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High Speed 2

Volume 543: debated on Thursday 19 April 2012

The Government expect that phase 1 of HS2, linking London and Birmingham, will support about 40,000 jobs. That figure includes 9,000 jobs during construction, 1,500 permanent jobs in operating the railway, and opportunities for up to 30,000 jobs in the regeneration and development areas located around stations. Phase 2, connecting Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, will support a substantial number of jobs in those northern conurbations. A more detailed assessment is already under way as part of the sustainability appraisal for phase 2.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. In order to reinforce the true value of HS2, will the Government give serious consideration to the expansion of Birmingham airport into a UK hub airport? That would create jobs in the west midlands, while also offering a viable and realistic solution to airspace capacity problems.

I recognise that Birmingham airport has a crucial role to play and, as my hon. Friend will be aware, the Birmingham interchange station will enable it to be much better connected than it is at present. Birmingham airport already has planning approval for a runway extension, which should allow for the operation of airline services to more long-haul destinations. Even in the short term, there is a real opportunity for Birmingham airport to expand.

May I urge the Secretary of State to readjust her priorities? In terms of job creation—and, indeed, almost any other objective—the true priority should be to create a modern, fast and safe transport network in this country, and especially across the northern regions. Will she make that her top priority, above any prestige scheme?

I do not think there needs to be an either/or choice. We need to improve our transport system in the short and medium terms and plan for the longer term, which is what we are doing through HS2. I am committed to making sure our great northern cities are well connected. There is investment in the TransPennine Express, and there has been an announcement on the northern hub. A huge amount of investment is going in to ensure that those communities are better connected than they ever were in the past.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on her brave decision on HS2. May I remind her, however, that the west coast main line will, perhaps, reach full capacity by 2022, and therefore urge her to bring forward the start of HS2 in order to ensure an earlier completion date?

My hon. Friend is right to say that these huge infrastructure projects take time to come to fruition, and we are cracking on as fast as we can. We are also committed to making sure that we get this one right, which means taking a very structured approach to how we develop our proposals. In the meantime, I assure him that I take great care over his local services. He came to see me recently about Northampton station, and he made a compelling case.

When High Speed 2 eventually reaches Edinburgh, passengers getting off there will have a difficulty because under Network Rail’s current plans the taxi rank is to be moved outside the station. Will the Secretary of State ensure that passengers will still be able to switch to taxis with ease at Edinburgh Waverley station?

Obviously, security issues are also involved, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I have already met representatives of the Scottish Government to discuss the longer-term plans that we have for improving the journey times between Scotland and the rest of the country. There are some exciting proposals that we can bring forward. I am very much looking forward to continuing those discussions over the coming weeks and months, and I very much hope that he will be involved in those discussions and thoughts, as they develop.