Tamworth area we are still waiting for a roadshow, which we will not get until June—and, although we have had hints about compensation for blight, we still do not know anything about what we might get. People are understandably very concerned.
I will not dwell on the value side of the business case and the holes that have been found in it during the debate, because my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire has already done that very eloquently, as have other Members. However, let me say this about it: the net value ratio, which has been significantly reduced by HS2 Ltd—so it accepts that it is wrong—still uses as its basis for generating demand the Passenger Demand Forecasting Handbook, version 4.1, which Sir Rod Eddington has said is out of date, uses incorrect views on saturation of demand, future technological advances and competition that might affect demand, and that we should be using version 5.0. I look forward to my right hon. Friend the Minister’s making it clear in her remarks that that particular handbook will be used to generate demand, and that HS2 Ltd will be directed to do its sums again.
I want to focus on the cost side of the business case. Other Members have pointed out that one should never believe a Government when they talk about how much they will spend on capital infrastructure projects. Phase 1 of HS2 has been identified as costing £17.1 billion, but phase 2, the Y-shaped link, adds a further £13 billion or so, taking the total cost to more than £30 billion. We have heard that those figures might be right—they might be wrong—but the fact of the matter is that some figures that do not appear in the cost side should be included.
One of those key figures is the cost of blight. From Eversholt Street down by Euston all the way up to Whittington, businesses and properties are blighted by the proposed railway. They are blighted now, because if people in those places manage to sell their properties, they will lose 30%, 40% or even 50% of the value, and stamp duty accruing to the Treasury will fall. That is not costed in the business case, but it means that estate agents and solicitors will do less business, and vendors’ buying power will be reduced. None of that is in the cost side of the business case, and it ought to be.
Then we come to compensation. We have heard, and I have it in a letter—which I do not have in front of me, so I will not put words into his mouth—that the Secretary of State has indicated that the Government will look at innovative ways of providing some form of compensation. That needs to go into the business case, so that we know the true cost of the proposition, which I think could run into several hundred million pounds, further reducing the proposed net benefit ratio and further undermining HS2 Ltd’s case for building the railway.
I shall end here, as I am conscious that other Members wish to speak. I call upon the Minister to look again at the business case proposed by HS2 Ltd, and again, and more carefully, at Rail Package 2. There is still time for her to change her mind, and I hope that she considers doing so.
There were some emotional comments earlier, and I shall try to avoid making any more in my remarks in opposition to HS2.
In my view, any project of this scale should pass three key tests. Can we afford it, how effective is it, and will it achieve the kind of return on investment that justifies the expenditure? As we all know, HS2 will cost about £17 billion for the first part of the line, rising to £32 billion in total. That is more than we plan to spend on transport in the whole of next year, and more than we will collect in council tax in England and Wales. It comes at a time when we have to make considerable reductions in public spending in, for example, policing and defence. Although I respect the fact that the project will be carried out over many years, we should not pretend that it is somehow not extremely large or extremely expensive.
The Department for Transport has said that the project is affordable. Its own website states, in answer to a question on affordability:
“The country can’t afford not to invest in its future. All other major economies are pressing ahead with ambitious high speed rail plans - we cannot allow Britain to be left behind.”
I recently visited India with the International Development Committee, and we talked about the space programme in which the Indian Government are investing. I do not see the Minister for Universities and Science, my right hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr Willetts) coming before the House to seek its support for such a programme so that we do not get left behind.
The Department for Transport also says that HS2 will cost only £2 billion a year, and that most of the expenditure will occur after the next election. That is a dangerous way to consider a project. Such an approach has seen Departments such as the Ministry of Defence end up with a £38 million spending black hole. Every project should be considered carefully, and the issue of cost not avoided just because it happens to fall many years in the future. Moreover, £2 billion a year is almost as much as we spend on the pupil premium, which could arguably do more for our competitiveness and productivity. Given the fiscal pressure that we are under and the number of schemes across the country that have to operate in tight financial circumstances, we should not so lightly throw around £2 billion.
The scheme’s objectives have changed several times. When the Conservative party first articulated its support for HS2, it said that it did so because the project would ensure that a third runway at Heathrow would not be necessary. Then it was because HS2 would be good for the economy and for better connectivity. Now it is because extra capacity is necessary, but how effective will HS2 be in achieving those goals? One of the biggest problems with the project, and part of the reason why the cost is so important, is that we cannot know for certain what good will occur because of the new line. We should be extremely careful in claiming benefits when we simply do not know exactly what they will be.
Nevertheless, we should for one moment consider the nature of the economic world in which we live. Hundreds of years ago, during the industrial revolution, the necessity of physical access to materials and workplaces meant that being able quickly to get from one place to another had a considerable economic benefit. It was due to the development of the railways that Britain could take such a lead over competitor nations, but these days another economic revolution has occurred—the internet revolution. Increasingly, people do not need to move from one place to another because they can work from offices that can connect people all over the world to share data and hold meetings. Video conferencing is becoming more and more sophisticated and cost-effective, leading companies to reduce their travel and boost their productivity. Goods are made in several different locations, with the design and manufacturing taking place in totally different areas. That movement leaves HS2 looking more and more like a relic of our economic past.
Increases in capacity are of course important, and I agree that we need to ensure that we can meet future demand and increase access for freight to reduce costs in the long term. The point is that capacity, not speed, will lead to increased economic benefits—the chairman of HS2 Ltd said so himself, publicly. Unlike countries such as France and Spain, which have created high-speed rail lines, we already have high levels of interconnectivity between our major urban areas; we are, after all, a relatively small island. Back in 2007, the Eddington transport study confirmed that to be the case. The Department for Transport accepted the study and its analysis. What is needed, therefore, is investment in our existing transport infrastructure to boost the capacity we so desperately need.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Walker. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. As I am mindful of the time, I certainly will not take my six minutes.
This is a timely debate, given that the Transport Committee is about to embark on an inquiry into high-speed rail. I urge the many right hon. and hon. Members who show a keen interest in the issue to make their views known so that our inquiry can take them into consideration when reaching a decision on the strategic viability of high-speed rail.
To put my cards on the table, I have always been a big supporter of creating a high-speed rail network that not only connects Birmingham and the northern cities of Manchester and Leeds but goes all the way to Scotland and allows rail services from Scotland to compete with domestic flights. At the same time, I recognise that an infrastructure project of such size can create a great deal of controversy, and that it will have a terrible impact on some people who live along the line.
I certainly would not decry any hon. Member for doing their job in representing their constituents’ concerns. Any infrastructure project of such a size will cause significant disruption and heartache for the people whom it affects. I have some sympathy with the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), given the impact that the project will have on his constituents.
In my constituency, the extension of the Metrolink is certainly causing a significant amount of heartache among many of my constituents who support the project on the whole but have problems with non-adherence to promises made before work was commenced. One can understand why some residents turn against schemes and have major concerns about their impact. That is why it is vital that clear and transparent decisions are made about the local environment and how it will be protected for the people most affected by the route, and that those decisions are stuck to. However, I certainly hope that high-speed rail will go ahead, and I will comment briefly on why I think it must.
By pressing ahead with a high-speed rail network, we can ensure sufficient rail capacity for the foreseeable future. Some opponents have argued that upgrading the existing main line networks would deal with any capacity constraints, but that would only address the problem in the short term. Ultimately, a high-speed rail network will inevitably be necessary. We must consider the next 100 years, not just the next 10. Some £10 billion has already been spent on upgrading the west coast main line, yet on 1 March, the new chief executive of Network Rail made it clear that the west coast main line would be at full capacity again within six to 10 years. In an answer to my question, he said that
“the West Coast line, within 10 years at the absolute maximum, and probably six years, will be at capacity, and that is with additional carriages included in the area. We can look at other tactical interventions in that line to put more capacity in there, but in the end it comes down to capacity: we will, across a number of key parts of our network, run out of capacity.”
The chief executive of Network Rail is absolutely clear that even with extra costly improvements, the west coast main line will not have enough capacity to deal with the growth in rail travel. We need the high-speed network to accommodate future rail travel.
Competing services and franchises are already battling for space on the network. We in Manchester are lucky to have a good service to London. I suppose that I should declare an interest as a regular user of that service, including the 9 o’clock train this evening. Due to the success of the franchise, Virgin is considering extending the service to four trains an hour rather than three, but doing so would adversely affect both local and regional services, so the local integrated transport authority understandably opposes any additional trains on the Manchester to London service. The creation of a high-speed network will release significant capacity on the existing network, allowing the expansion of regional and local services that are completely constrained at the moment by the needs of longer distance services.
To add a word of caution, I hope that the Minister can put hon. Members’ minds at rest about the impact of spending on high-speed rail. Many people have argued that we should not proceed with high-speed rail because it will result in a lack of investment in the existing network as all the money is diverted into paying for the high-speed network. It is worth pointing out that the coalition Government have already shown a commitment to investing in rail infrastructure, despite the difficult economic times. Again, I welcome the announcement in the Budget of funding for the Ordsall curve in Manchester, which will have a dramatic impact on capacity and journey times, but I hope that she can assure us that high-speed rail will not get the go-ahead at the expense of investment in the existing network. I hope that she will make that clear in her remarks.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I will try to be quick. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on securing the debate. I take a completely different view from her. As a supporter of High Speed 2, I am rather glad that Mr Speaker is not here, as I do not think that he would ever call me again.
This subject has been mentioned in numerous debates, but a specific, dedicated debate is long overdue. We lag behind other countries. France, Spain, Italy, Japan and China have the technology and show that it works. As we debate the issue, France is finishing its seventh line. As I see it, we have a lot to learn from those countries. Not to do so would be a huge mistake. Our increasingly slow, congested and unreliable system is in danger of slowing our economic performance. Sometimes, when I leave King’s Cross station to go to Leeds, passengers are forced to stand up until Peterborough. Capacity is bursting at the seams. It threatens to increase the north-south divide. It is important that we consider the national as well as the local interest.
All sorts of figures have been bandied around in this debate. Some hon. Members claim that those figures are correct and some dispute them, but the economic benefits are suggested to be about £44 billion. The creation of 8,000 construction jobs and another 30,000 associated jobs is to be welcomed. It is a strategic investment that I believe will benefit Leeds and Manchester, and I am particularly delighted that the Government chose the Y option.
It is not true that the likes of Wakefield will not benefit. We are working on a city-region approach in Leeds, Bradford and other parts of Yorkshire. Many cities will enjoy the same benefits as Leeds. The project will reshape the economic geography of this country. High-speed rail will complement investment in the northern hub, which will allow faster and more frequent trains—an extra 700 a day—between cities in the north and could bring a benefit of up to £4 billion and 23,000 jobs to the region.
High-speed rail is not entirely a solution to the north-south divide, but it will go a long way towards solving the problem. The Independent said:
“All governments promise to shift national growth away from the south-east; high-speed rail is a policy that should help turn those good intentions into reality.”
I agree entirely with those sentiments.
High-speed rail is also a solution to fast-growing demand on an already crowded network. Travel on the London to Leeds route is forecast to increase by 44% between 2006 and 2016. It is a pressing problem. High-speed rail will reduce travel times from London to Leeds by an hour to 80 minutes, a fact that I will probably try to keep from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
The journey time from Birmingham to Leeds will be reduced from two hours to an hour and five minutes. The east coast main line was closed when we had that bad snow over winter. I had to travel via Birmingham and then across to Leeds. It is a long and arduous journey, and it would be good to connect those two great cities.
I recognise the opposition that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends face in their constituencies. One action group has said that this is a
“vanity project for politicians who want fast trains for fat cats.”
No, it is not. Members want to see benefits brought to their constituencies. This is something that we have needed in the north for generations. As the Secretary of State for Transport has said:
“Ironically the further north we get the easier it will get”
“people seem to understand more clearly the argument on jobs and growth.”
We do, because we have had problems economically for years and this will help us to get there.
I also have a warning shot for people in the north, because we have been far too quiet. It is time for us to stand up and shout louder. It has been said recently that high-speed rail might be killed by apathy. I fear that that may be right, which is why I am speaking today. We must trumpet our support. I am delighted that the Yorkshire Post has gathered the names of politicians, council leaders and businesses as a call to arms to support the project. High-speed rail may do the one thing that we all thought impossible—unite Lancashire and Yorkshire in one voice.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on securing this debate. I shall start by agreeing with her on a few points, but, unfortunately, our paths will then diverge. We should not do high-speed rail just because the rest of the world is doing it. Just because every other country in Europe is forging ahead with this does not mean that we should—I accept that argument. We should not do High Speed 2 just because the business case for High Speed 1, and the reason why it went to St Pancras, was that it could be linked to the north. That should not be the reason why we do it. We should not do it just because of the carbon saved. As has been pointed out, the modal shift is quite small. We should not do it as cover for our plans in relation to Heathrow.
We should do it only if three conditions exist: the business case has to be robust; we must be satisfied that there are transformational benefits; and, on a cash-flow basis, it has to be affordable. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) has talked about that final point, and I shall address that first. Roughly speaking, the cost in cash-flow terms is £2 billion a year, which is a great deal of money. However, it is, roughly speaking, the same as we are currently spending on Crossrail—I see the Minister nodding, which encourages me—and, by and large, it will start as Crossrail finishes. I support Crossrail and have no issue with it, but it is important that that point is understood.
We agree that the business case is vital, and this debate must centre on it. Some of the points that have been made about the business case during this debate are misinformed. Yes, there have to be forecasts of the future—that is what a forecast does. As I said in an intervention, rail usage has increased by 5% per annum over the past decade and a half. The business case upon which this project is justified assumes that it will continue to increase at 1.4% per annum. I agree that that might be too high, but it is certainly not radical.
The hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) made the point that the project is predicated on time savings. Yes, it is—it is a transport project and that is how we tend to justify such projects in terms of benefit. That is how Crossrail was justified and it will be how this is justified.
Another point is often made—I want to address this before it gets too much currency. We can work on the train these days. We have personal computers and so on, and are therefore productive. That is true and the business case does not properly take it into account. It does not take into account the fact that productivity of that nature exists and that, if someone is standing up on a crowded train, the losses are enormous. In fact, that precise issue is addressed on page 51 of the Department for Transport’s business case. The fact is that the business cost ratio increases if productivity due to internet usage on a train is taken into account.
I want to put a couple of things on the record in relation to transformational benefits. We can take the Barcelona view or we can take other views. During an earlier speech, somebody said that the train might not stop at Warrington. I agree, but that is not the point. The point is that the North-West chamber of commerce believes that the scheme will bring £8 billion-worth of benefits to my region. Those benefits will accrue to Warrington in the same way that they will accrue to Banbury and—dare I say it—Northampton. Let us at least get that clear.
A recent report that KPMG produced for Greengauge 21 estimates that there will be an incremental, steady-state increase in jobs of 40,000 in the north and the north-west due to the scheme. That might not be right—I am pleased that the Select Committee on Transport is going to validate the numbers—but these are important transformational issues, and they must be taken seriously.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) is signalling to me—I think he wants to speak next. This debate must not be tarnished by nimbyism and all that goes with it. It is more important than that and too important for it. I accept that the most vociferous opposition comes from those counties that are impacted the most. In all fairness, I live in Cheshire and it may well be that, when the next bit is announced, I will be a nimby as well. Members are entitled to respect their constituents. I want to put on the record that I discovered during my research yesterday that two of the consultants who represent one of the most influential rail action groups against the proposal both live in Great Missenden. It is important, as we evaluate the scheme, that we get it right.
Finally, mitigation is important and the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) has made some good points about it. We need to take it seriously, but it is not as important as the transformational benefits that may accrue from the scheme if it happens.
I am aware that I no longer have six minutes to speak, but that is, coincidentally, a thirteenth of the time that it will take to get from Leeds to London using high-speed rail. The Government have already done a lot to address the imbalance between the north and south, but I want them and colleagues to have the vision and ambition to crack on with high-speed rail. Across the north of England, Members of Parliament of all parties, civic leaders, the business community, higher education leaders and residents have all made clear that viewpoint. People have already referred to the Yorkshire Post letter, which was signed by 21 MPs from all three main parties, 14 council leaders and more than 50 major companies, including O2, Yorkshire Bank and Eversheds. The demand clearly exists, as those of us who have endured several hours of standing on packed trains when returning to our constituencies will know. I hope that I will not have to do that on the train back to west Yorkshire this evening.
The issue is about capacity as well. Even Network Rail says that it supports high-speed rail,
“because it is the best solution to meet the challenge of fast-growing demand on an already crowded network”.
It forecasts a growth in passenger numbers of 44% by 2016. That time is near, so I hope that it is accurate.
High-speed rail will close the gap between the south and the north of England. It will boost competitiveness, create jobs and attract international businesses. At a time when we are seeking to demonstrate to the world that Britain is open for business, actions speak louder than words. High Speed 2 is the action that the north of England has needed for many years. The economic case is clear, the public desire is overwhelming, and the benefit to the region’s economy cannot be understated. Without high-speed rail, we risk a two-speed nation. To remain internationally competitive, we cannot allow that to happen. I urge the Government to deliver for the north of England and to deliver HS2.
I am pleased to contribute to this very important debate about the High Speed 2 programme. I suspect that I may be interrupted by a Division in the House. I congratulate Conservative Members and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) on applying to the Backbench Business Committee to allocate time for the debate. We have been provided with the opportunity to listen to the views, opinions and concerns of right hon. and hon. Members from across the House.
As mentioned, Labour in government set out a vision for a high-speed rail line running from London to Birmingham and on to Leeds, Manchester and eventually Scotland. I welcome the public consultation on High Speed 2 launched by the Government in February. They boasted that it would be one of the biggest and most wide-ranging consultations every undertaken by a Government. We need to have a full discussion about high-speed rail, especially for the communities that will be directly affected by the construction of the line.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
Before I was interrupted, I was about to say that it is clear that a project of this size and scale will not be without controversy, which I shall come on to later. However, I certainly recognise the importance of increasing capacity and connectivity in rail, particularly in respect of the west coast main line and the Chiltern line. The previous Labour Government rightly assessed that improved transport capacity would be needed from the 2020s between our major cities, starting with the route from London to the west midlands, two of Britain’s largest conurbations. The projections show that by then, the west coast main line will be at capacity. It is projected that, by 2033, the average long-distance west coast main line train will be 80% full, with routine severe overcrowding for much of the time.
Perhaps there will be benefits from some of the suggestions put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West and others, but I also understand the argument that the development of the 335-mile Y-shaped network would bring our major cities closer together and, as such, create the potential to boost investment and economic growth in the north. I would like to ask the Government how much extra capacity they anticipate high-speed rail will bring, and what estimates they have made of the modal shift from air travel that would result from the extension.
Labour remains committed to investing in a world-class rail system, and high-speed rail could have an important role to play in delivering it. That is why we began this process in government. As Members will know, Labour has just embarked on a fundamental review of all its policies, which is exactly what the Conservatives did after the Prime Minister became leader of that party. We will look at all areas of policy, and fundamental questions will be asked about how we can make transport more affordable and help to reduce inequality and increase social mobility.
Absolutely. As I have said, capacity on the west coast main line is of fundamental importance, and the issue must be resolved. We have to look at future capacity on rail lines and how we will deal with such issues. Clearly, everything will be on the table as part of our policy review, and we encourage as many members of the public as possible to get involved in our ongoing discussions, including those on both High Speed 2 and Rail Package 2; we need to study alternatives for viability as well. It would be unwise for any future support for high-speed rail not to be at the heart of that policy review when it involves a £30-billion commitment for future Parliaments. Perhaps the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) will be interested in that. In the meantime, the Government will have our support as they move forward with the next stage of planning the route.
Clearly, there is concern about the hybrid Bill that the Government propose. The Opposition have real doubts about their commitment to taking the planned high-speed rail line beyond Birmingham, as Labour had planned. They have decided not to use the forthcoming legislation to do that. As I have said in previous debates, we will support the Government if they want to put powers in the Bill to extend the line to Leeds and Manchester.
I wish to turn briefly to interoperability. If we are to proceed with high-speed rail, we need to look now at ways to integrate it with the traditional rail network. We also need to look at how we can maximise the benefits for rail all over the country, including London-based projects such as Crossrail and Thameslink. How will we plan for the wider impacts of high-speed rail, to ensure that the benefits are shared in other parts of the network? For instance, can the Minister tell us how many more fast trains to London there will be from places such as Coventry, Liverpool and Sheffield as a result of released capacity from the HS2 line? In short, what will be the benefit to areas not directly connected by high-speed rail?
The fundamental problem we have on many of our rail routes is old-fashioned signalling; it is 50 years out of date, or even longer. If we can get modern signalling with some of the money that could be saved, we could get many more train paths and much faster frequencies. That is the way to increase capacity on existing routes.
I share my hon. Friend’s assessment of that issue. I know he made that case at a recent reception with ASLEF in the House of Commons.
I recognise that a lot of right hon. and hon. Members in all parties have concerns about high-speed rail. Those living near the proposed route have understandable concerns. I understand those hon. Members whose constituencies will be directly affected by the construction. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), I do not know how sensible it is for the Secretary of State for Transport to refer to anyone who is against the scheme as a nimby, as he recently did in a newspaper article.
I also note that in The Daily Telegraph yesterday there was a letter signed by no fewer than eight northern Conservative MPs, saying:
“We urge the Government not to be blown off course by the protests of a minority in the home counties.”
It seems unfair to intrude on the private grief of the Conservatives, not least because there are differences in our party, too. However, the previous Labour Government were always mindful that, in proposals for a route, there has to be an attempt to minimise local impacts while achieving the wider objectives. We need to ensure that people are fully consulted about changes that will affect their area. I welcome the fact that the consultation is now under way, and will conclude in July this year. It gives those who will be directly affected by the construction route a chance to put forward their concerns and have them looked at, and I hope that their views will be taken seriously by the Government.
However, there are a number of questions that I would like to ask. What impact will the changes to the route, the additional compensation and hardship payments, and other commitments have for the £750 million allocated in this spending period? Can the Minister offer an assurance that there will not be a knock-on effect on other rail schemes already facing cuts and delays? In opposition, the Minister said:
“failing to take HSR through Heathrow would be a big mistake”.
It is reassuring that she has, I think, now confirmed a direct link in the second phase. Perhaps she can give a bit more information about that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) touched on an important point. Will the Minister confirm whether the cost of the trains to run on the high-speed line has been included in the figures used for the costs of the scheme? Or, as with other schemes such as Crossrail, are they separate expenditure, yet to be identified?
One topic almost missing from the debate, although it was rightly touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), has been the likely cost of using the service. Surely if all taxpayers are to contribute so significantly to the cost of constructing the route, it cannot be a service with ticket prices outside the grasp of most people. What work has the Department done to look at anticipated ticket-pricing plans for high-speed rail? How much of the revenue raised by high-speed rail will be used on the high-speed rail line, and how much will be will be spent on conventional rail improvements?
To conclude, as I have said before, our policy review will be completely open-minded about all the transport priorities the country faces, and high-speed rail will clearly form an important part of our future discussion. In the meantime, we urge the Government to reconsider expanding the scope of the hybrid Bill to include powers to continue to Leeds and Manchester, so that preparations are in place to bring the potential benefits of high-speed rail to the whole country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. This has been an excellent, high-quality debate, with some great contributions from hon. Members from all parties, and I congratulate them all. I congratulate the hon. Members who secured the debate: my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), and my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles).
I welcome what seems to be qualified support from the shadow Minister; we are not quite sure where he is going on this matter. I reassure him that we are fully committed to taking high-speed rail to Leeds and Manchester. We were the first to champion that in opposition, and we continue to do so. In response to a number of questions, let me say that work is under way on route and station options for the route north of Birmingham. HS2 Ltd has been asked to report to the Secretary of State on those options later this year.
It is good to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Mr Randall), and my hon. Friends the Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), and for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), here. They have all been assiduous in pressing their concerns on Government and representing their constituents fully. Their frequent representations have been much valued by the Secretary of State and continue to have an influential impact on our thinking.
Let me turn to the points raised in debate. First, on the local environmental impact, let me make it clear that I fully recognise the concerns of those whose homes and communities could be affected by the preferred line of route. Responding to the concerns of the hon. Member for Coventry North West, we are putting a huge amount of work in to mitigate and reduce the potential impact. Approximately half the length of the preferred route to the west midlands in the plans we inherited has been changed. We have added more than a mile and half of green tunnels to maintain local access and minimise noise and visual impact.
Large sections of the routes have been lowered into deeper cuttings, reducing the number of viaducts to cut down on visual intrusion. We have made several route alterations to avoid settlements and important heritage sites. Under the revised proposals, the Chilterns will be crossed predominantly in tunnels and deep cuttings, or alongside the existing A413 transport corridor. The number of properties where high noise levels will be expected has fallen from about 350 in previous versions of the plans to around 10 properties, and we will plant 2 million trees between Birmingham and London. We will continue to listen to ideas for mitigation as part of the consultation process, at the end of which we will carefully consider all representations.
Let me turn to the points on the business case. On the criticisms made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire in relation to our passenger growth figures, the consultation document forecasts that passenger demand will roughly double for long-distance services on the west coast main line. That projection covers 30 years and is based on modest growth rates of just under 2% a year; that compares to a 5% growth rate between 1994 and 2009. If anything, the numbers are cautious. For example, demand between London and Manchester rose by almost 60% over the four years to 2008.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) expressed concern about the methodology in relation to other industry practices. There is widespread industry consensus, as highlighted by the both the shadow Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech), that the west coast main line will be full within around a decade; some people think sooner, some later, but there is consensus that the line is filling up fast.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire also expressed the concern, in her eloquent and well-argued contribution, that our analysis does not take account of the fact that time can be used productively on a train. We have listened, and we have carried out sensitivity testing on our numbers, and the results we have had indicate that factoring in productive time would have a broadly neutral impact on the business case for HS2, because failing to deliver a new line would leave trains more and more overcrowded, making it less and less feasible to do any productive work on the trains currently on our network.
As for the allegation made by one or two hon. Members that we are proposing a rich man’s railway, and the concerns expressed about fares by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) and the shadow Minister, our research indicates that 70% of passengers would be travelling for reasons other than business, with leisure trips particularly important. All our modelling is based on fares that are in line with existing services. Our assumptions about the expected fare-box do not factor in or depend on any premium for high-speed services.
The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) and other hon. Members expressed concern that the project would see the rest of our railways starved of funds. There is simply no evidence to back that allegation. On the contrary, despite a crisis in the public finances as grave as any that this country has faced in its peacetime history, the coalition is investing more than £30 billion in road, rail and local transport schemes throughout Britain over the next four years, and that includes the most extensive programme of rail upgrades in modern history, to which was recently added the Ordsall Chord scheme, which was welcomed by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington.
Budgets have not been set beyond 2015, but we expect the case for investment in transport to continue to be strong in the years ahead, as evidenced by the commitments that we have made on Thameslink, Crossrail, electrification, the intercity express programme, and road improvements that stretch beyond the current spending review period.
A key element in the crux of the arguments by opponents of HS2 is the question of whether journey time savings delivered by high-speed rail will be worth the cost of building the new line. The Government’s proposals, as hon. Members have pointed out this afternoon, are about more than just speed. One of the biggest advantages of our plans is that a new line would release additional capacity on our existing railways, benefiting places such as Coventry and Milton Keynes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) pointed out. That would help to address crowding problems for long-distance passengers, and provide more space for commuter services and the freight services that the hon. Member for Luton North championed so well, and it would also improve network resilience and reliability.
I recognise what the Minister says about Coventry. The city is split, and the council is opposed, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), but I cannot understand how it would be damaged by being only eight miles to the east of what would be the country’s major transport spine. The benefits are clear for anyone who wants to see them.
The right hon. Gentleman puts the case very well. Coventry stands to benefit hugely from the plans under consideration this afternoon. Journey time savings matter. For example, the Y network would enable people living in Manchester and Leeds to get to Canary Wharf in roughly one hour and 40 minutes, and Heathrow in 75 minutes or less. I assure the shadow Minister that the plans for phase 2 include the direct link to Heathrow that we called for in opposition.
I believe that bringing the capital within 49 minutes of Birmingham and 80 minutes of Manchester and Leeds would spread the massive benefits of London’s global pull. It would do more to bridge the north-south divide than virtually all previous efforts to address a problem that has defied solution for decades, which is probably one reason why so many people north of Birmingham support the project so strongly.
The Minister spoke about regional benefits, and we increasingly see the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister emphasising in person the north-south divide. First, how does she explain the fact that of the jobs created—about 30,000—seven in 10 will be in London, not the regions? Secondly, does she really believe that £600,000 a job is good regional investment policy?
The project will create jobs throughout the country. The suggestion that all the cities that are calling for high-speed rail will see their economic growth sucked away by London just does not hold water. Look around Europe, where cities such as Lille and Lyons have been transformed. In Europe and Asia, cities are fighting hard to be on the high-speed rail networks that other countries have the courage and determination to deliver.
What I know is that Lille’s prospects were transformed by high-speed rail, and its unemployment level fell to much closer to the French average. If people in Lille were asked whether high-speed rail was bad for them, or whether they would like it to be shut down, I suspect that they would say no.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) said, shrinking journeys between cities in the north will have a hugely beneficial impact, enabling them increasingly to merge into a single economic area. I emphasise that with its potential to regenerate regional economies, create thousands of jobs, and boost our national economy by about £44 billion, the project is about much more than shaving half an hour off the journey time to Birmingham.
That brings me to the next allegation—that the project is not affordable. In practice, most of the spending will not kick in for at least five years, so it is not competing directly with other priorities in the current period of austerity. Spending will then be phased in over the period of construction, which we all know is, sadly, a long one. The annual average cost will not be out of line with projects such as Crossrail, as my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale pointed out. The figures in the consultation document also make no allowance for possible private sector contributions, which could be considerable, as hon. Members have pointed out, particularly in relation to the expected benefits of station redevelopment.
Perhaps most important is that delivering a major uplift in inter-urban transport capacity is not some nice-to-have luxury. It is absolutely essential if we are to prevent a capacity crisis on the west coast line and other key transport corridors in the years to come. No Government can afford to sit back, ignore the problem, and pretend that it does not exist.
Despite the valiant efforts of my hon. Friends the Members for South Northamptonshire, and for North Warwickshire, and the hon. Member for Coventry North West, the opponents of HS2 have not made a convincing case that there is a better way of dealing with the expected growth in demand for inter-city travel. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) suggested that information technology will provide the answer. I certainly hope that future advances in technology will make video-conferencing an alternative to more journeys, but I am afraid that after in-depth research, the Committee on Climate Change concluded that the net impact of such technology on travel is likely to be minimal, and I am afraid that improvements to the existing network just cannot provide the capacity that HS2 would. The Government are already committed to delivering a 30% uplift in capacity on the west coast line, with new carriages being introduced from April 2012, but that will simply not be enough to meet the demand for inter-city travel in the decades to come.
In response to the shadow Minister’s question about the capacity to deliver, HS2 would deliver 14 trains an hour, each of which would have about 1,100 seats. RP2 simply will not meet the future needs of this country’s transport system. The practical realities of further work on the existing line have a serious downside. As the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) said, passengers were subjected to a decade of disruption with the improvements to the west coast line, which have just been completed.
For the information of my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire, the work required at Euston for RP2 would be considerably more disruptive than those required there for HS2, because they would have to be carried out within Euston’s current footprint, making it much more difficult to keep current services going. Disruption would be much worse this time, because the west coast line is twice as busy as it was seven years ago.
The most viable journey time savings that could be achieved using the existing line would involve cutting out intermediate stops, which we all know would be deeply upsetting for the affected communities. Moreover, line upgrades cannot deliver any released capacity benefits, and squeezing even more into the current timetable to allow more intense use of the line would compromise resilience, and is virtually guaranteed to lead to a serious deterioration in reliability. In contrast, infrastructure-related delays on HS1 average just 6.8 seconds. The simple truth is that whatever is done to the existing line, it could never match the economic benefits of faster journey times, capacity uplift, and regeneration that HS2 would deliver.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) called for leadership in delivering the project, and we intend to provide that. He asked whether appropriate rolling-stock designs were available. Our research and analysis is based on rolling stock that is already in use in the many countries that have embarked on high-speed rail. My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale pointed out that the high-speed rail link is a manifesto promise, and it is one that we intend to keep. My hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth expressed concern about the current status of compensation, and I assure him that the exceptional hardship scheme is already in operation.
Lastly, I will address the allegation that high-speed rail is not green and offers no environmental benefits. Our analysis shows that the shift from road and aviation that would come with delivering the west midlands section of the line would broadly offset any increase in carbon emissions from the new line, despite the significant increase in passenger journeys that it would accommodate. We would get a major economic boost without increasing carbon emissions, which is just the sort of sustainable growth most people in the country say we should have. The modal shift resulting from the Y-shaped network to the north of England would be greater still, with as many as 6 million journeys by air and 9 million by road expected to migrate to rail. The carbon benefits of rail over aviation are set to grow as we make progress on decarbonising the electricity supply.
The consultation under way is one of the most wide-ranging ever undertaken. We will listen to and consider all responses with care, including those that will help us further mitigate potential local impact, which I know hon. Members are concerned about. I genuinely believe that with care, effort and high-quality engineering, we can address the worst local impacts and provide much-needed reassurance to the constituents of hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. Similar things were done for HS1.
Today, we still rely almost entirely on railways built by the Victorians, and I think it is time we started catching up with the high-speed rail revolution on which our European partners embarked more than a generation ago. I believe that we can—and should—aspire to the sort of high-quality long-distance travel network that other countries take for granted. Our high-speed rail plans provide a once-in-a-generation chance to address the transport capacity needs of our economy in the future, transform our economic geography, and generate a boost for jobs and growth worth billions of pounds. We know that it will not be an easy process, but we should not let this opportunity slip through our fingers. I have welcomed the opportunity to set some of our plans before the House this afternoon.
Question put and agreed to.