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High Speed 2

Volume 572: debated on Thursday 19 December 2013

3. What assessment he has made of the most recent estimate of the costs to the public purse of High Speed 2. (901721)

The most recent cost estimate for both phases of the project is £42.6 billion and £7.5 billion for rolling stock. This includes a contingency of £14.4 billion for construction costs and £1.7 billion for rolling stock. The project currently assumes that the cost of HS2 is to be funded by the public purse. However, my Department is exploring the scope to draw in third-party funding to lessen the cost exposure to the taxpayer.

Mr Speaker, I wish you and the Secretary of State a very happy Christmas. The Secretary of State could of course give both our constituencies an early Christmas present by cancelling HS2, but I do not suppose that that is on the drawing board. If everything in the garden is so rosy with regard to the finances, why does he feel it necessary to continue to suppress the Major Projects Authority reports on the risks associated with the project? Suppressing those reports does not send out a very good message to people about the project, whether they are for it or against it. In the absence of any response to my questions about this from the Cabinet Office Minister, will the Secretary of State tell the House what his intentions are with regard to the reports? Will he confirm or deny that he is continuing to try to prevent their publication?

The one thing that HS2 is not short of is reports from various committees, either of this House or across the wider spectrum. The simple fact is that the report my right hon. Friend refers to is one direct to Ministers, and it is not usual to publish such reports. That report is two years old and it gave an amber/red—I think that is in the public domain—but the latest report has given an amber, which shows that even the Major Projects Authority recognises that we have made major strides forward.

Mr Speaker, happy Christmas. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State seems to be in a “Bah, humbug!” sort of mood today. May I encourage him not only to lighten up a bit, but to lighten up all of us who want investment in housing, hospitals, health and schools by scrapping this expensive extravagance and joining the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who this morning has said that London is “draining the life” out of the regions of this country and that HS2 will speed up that process?

I do not know about needing to lighten up—I think the hon. Gentleman should look in a mirror. The simple point is that we are not short at all of investment in the railways. In the next five years—its next control period—Network Rail will invest £38 billion in the current railway system. It is vital that we get connectivity between our major cities. I have to say that some of the biggest supporters of HS2 are the northern leaders. If they thought it was going to do damage to their areas, they would not be overwhelmingly supporting it in the way that they are.

Can the Minister compare the expenditure of public money on HS2 with that on the ferries crossing the Solent to the Isle of Wight?

One gets ready for a lot of things in preparing for questions, but I am going to have to disappoint my hon. Friend, because I do not have readily available details on that particular line of questioning on HS2. I will most certainly look at the points he raises, but I point out to him that it is the wider investment in the whole of the United Kingdom’s transport infrastructure that we can rightly be proud of. I was very pleased to be in his constituency when a new mode of financing road repairs was used for his constituents.

The Secretary of State did not say in the list of estimated costs what has been allocated for biodiversity offsetting, for the replacement of ancient woodland and for addressing all the other environmental damage that HS2 will cause. What element of the budget has been set aside for that?

That has all been taken into account. Indeed, one reason for the increase in cost that I announced to the House some time ago was some of the measures that we have taken, after representations, on tunnelling. I take the environmental costs seriously, as I know does the new chairman of HS2 Ltd, Sir David Higgins. I point out to the hon. Gentleman the amount of money that was made available for environmental improvements along the route of HS1, but I will write to him in more detail.