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High Speed 2

Volume 603: debated on Monday 30 November 2015

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on his latest decision on the route and station choices for High Speed 2.

The Government are getting on with building HS2. Legislation to build the first phase to Birmingham is progressing well, and last week the Chancellor confirmed the funding. Today we are responding to the report published last year by Sir David Higgins, chairman of HS2. He recommended building the line to Crewe more quickly, so as to bring the benefits to the north sooner. I have therefore announced my decision on the section from Fradley in the west midlands to Crewe, now referred to as section 2a. We intend to accelerate the building of that section so that it opens in 2027, which is six years earlier than planned. That will bring faster journeys to Crewe, Manchester, and other cities in the north and Scotland, thereby supporting growth, jobs and the northern powerhouse. I have set out those plans in the Command Paper and supporting documents, copies of which have been placed in the Library.

The remainder of phase 2 will see the full Y-route built to Manchester and Leeds by 2033, and today I have set out my plans for the rest of the Y-route, ahead of a route decision next year. I am also asking HS2 to explore how we might best serve Stoke, including via a junction at Handsacre. Handsacre junction will be part of phase 1 and will allow trains to serve stations on the existing line through Staffordshire.

I want to ensure that those affected by the scheme are properly compensated. The Government are committed to assisting people along the HS2 route from the west midlands to Crewe. Today I am launching a consultation on a proposal to implement the same long-term property assistance schemes for phase 2a as we have for phase 1. As with phase 1, the Government propose to go above and beyond what is required by law, including discretionary measures to help more people. HS2 will deliver economic growth for this country, not just in the immediate future but for the long term, and that is why we continue to commit to this essential project.

I thank the Secretary of State for his response. Today marks a sad day for Stoke-on-Trent as our campaign for “Stop in Stoke” as part of phase 2 of High Speed 2 hits the buffers. We have long argued that the rail line from London to Manchester could have been achieved more quickly and cheaply with a route through the potteries, and as we seek to mitigate the blow I have some questions for the Secretary of State.

The initial modelling for High Speed 2 suggested a downgrade of services to Stoke-on-Trent based on £7.7 billion of cuts to existing inner-city services to cities such as Stoke, Leicester and Wakefield. Will the Secretary of State confirm that that is no longer the plan? The Department for Transport document published today speaks of working to retain

“broadly comparable services to today”,

but my constituents are not interested in the expenditure of billions of pounds just for similar services. Will he confirm that the Government are committed to running classic-compatible trains via the Handsacre junction, with equal regularity and faster speeds, so that Stoke-on-Trent maintains its vital connectivity?

Finally, with Crewe rather than Stoke benefiting from this massive investment, plans for a northern gateway partnership between Stoke-on-Trent and east Cheshire become even more important. In the previous Parliament, the city of Portsmouth had a dedicated Minister for regeneration. I am not saying that we necessarily want the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), but it is right that we should have the same support to co-ordinate cross-departmental strategy in the region. High-speed train lines work for the country when they focus on growing the economies of regional and second-tier cities as much as major metropolises. In Britain, Stoke-on-Trent will be the litmus test for the success of such a strategy, and we will be watching it closely.

First, there has been a positive case made and a good dialogue between Stoke-on-Trent and Sir David Higgins about the way HS2 will serve the whole region. I was a member of Staffordshire County Council for seven years so I know Stoke-on-Trent incredibly well, and I fully accept the importance of the high-speed train link, which I think will come to the whole region. The hon. Gentleman talks as if Crewe is 100 miles from Stoke-on-Trent, but it is literally just up the road and on the other side of the M6, given where the station may well go. I very much look forward to the advantages of it serving not only Crewe but Stoke-on-Trent too.

The hon. Gentleman asks about classic-compatible trains, which are not dissimilar to those serving Kent. Handsacre junction is important in serving not only Stoke-on-Trent but Macclesfield and Stafford, so they will benefit sooner from faster services. I fully accept his point that nobody wants a diminution of services to Stoke-on-Trent, or to anywhere else for that matter. One reason for this huge investment is to have more services and more freight options. The west coast main line is one of the busiest lines anywhere in Europe, so it is right we focus on how to have the relief and extra capacity it needs. I am more than willing to continue conversations with Stoke-on-Trent about the best way for the whole region to move forward.

Despite the documents published today, in the past week alone we have seen the ombudsman find HS2 guilty of a maladministration over communications, the Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons) describe its supply of information as an absolute shambles and a freedom of information request from the Chesham Society reveal a massive inaccuracy in basic track assessments in my constituency. What confidence can we have that today’s announcement of a speeded up timetable for phase 2a of HS2 will not lead to an increased catalogue of mismanagement, mistakes and more misery for people along the route?

The truth is that anything I say about HS2, as far as my right hon. Friend is concerned, will not be met with any kind of favour whatever. She has made her opposition perfectly clear. I believe HS2 is absolutely essential for the long-term economic interests of the United Kingdom, particularly our northern cities, and that is why it is right to go ahead. I do not dismiss those people directly affected and who, as a result, have trouble with a major infrastructure project taking place, but I am aware of no major infrastructure project that has received universal support at the time of its construction. That support is usually found afterwards. In fact, plans for the very first railway line to be built between Birmingham and London were defeated in the House of Commons because the canals were considered to be perfectly adequate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) on securing the urgent question. He has campaigned constantly to secure benefits from HS2 for his constituency, and I echo his statements on the importance of Handsacre junction and the existing network.

Labour supports HS2, and we want to make sure that sections of the route can be delivered ahead of schedule, including to Crewe, especially after Ministers’ delays have left the Bill running 18 months late. However, the paper published today raises new questions, alongside some belated answers. Will the Secretary of State explain why Manchester Airport station has still not been fully confirmed? Does he agree that it would be a body blow for the northern powerhouse if Manchester airport was not served by HS2? Why will HS2’s exact route and station locations, including in the east midlands, not be finalised until late 2016? To put it another way, why will it have taken the Government over six years to confirm their plans for high-speed rail in the midlands and the north?

The Government previously said that they would consider accelerating construction of the Leeds to Sheffield part of the eastern leg. Is that still on the table, and what consideration, if any, has been given to accelerating the west midlands to east midlands section of phase 2?

On cost, an increase was announced in the comprehensive spending review from £50.1 billion to £55.7 billion. Will the Secretary of State confirm that this increase is simply a result of recasting HS2 from 2011 prices to 2015 prices, or are there other components to the cost rise?

Finally, Labour amended HS2’s planning legislation to ensure that cost increases or underspends are reported. The Secretary of State’s Department had said that the first such report was due in autumn 2015. Why has that report now been delayed? When will we see it? Does he agree that the Government must keep the costs of this vital project under constant scrutiny?

I shall answer the hon. Lady’s last question first: I have published the documents today. She pointed out that HS2’s cost has risen to £55.7 billion, which, she is absolutely right, is the costing at 2015 prices, whereas the other costing was at 2011 prices. That is the reason for the increase. During this spending review, HS2 will equate to 0.14% of GDP, so it is not over-burdensome on the Government’s overall spending.

The hon. Lady asked about the other stations. I am pleased that there now seems to be a consensus, which was lacking until fairly recently, on where the east midlands station should go. I hope to say more about that next year, but points raised in the consultation have thrown up issues that need to be addressed, which is why I have said today that I hope to confirm the rest of the route for the east side by late 2016. Manchester Airport station comes under the qualification I just made about the consultation, but these issues are discussed in the document I have published today.

The hon. Lady also said that the Bill was 18 months late. The people serving on the Bill are doing an exceptionally good job, and I do not regard it as 18 months late; I regard it as on time, according to the timetable set out by the former Secretary of State under the last Labour Government, who published their plans only nine months before the general election.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most important thing about HS2 is not improved journey times per se, but creating the capacity we need on the west coast, where the conventional line will be full to capacity by 2024? Will he please tell the House whether phases 1 and 2 are still on time and confirm that his announcement about Crewe means that it will be built six years prior to the original deadline?

Mr Speaker, given that you have been so generous in congratulating people today, may I ask you to congratulate the Secretary of State on his birthday?

I am very happy to do so. If I had known to remember to congratulate the Secretary of State, I would have done, but I did not, and so I did not, but I do now, and I am very happy to do so. It is always helpful to have a bit of information, even if it is not put across quite as pithily as it might be.

I thought your birthday present, Mr Speaker, was your granting this urgent question, to give me an opportunity to speak at the Dispatch Box today.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that one of the key reasons for the whole HS2 project is not just to have faster journeys but to increase capacity. We have seen a huge increase in the number of people using our railways over the last 20 years—from 750 million to 1.6 billion—and we are seeing continuing growth in our railways, not just in passenger numbers, but in freight. I am pleased to say, therefore, that the project is on time. It is a huge project, and I understand that some people will be disrupted by it, but it is in the long-term economic interests of the UK.

The Chancellor’s announcement that high-speed rail will reach Crewe six years earlier than planned is to be welcomed, as it should lead to reduced journey times between Scotland and London, but the UK Government now have an opportunity also to accelerate planning to extend high-speed rail to Scotland. Will the Secretary of State reaffirm their aspiration for a three-hour journey time between the central belt in Scotland and London and turn this aspiration into a firm commitment?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming my statement. It is true that phase 2a will give Scotland even quicker journeys to London sooner than was originally planned. The journey time between London and Glasgow will be three hours and 42 minutes, when phase 2a opens, which is an improvement. The full Y-network will deliver London to Glasgow journey times of three hours and 38 minutes and London to Edinburgh journey times of three hours and 39 minutes. Overall, HS2 will bring huge benefits to the Scottish economy. The UK and the Scottish Governments are working closely together to consider options to reduce journey times further, and HS2 is doing further work on that. I hope to make a statement on the next steps in the new year.

Handsacre 2, which has been mentioned a number of times, is in my constituency, and I am afraid that, once again, my constituents are faced with some anguish as they have already faced phase 1, and phase 2a starts in my constituency as well. I ask my right hon. Friend two specific questions. Will he give an indication of the timetable for the publication of the proposed route, so that my constituents can look at it and come up with suggestions, and when does he think the Committee stage and the petitions might begin? Is the Handsacre junction—the one that connects with the west coast main line, which also goes through my constituency—really necessary now, given that the connection to Crewe will happen six years earlier than planned?

The plans that I have announced and the maps that have been published today will enable my hon. Friend and his constituents to examine exactly where the proposed route will go. That was part of the announcement made in a written ministerial answer this morning. I appreciate that there will be disruption in certain parts of his constituency, but he will know from his experience with phase 1 that beneficial changes can be made if a case is argued and the engineering is possible, as indeed has happened in and around Lichfield.

I welcome the announcement that the benefits of High Speed 2 will come to the north sooner than previously planned. However, I emphasise a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) that Stoke-on-Trent and indeed other areas not directly on the line should benefit through improved connectivity, and it is very important to arrange things so that that indeed happens. Is the 37% cut to the Secretary of State’s departmental budget announced last week compatible with delivering this important project on time?

The hon. Lady, through her work as Chairman of the Transport Committee, has always been supportive of the overall objective of greater train capacity, and she has made the case for a more direct service to Liverpool, which is part of what I will be considering when I address the full route towards the end of next year. I have to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Edward Timpson), who has joined me on the Front Bench, has also made the case as to why he believes that the announcement I have made today is the right decision. However, it is not just my decision. It is based on the overall structure reports produced by Sir David Higgins, the chairman of HS2. It is important how this feeds in to the rest of the question about national infrastructure, on which we have asked the National Infrastructure Commission to advise us, as far as the future of HS3 or indeed Crossrail 2 is concerned.

The hon. Lady asked whether this will be deliverable within the departmental spending changes announced last week, and the answer is yes.

What are the forecast revenues and losses on the Crewe to west midland section when it opens in the first couple of years, and what are the consequentials on revenue and subsidies on the existing railway?

We believe that the benefit-cost ratios for the lines that I have announced today are positive and will bring a return for the country. I say to my right hon. Friend that it is not all about BCRs. If only BCRs had been taken into account, the Jubilee line would never have been built, Canary Wharf would never have been opened, and the Limehouse link tunnel, which had a BCR of 0.4 or 0.7, would never have been built, yet they have made huge differences. Infrastructure is sometimes expensive, but we should judge the BCRs not on the next 30 years, but on the next 100 years.

Given that, unlike Network Rail, HS2 Ltd is not devolved to any part of the United Kingdom, will the Secretary of State explain why the statement of funding policy for the devolved institutions, which was published along with last week’s comprehensive spending review, provides for a 100% Barnett consequential from HS2 to Scotland and Northern Ireland, and one of 0% to Wales?

I believe that Wales will benefit from what I have announced today, because it will be very important to the north Wales economy.

The Secretary of State is well aware of my views about HS2. Two weeks ago, when the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill)—who is responsible for HS2 phase 2—visited my constituency, I explained to him, and showed him, the devastating effect that the current route would have on the village of Measham. It will remove the major employer at the southern end of the constituency, halt a new housing development, and require the building of a new piece of the A42, which will cause huge disruption. When will we have a definite route for phase 2, and when will my constituents receive the compensation that they deserve?

As I have said to my hon. Friend before, and as I have just said to the House, I hope to be able to say more next year about the entire route, both the east and the west sections.

My opposition to HS2 will not come as a surprise to anyone. It will blight the lives of thousands of residents of Hampstead and Kilburn. Will the Secretary of State make clear whether what he has announced about the line to Crewe will affect the line of route into Euston station, the rest of Camden, and the vent shafts in Brent?

I note today that Leeds City Council has been successful in lobbying for the “T” station in the centre of the city, and also that the concerns expressed by my constituents in Woodlesford and—as my right hon. Friend knows, by me—have led to options being at least considered in regard to the route to Leeds. I hope that they will include the tunnel idea. May I urge my right hon. Friend to put pressure on HS2 Ltd to publish the route as soon as possible, in order to avoid circumstances such as those experienced by one of my constituents, who tried to remortgage his house last week and found that the mortgage company had given it a £0 rating?

I am incredibly sympathetic towards cases of that kind, and my Ministers and I are always willing to look into individual cases. This is a huge project. As I have said, I regret not being able to say more and confirm the rest of the route at this point, but that is still being studied, and all the options suggested by Members are being examined. Once we have announced the route, there will come a time for legislative changes to be made in the House of Commons. I am afraid, however, that part of the difficulty with planning long-term infrastructure projects is caused by the fact that they are long term, and they do take a long time.

I echo everything that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt). The Secretary of State will also know—happy birthday to him, by the way—that, while Crewe may look as though it were next door to Stoke-on-Trent on a map, it takes a good hour for my constituents to drive there. I know that, because I have done it many a time. If they travel by train, once they have got into Stoke, the Crewe-Derby line is appalling, as the Secretary of State will know very well. I think that he needs to look carefully at the line, and bring that work forward by six years.

All these points need to be considered, but I think it essential for Stoke-on-Trent to benefit from HS2, along with the whole area of north Staffordshire and the southern part of Cheshire. It is a very important area, and we need to ensure that it has the necessary connectivity. Any other issues of connectivity that can be dealt with during the planning process should also be considered.

I entirely endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt). It is vital for Stoke-on-Trent—and, indeed, Stafford—to have that connectivity. I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about a generous compensation scheme; it needs to be both generous and swift. May I ask him, however, whether there will be opportunities to look again at the alignment, or at least the elevation, of the route through my constituency, given that every single point that we have made has been disregarded?

What I have announced today is a line extension of 37 miles between Fradley in the west midlands and Crewe. Of those 37 miles, 1.1 miles consist of three tunnels, and there will also be 4 miles of viaduct. Of course I am always willing to listen to representations from my hon. Friend and others who wish to make them, and once the Bill has been published, people will be able to petition as well.

If things are being accelerated, is there any chance of Liverpool being properly linked to HS2 before 2033, if ever?

As a result of the announcements I have made, Liverpool will get a faster journey time as far as the high-speed link is concerned, so it will see the benefits. Other people are making the case that we should go even further with the HS2 line.

Will the Secretary of State reconfirm the Government’s full commitment to the whole of the Y-route and, in that regard, will he commit to bringing forward some of the work so that the east midlands gets the proposed connectivity a lot earlier than is planned?

I very much welcome the fact that there is now a common agreement between the east midlands councils as to where the site will be. On my hon. Friend’s request for a faster decision, I will do what I can, but I have outlined the routes that we are going to take and the process that we are going to go through.

I will hold back from wishing the Secretary of State a happy birthday unless he gives me good news. As he knows, I have raised this point many times before. I have constituents who live just outside the catchment area for compensation, but he has said that he intends to extend that area. Can he give me some good news on that now?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman does not get a chance to come back with a further comment. The announcements that I have made today will make no difference to the route that is already before the House or to the scheme being investigated by the Committee that is dealing with the route from London to the west midlands. However, we have improved the compensation arrangements for the whole of the route.

As my right hon. Friend will be aware, a number of my constituents and businesses in Long Eaton will be bitterly disappointed that, as of today, they still do not know what the route will be. Will he use his influence with HS2 Ltd to bring forward early compensation, so that those people can move on with their lives?

My hon. Friend should be pleased to note that the new consensus in the east midlands has removed from her constituents in the Breaston area the possibility of a station being located there. I will obviously listen carefully to what she says, however. We have the exceptional hardship payments for certain cases, and I am always willing to look at any individual cases.

I endorse the comments made by my neighbours, my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) and the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). I share their dismay that we are not going to have a station at Stoke-on-Trent. Having said that, I welcome the announcement on Handsacre. Will the Secretary of State give me details of the timing of the consultation and of a final decision on Handsacre?

The provisions on Handsacre are partly covered by the Bill that is before the House, which is being studied by the special Committee that is looking into the first part of the route. On the hon. Lady’s other point, I refer her to what I said to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), which is that I am keen to see Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford benefiting from the new train services. As I said earlier, capacity is one of the most important reasons for this project.

Order. I am sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues. We normally take the bulk of Members wishing to ask a question, but we must move on because there is heavy pressure on time today. I thank the Secretary of State and colleagues who have taken part.