I launched the national consultation on high speed rail on 28 February. It will close at midnight on 29 July and decisions will follow by December. The Government consider that a high-speed rail network between London and Birmingham and onward to Manchester and Leeds would drive economic growth and prosperity as well as providing vital new capacity on the west coast corridor.
Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes the point very clearly. I believe that it is not possible for Britain to maintain its prosperity in the 21st century in an increasingly competitive global economy unless we can close the growth gap between north and south. Governments for the past 50 or 60 years have wrestled with this challenge and we have not succeeded yet. This approach of investing in strategic infrastructure is the last best chance to achieve that.
I agree that it has a very strong business case and it will be part of the “Y” network, but the logic of building this project is that we have to do the complex engineering challenge of getting out of London through tunnels—the difficult bit of the project—first. In engineering terms, once we are out of the tunnels, it is pretty much plain sailing to complete the remainder of the construction.
Will the Minister please give thought to the people of the west country who have some of the slowest rail links with London and some of the most expensive fares? Rather than extra, speedy lines north, we would like some speedy and efficient lines south-west.
I am delighted to be able to tell my hon. Friend that electrification of the Great Western main line and the introduction of the IEP rolling stock will improve services in terms of speed, reliability, comfort and capacity on services between London and the west country.