We are part-way through a programme of 30 public roadshows along the line of the proposed London to west midlands route, and we have held regional seminars across the country. The programme was suspended for the duration of the election purdah period, but will resume next week. The consultation process finishes on 29 July, and I expect to announce the Government’s response later this year.
Today I will be heading back to my constituency for the final afternoon of campaigning, and many colleagues will be heading back to theirs. I will be travelling on the excellent Chiltern line service from Marylebone. However, many constituents are concerned that high-speed rail will lead to a loss of conventional rail services, as has been the experience in other countries with high-speed rail networks. What assurances can the Secretary of State give that the Department for Transport is taking those concerns seriously and what impact will there be on such highly popular local networks?
As I look around the Chamber, it seems to me that one or two Members may have travelled back for the final afternoon of canvassing and campaigning already.
My hon. Friend could not be more wrong. One of the huge benefits of building a new, dedicated high-speed line will be the released capacity on the existing conventional lines—the east coast main line, the west coast main line and the midlands main line. Those lines will be capable of being reconfigured to deliver better longer-distance and short-distance commuting services and more freight paths for freight trains, taking more freight off the road and getting it on to rail. That is one of the big wins of a dedicated high-speed line.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the published plans include a link from Old Oak Common via a tunnel round to the north of St Pancras station, connecting directly to the High Speed 1 line. It will be possible to run trains from the midlands and the north of England, directly through that tunnel, to the High Speed 1 network and onwards to the channel tunnel.