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House of Commons Hansard
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HS2: North-west of England
11 October 2016
Volume 615
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We now move to the next debate. From the outset, I want to make it clear that it is an hour-long debate and that I will call the three Front-Bench spokespersons, including the Minister, within half an hour. A number of Members are down to speak and I ask them to be concise. I am sure that the Member moving the motion will take interventions, if necessary, during his opening remarks.

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I beg to move,

That this House has considered HS2 in the North West of England.

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the question of High Speed 2 in the north-west of England, and it is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Owen.

Infrastructure investment should be a good thing for the economy, and in principle I am all in favour of HS2, and HS3, HS4, and HS5. But as things stand, and until assurances are given by the Government, I remain ambivalent that HS2 will truly bring the promised benefits to all of the UK. Indeed, if rumours, press stories and anonymous briefings are to be believed, it will simply be a fast link between the major centres of London, Birmingham and Manchester that will help to expand those three big cities while further squeezing out growth in the areas outside those metropolises. Therefore, the consideration must be about not just the physical layout of the line and its track works, but the services on it, and the line design must flow from the service level required, rather than the other way around.

I sound that element of caution because, as we have seen with HS2 phase one, once the project gets passed over to the Treasury, finance often becomes the only—and a short-term—consideration. For example, the HS2 spur to Heathrow Airport is lost, with warnings of further cuts. Indeed, we are still waiting for formal confirmation that HS2 will go ahead at all, which is one reason I always called for the whole project to be built from the north to the south, to ensure that it did not simply become yet another major infrastructure programme focused solely on London and the south-east. Worse than that would be the opportunity missed if the wrong strategy for HS2 in the north-west was adopted. The Government’s own vision for HS2 in its consultation envisaged that only two trains per hour would stop at Crewe, with the majority of trains going into a tunnel just south of Crewe and bypassing the station, and therefore the region—my sub-region—completely.

In making my case, I am pleased to call in support two principal backers: Sir David Higgins, with his report “HS2 Plus”, and the board of the Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership. Our LEP’s economic strategy is based very clearly on the vision of Sir David Higgins of a hub at Crewe, interlinked with local lines and distributing the growth benefits across our sub-region. Sir David’s report demonstrates that Crewe sits at the very centre of the north-west rail system, and states very clearly that Crewe should therefore become a regional transport hub, with HS2 fully integrated into plans for revitalising the northern economy as a whole. Rail lines from Crewe radiate towards Manchester and Liverpool, Stoke and Derby, and Warrington, and on to Lancashire and Scotland, Shrewsbury and mid-Wales, and many of the smaller towns in Cheshire, as well as Chester and north Wales and the Wirral. A proper regional rail hub at Crewe would allow all of those places to enjoy the benefits of the huge investment that the nation is making in the new line.

From the work undertaken by my LEP, the main conclusion is clear: a proper regional hub at Crewe could extend the benefits of HS2 to 1.5 million people across the north-west and north Wales, reducing travel time to London by an hour. Those figures come from modelling work done by Mott MacDonald, commissioned by the LEP. The firm was asked to assume that five trains per hour from London stop at Crewe, with up to four trains an hour then running from Crewe on all the lines that radiate out from there. In some cases, perhaps because there are single track sections on the line, that would not be possible, so the LEP asked Mott MacDonald to limit the number of additional trains to what the current infrastructure can accommodate.

My own local authority, Cheshire West and Chester, working with neighbouring authorities in the Mersey Dee Alliance area, which includes councils across the border in north Wales, has also identified the importance of rail infrastructure as central to the economic growth of our region. “Growth Track 360”, a report published by that alliance of businesses and political and public sector leaders, led by Samantha Dixon, the leader of Cheshire West and Chester council, has set out a programme of rail improvements that will transform the economies of Cheshire and north Wales by providing better links between places in Cheshire and the Wirral and into north Wales. By linking such improvements into the services radiating out from a proper rail hub at Crewe, we can offer even more people in Cheshire, north Wales and Merseyside the benefits of the journey time improvements that HS2 provides.

“Growth Track 360” also calls for developments at Crewe to be future-proofed, to ensure that in the long term HS2 trains have the ability to “turn left at Crewe”, as we say, towards Chester and on to north Wales. If that does not happen, 1.5 million people will be on a branch line and the full benefits of HS2 will be lost. Surely those areas also have a right to benefit from public investment in HS2? But, just as importantly, they have the right not to suffer from—to coin a phrase used on the railways—the wrong type of HS2.

I am clear that if we do not get the Higgins vision of a rail hub, investment and growth will be sucked out of and away from Cheshire and other parts of the north-west in favour of the already big cities. I do not want Cheshire’s growth to depend on crumbs from the table of Manchester. Employers in my area already tell me that they lose skilled workers to Manchester because the local rail links to Manchester and the local and regional motorway network—yes, I am talking about the M56—are insufficient. If the strategic rail network also fails to serve the entire region, the negative effects could be catastrophic and long term.

My LEP has drawn some interesting and valuable comparisons with the effect of high-speed rail connectivity in similar circumstances elsewhere. Lyon was the first city to be connected to the TGV network in France. It now handles more than 100,000 passengers a day more than when it was opened, and it has led to the creation of 40,000 new jobs in the area around the station. Lille is a city about the same size as Warrington. In the eight years after its TGV station was opened, employment in the city and the surrounding region grew by nearly 120,000. Key to that success was the creation of a strong local network of trains, trams and buses linking to the TGV network at Lille station, much like the regional rail hub Sir David Higgins proposed for Crewe. Kakegawa is a similar-sized city to Chester. It was originally bypassed by the Japanese high-speed rail network. It finally got a new station in 1988, leading directly to an almost 40% increase in industrial output in the town in just four years.

So, in the debate and more generally, we now await the Government’s proposals for HS2 phase two. I am grateful for the Transport Minister’s attendance today and even more grateful that it is he and not one of his colleagues from the Treasury who will respond. Clearly, one of the big concerns of HS2 is cost, and we cannot write blank cheques, but if we can consider HS2 as an investment that will benefit the whole country, hopefully we can arrive at a solution that spreads its wealth across the whole country too. Central to that is the Higgins hub at Crewe with its five or six trains an hour, and through services connecting HS2 to all the major towns and cities in the north-west and on to Birmingham and London.

In conclusion, we have a choice: we can take Harry Beck’s plan of the London underground, draw a short line above Chesham and Amersham showing Birmingham and Manchester, and consider HS2 to be just another part of London’s transport network, or we can recognise that a truly national project should have truly national benefits. I suggest to the Minister that now would be a great time for the Government to confirm that their intention is the latter.

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I have just sought clarification about the wind-ups. The Labour and Scottish National parties have five minutes each, not 10, to wind up, and the Minister has 10 minutes to respond to the debate.

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It is a pleasure to take part in the debate. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) said. HS2 has the potential to bring huge benefits to my constituency if the appropriate system of hub and spoke is in place. Winsford in particular could benefit from that development, as it is on the line that runs to Chester. However, I urge caution to the Minister on routing through my constituency.

Eddisbury is geologically unique. It has a salt mine that provides 60% of the salt that keeps our roads clear and the neighbouring constituency has underground gas storage for the UK’s gas reserves. The whole area is riddled with wild and mined brine extraction with large areas of wet rockhead, where water causes the salt to dissolve, which results in subsidence problems and continuously shifting ground.

If the money is to be spent, it needs to be spent properly and needs to ensure those five or six trains to Crewe and a link to Manchester airport in order to deliver for the region. The Minister will shortly receive further information in the form of an expert report, which will highlight some of the engineering issues that will be faced on the route currently proposed through Eddisbury. At present, HS2 has no baseline figures in terms of subsidence. It is not undertaking ground movement assessments in the area using the most up-to-date InSAR satellite imaging technology. If the Government are not to incur vastly increased costs, it is vital that a baseline is established and that ongoing ground movement monitoring is carried out in order to understand the seismicity of the area and its vulnerabilities.

In terms of supporting the line itself, 100-metre-deep pilings might be needed, running through salt. That would be a unique engineering project for Eddisbury’s particular geology. I would urge the Minister to cost that section of the route carefully and examine, with the very strict Treasury criteria, whether value could be achieved by aligning the route elsewhere, which might deliver a better outcome for Cheshire as a whole as well as deliver the kind of economic benefits that the local enterprise partnership has talked about.

I know time is short and I want to move on to compensation for my residents. At the moment, the announcement on phase 2b of HS2 has been considerably delayed. That has substantially disadvantaged residents, who are currently able only to access compensation through the exceptional hardship scheme, rather than the need-to-sell scheme. The need-to-sell scheme only requires applicants to show unreasonable burden. It is not fair for residents on phase 2b to have a less fair scheme when it is no fault of their own that the route announcement has been delayed. Is the Minister prepared to say today that the need-to-sell scheme could be extended to those residents of Eddisbury affected by the route issues?

HS2 could bring huge benefits, but it has to bring those benefits in a way that includes a proper cost-benefit analysis. Where the evidence shows that the routing may not be appropriate and accurate, the arguments made by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) for appropriate stops locally at Crewe, and the establishment of the hub-and-spoke system and proper investment for the station, can only be done if consideration is given to where savings can be made on the route on the Treasury costings. In the meantime, some of my residents are affected by blight. Bearing in mind that those residents are relatively small in number at present, I would ask that the Government consider extending the need-to-sell scheme to them immediately. There is much more I could say, but I shall write to the Minister to outline my further arguments.

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I have always been a supporter of greater investment in our railway network and, as someone who was on the HS2 Bill Committee, examining the Bill line-by-line, I remain convinced that bringing high-speed rail to the UK is essential. Therefore, it is a pleasure to be in this debate under your chairmanship today, Mr Owen.

We have got to secure greater capacity on our railway network—it really is as simple as that. Demand on our railways has exploded over recent years. Total passenger journeys have more than doubled—from 735 million in 1995 to 1.5 billion journeys in 2013. By 2026, peak demand is projected to hit 250% of capacity at Euston, 200% of capacity at Birmingham New Street and 175% of capacity at Manchester Piccadilly. The west coast main line will be full by 2024. During morning peak-time services, around 3,000 passengers arrive standing into London Euston or Birmingham each day, unable to get a seat despite paying the full fare. These are journeys not of 10 or 20 minutes but of up to two hours or more from Manchester. My wife once had to sit on the floor outside the toilet from London to Manchester when she was eight months pregnant, with a small toddler in tow—

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With Jeremy?

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I believe many people have experienced similar problems on the network. This is not what should be offered by a 21st century rail service in the fifth richest country in the world.

The increase in capacity offered by HS2 is warmly welcomed. I recognise that we should be open to conversations about how we might change the design, and different parts of the country will need to put their case for how they see or want to see the benefits manifest themselves in their areas. I myself wanted HS2 to begin construction in the north, from Manchester heading down. Many colleagues have made that case. A compelling case was made by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) on how it could be altered to improve the service for his area. It is important to say that the phase 1 plans in the hybrid Bill will be quite transformative, because separating out long-distance passenger traffic from freight and local services will allow more services across the board. When we talk about HS2, that should always be borne in mind—the benefits are not just from the new capacity of the HS2 line, but also from the additional benefits that come from freeing up the existing capacity and infrastructure.

I find the two most common complaints I hear about HS2 to be without foundation. The first is that HS2 will simply be a rich man’s railway. That is incoherent. The laws of supply and demand tell us that, if we do not build more capacity, prices will have to rise as an ever greater number of people chase a limited number of seats on the trains. I see HS2 being built as a way to keep fares down.

The second criticism that we often hear is that the new line should be built not with high-speed technology but with standard technology. Again, that does not add up. A new rail line built to traditional speeds would still incur about 90% of the costs of HS2 but offer only a fraction of the capacity that HS2 would provide. I believe this is the right project.

If we really want to make real the Government’s former rhetoric—I do not know whether it is still the policy—about the northern powerhouse and devolution, infrastructure and investment outside of London has got to come with it. We cannot attract the global companies and the long-term investment into the north-west and Yorkshire that we all want to see unless we can give people some certainty that we will address the chronic underinvestment in infrastructure in the regions outside London. I see HS2 as integral to that. It is about jobs, growth and connectivity, about better wages, better career paths and better homes. It is about bringing London and Manchester closer together and giving hard-pressed Londoners a chance to spend more time in the UK’s greatest city. The HS2 stations at Manchester airport and Manchester city centre are about making Greater Manchester a nexus for domestic, European and global travel, and I like the look of that a great deal.

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I rise as a Yorkshire Member. This is relevant. I thank the hon. Gentleman for talking about capacity. It is not about speed. Does he agree that, at a time when the Government are making big infrastructure decisions on Hinkley, Crossrail and airport expansion, it is really important that we win the hearts and minds in the north of England, by showing that this will not only benefit Leeds and Manchester? It will also benefit our towns—Chester, Stalybridge, Huddersfield, Halifax and Burnley—and it will create quality jobs and apprenticeships in the north of our nation.

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I endorse that wholeheartedly, and not just because we share a train line between our constituencies, allowing easy access between the two. This is about how the economy works outside of London and where the investment goes. It is about job opportunities, career paths and the lives that can radiate from that kind of investment.

We have never got this right as a country before. We never thought as we needed to about what to do when we saw the de-industrialisation of the ’80s and the changes in the way that people live and work in the areas those of us here represent. It needs this kind of ambition. People talk about the costs of these projects, but they always will be expensive in a country with our land values and distribution of population. It will be difficult, in cost terms, to deliver, but it is the right thing to do.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that the north of England has suffered because 90% of capital expenditure on transport has gone to the south-east? To put his point very bluntly, should we not ensure that HS2 all the way to Leeds and Manchester is not behind Crossrail 2 in the queue for capital investment?

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Unsurprisingly, I entirely endorse that message. This has to be the priority for the country, because it is a national project. Other very useful transport infrastructure projects do not have the same benefits for the whole of the country. When talking about projects of this kind, we, and the Front Benchers in particular, have got to scrutinise the costs. We have got to ensure that the powers and resources to deliver the projects are proportionate and that the people who are affected by the building of the line are taken into consideration. Above all, we have to be unequivocal that this country needs to make this kind of investment if we are to make our economy work better and improve our constituents’ lives and career paths. I welcome every opportunity to debate this project, but we must always talk about improving it and about the rightness of making this kind of infrastructure investment, because that is what our constituencies need and our constituents want.

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Order. Three Members have indicated that they want to speak. If they take five minutes each, that would be great.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) for securing this excellent and timely debate. I believe that this project has cross-party support from those of us from the north-west and the north generally. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) made an excellent speech, and I agree with every word of it. The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) made the point that 90% of infrastructure investment in the UK goes to London and the south-east. Collectively, we have to ensure that the north, and the north-west in particular, gets its fair share. He is a man from the north-east. If I were from the north-east, I would be jumping up and down, because it gets a tiny percentage of investment in all infrastructure, not just rail infrastructure.

Since I was elected as a Member of Parliament in 2010, most of us have agreed with High Speed 2, but we still have to fight for it. We have only to look at the media in the south-east. I always find it interesting that the London news—the 6 o’clock news and the 10 o’clock news—calls high-speed rail a white elephant for some reason, but Crossrail 2, which costs £17 billion, does not seem to be an issue. Various infrastructure projects are going on in the south-east, but there seems to be an issue with infrastructure investment elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

If high-speed rail is a white elephant—if it does not provide value for money and if the costs are escalating—it should not go ahead, as I do not agree with wasting taxpayers’ money, but I do not believe it is. I believe it is exactly the right thing to do for the country, for the north-west, for greater Cheshire and for the constituents of Weaver Vale, which is, as hon. Members know, the gateway to the northern powerhouse. It is a vital infrastructure project.

The volume of traffic in all areas has increased beyond recognition in the past few decades. Some 317 billion miles were travelled on the roads in 2015-16, and 62 billion miles were travelled by rail passengers. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde talked about his wife sitting on the floor on a Pendolino. Those of us who travel from this place of an evening—even on a Wednesday evening, but particularly on Thursdays and Fridays—are very familiar with standing room only on the west coast main line trains from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly.

In terms of people served, the west coast main line is the most important rail network in Britain. Some 40% of all freight trains use it at some point in their journey. Demand on the line from both freight and passenger traffic is expected to grow substantially. High Speed 2 would release that capacity and enable freight to get off the roads. It is no surprise that the Victorian rail infrastructure that serves much of the north-west is incompatible with the growing demand. The antiquated trains on the railway infrastructure of the mid-Cheshire line from Chester into Stockport and Manchester are trundling along at the same speed that they did when the Victorians built the line more than 150 years ago.

The hon. Member for City of Chester said that it is very hard for business in Chester to recruit quality staff from elsewhere in the region because the commute takes too long. That is a barrier to growth in Chester.

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Will my hon. Friend endorse the North Wales and Mersey Dee Rail Task Force growth track 360 campaign, which seeks to ensure journey times of under one hour within the north Wales, Cheshire and Wirral region, as well as faster links to London, to counteract the economic underperformance of the region by connecting people to jobs and business to customers, and reducing our overdependence on a congested road network?

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I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend raises an important point. High Speed 2 is not just about Cheshire and the north-west region. It is about another country and the north Wales economy. He is exactly right. The Mersey Dee Alliance is a good alliance, and I am very pleased, as he is, to be part of it. It is about looking at this together, because enterprise zones do not recognise borders, and those of us representing Cheshire will benefit from the cross-border activity. It is very important that the rail infrastructure travels along north Wales and Anglesey to the markets of Ireland.

It would be a mistake to look at High Speed 2 as a stand-alone project. Over the next five years, three times the amount that is spent on High Speed 2 will be spent on roads, railways and other forms of transport. It is really important to ensure that High Speed 2 and the expenditure on other transport in the north-west complement each other so the connectivity that High Speed 2 brings is enhanced throughout the north-west, spreading the benefits. Trying to get from Northwich to Widnes and Runcorn is a nightmare. It is virtually impossible. Passengers trundle into Stockport, and then trundle along over to Widnes and into Liverpool. Increasing capacity on rail networks will potentially remove an estimated 10 million vehicles from UK roads, significantly relieving the pressure on busy sections of roads, such as the M56 in my constituency, which the hon. Member for City of Chester could not resist mentioning. We are all as one on the M56’s issues.

We have only to look at another French town, Lille, whose economy has flourished as a result of the connectivity of high-speed rail and the connection to the HS1 line, to see the potential that High Speed 2 can bring to north-west hubs such as Crewe. Those areas of France have been transformed. Around the station in Lille, investment has increased significantly, and new offices, hotels, a retail centre and a conference centre are all being developed. The Euralille complex, situated between the two Lille stations, has emerged as the third largest business centre in France. That highlights the real opportunity for Cheshire and its towns. Lille highlights how forward vision and connectivity together can be a radical catalyst for growth in any modern city.

Connectivity between our cities is vital for the development of the northern powerhouse and the rebalancing of our economy. North-west businesses will have better access to specialised services, a larger workforce and greater opportunities to offer their services to the capital. Likewise, shorter journey times are vital for business-related journeys, and connections with London alone could bring £4 billion of benefits to the north-west. Over the next few decades, High Speed 2 will play a fundamental role in reshaping our economy. Some 70% of jobs created by High Speed 2 are forecast to be outside London. I am sure all hon. Members will agree that we want those jobs in the north of England and Scotland.

We must look at High Speed 2 not in isolation but as part of an overall strategy for improving connectivity throughout the north-west. We must take steps to ensure that spending on other areas of transport infrastructure is, as much as possible, complementary to the High Speed 2 network so we can replicate Lille’s success at hubs such as Crewe in the north-west of England.

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I hope that the trains are more on time than the hon. Gentleman’s five-minute speech.

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I praise my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) for securing this timely debate. I have the most visited constituency in the north-west of England—in fact, 25 million people have visited it in the past 12 months. Hon. Members have probably guessed that Manchester airport is on my southern boundary, but that makes the issue very relevant to us.

Daniel Adamson, a Mancunian entrepreneur and engineer, coined the term “northern powerhouse” in 1860 when he built the Manchester ship canal. He wanted to create a continuous economic region from the estuary of the Mersey to the banks of the Humber estuary. We are focusing on HS2 and its impact—an impact like the ship canal had more than a century ago.

HS2 will drive growth in the north, as other Members have said, and help free up capacity, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) said. The west coast main line will be full by 2024. We need the extra capacity, but we also need a station at Manchester airport. That will be critical to ensuring that the benefits of the project are felt beyond Manchester as a whole, in the wider catchment areas. Any measures that help to reduce journey times and free up capacity on the existing network, enabling more places across the north to be connected to Manchester airport, will be most welcome.

One of the most important features of HS2 and a station at Manchester airport is the potential for wider rail network improvements. A connected network would potentially deliver truly transformational benefits for the north. Connectivity to and from Manchester airport is a key factor for airlines when they think about introducing new long-haul routes. With the current rail access, 3.5 million people are within a two-hour catchment area of Manchester airport using public transport, compared with 11 million and 12 million for Gatwick and Heathrow respectively. Currently, the only city that can be reached by rail from Manchester airport in 30 minutes is Manchester. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) alluded to, that situation exists following decades of Governments of both parties spending 90% of infrastructure investment on the south and the south-east.

I mentioned the transformational nature of a connected network. The current journey time from Manchester airport to Euston is two hours and 24 minutes. That will be revolutionised; it will come down to 59 minutes. If we do this right, it will open up whole new markets, from Hull to Liverpool, Chester and north Wales.

Let us look at the growth of comparator European airports and cities. Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport has a smaller immediate population than Greater Manchester, yet successfully draws a higher proportion of its passengers from further afield. That is supported by rail journeys around 30% quicker than those between Manchester and the likes of Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield. From Manchester airport, it currently takes 65 minutes to get to Liverpool and 73 minutes to get to Sheffield. If we introduced HS2 and HS3, those journeys would be reduced to 30 minutes. To get from Manchester airport to Leeds, it would take 10 minutes to get to Manchester city centre and another 30 minutes to get to Leeds—40 minutes in total. We would be linking three major airport hubs at Speke, Manchester and Leeds-Bradford, all for the cost of one Crossrail project—it would be the same length—and creating unheard-of runway capacity across the north.

We estimate that with the right rail improvements that opened up the catchment area and gave airlines access to more passenger demand, 20 to 30 new long-haul routes from Manchester airport would be made viable. I would like the Minister to respond to those points, and possibly pledge to follow through and ensure that the design and delivery of the HS2 works goes hand in hand with the delivery of a true east-west link as part of wider rail network improvements, and that both schemes are delivered at the earliest possible opportunity so that we can derive maximum benefit and close the north-south productivity gap as soon as possible. We are focused on Heathrow—we will be for weeks, months and years ahead—but we will get more bang for our buck in GDP as a country and an economy by investing in our northern infrastructure than we ever will by investing in runway 3 at Heathrow.

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Order. I call Mary Robinson to conclude the Back-Bench contributions. I will call the Scottish National party spokesman at 10 past 5 at the latest.

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It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen, and to see Members from both sides of the Chamber present for this important debate about HS2. I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) on securing it.

I am conscious of time, but I rise to speak about how this ambitious project will bring prosperity and jobs to my region, Greater Manchester. High Speed 2 will sweep into the north, with phase 2a to Crewe scheduled to open in 2027 and the delivery of phase 2b marked for completion in 2033. HS2 is the UK’s largest infrastructure project. It is critical to genuinely transforming connectivity across the region and rebalancing the UK economy. Now more than ever, I believe that it is vital that we modernise our railways.

I was pleased that the Minister was able to attend the debate that I secured in the previous Session on transport infrastructure in south Manchester. Although I was unable to dedicate as much time in that debate to high-speed rail as it was due, I welcomed the fact that he noted the importance of a regional hub at Manchester airport. The HS2 station at Manchester airport will reach close to my constituency of Cheadle and offer substantial further scope for jobs and productivity growth. It will maximise the airport’s potential and recognise its capacity to grow and handle up to 55 million passengers per annum. Manchester airport employs 20,000 people, many of whom live in my constituency, and contributes £1.8 billion annually to the economy. The £1 billion transformation plan to develop the airport through the airport city enterprise zone promises more jobs and wealth creation. That hub is vital to supporting development and key to regional prosperity and delivering the northern powerhouse.

One of the most important features of HS2, with a station at Manchester airport, is the potential for it to form part of a wider northern powerhouse rail network, as the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) mentioned. Such a connected network has the potential to deliver truly transformational benefits for the north. With the current rail access to Manchester airport, the population within a two-hour catchment area using public transport stands at only around 3.5 million, compared with 11 million and 12 million at Gatwick and Heathrow respectively. Manchester is the only city that can be reached by rail in 30 minutes. It is critical that we get the Manchester airport hub and that the design and delivery of HS2 works hand in hand with the design and delivery of a true east-west link across the north as part of the wider NPR network. Both schemes should be delivered at the earliest opportunity, so that we can derive the maximum benefit and close the north-south productivity gap.

I look forward to the legislation for phase 1 being brought forward later this year. Although I appreciate that delivery timetables have been extended to allow time for the petitions process, I urge the Government to take steps to prevent further delays to the opening of the first step of HS2. We need to talk not about whether HS2 will bring economic benefits, but about how great those benefits will be and how that investment can be spread across the north-west so that the benefits of a transformed rail network can be shared by everyone.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) on securing the debate. My job of summing up for the SNP may have been slightly easier if the motion did not say “north-west of England” but stopped at just “north-west”. I noted that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) said that he agreed with every word that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) had said. That may be a first, and it says a lot about the quality of the debate.

I agree that HS2 should be not just about connecting London, Birmingham and Manchester. It must be much more strategic than that. We have heard about east-west connectivity, and the hon. Member for City of Chester mentioned connectivity onwards north to Scotland, which must happen. There has been a bit of a theme among all the contributions: the economic benefits that arise from the expenditure on this big project, not just the cost burden, must be spread across the whole of the UK.

The call for a hub at Crewe makes absolute sense. That seems critical to connectivity between the regions and nations of the UK. I also agree that the project must be future-proof. I am concerned that under the current HS2 arrangements the classic compatible trains that will be purchased to run on the network will actually run slower on the west coast main line north of Crewe than trains do at present. People will get to Crewe having had a quicker journey time, but then the service north of there will be diminished. That is not acceptable, so I ask the Minister to think about that in the long run.

To pick up on some of the other contributions, the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) almost seemed to make the case against the project, which I found quite surprising, talking about the costs and engineering difficulties. I think there was a wee bit of “not in my back yard” and “we’ll take the benefits, but please build the railway somewhere else.”

Like the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, I was on the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill Committee, and I agree with him that HS2 is about capacity. The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) said in an intervention that it is about not speed but capacity, but in my opinion it is about both. If we do not have the right speed, the attraction for passengers will not be there, especially when we look at extending the network north to Scotland. We have aspirations of a three-hour journey time from London, which would really compete with the budget airlines.

I have already said that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale agreed with every word said by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, which was good. The hon. Members for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) and for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) made clear the need for Manchester to be properly connected, with the benefits that it will bring, and the need for the east-west spur.

I apologise for repeating myself, but HS2 must be strategic and connect the entire country. Plans must be taken forward to bring the high-speed network north to Scotland. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde said he hoped that the project would start in the north, and he used Manchester as his example of the north. Actually, “north” is further north than Manchester. However, I agree with the sentiment: it would be great to start construction in the north—north of Manchester, perhaps in Glasgow, and bring it right down from there, with the economic benefits being shared by all.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) for securing the debate. He passionately put forward his case on how HS2 can serve the interests of his constituents and the wider north-west. I echo his sentiment that HS2 has Labour’s backing. We welcome infrastructure investment, but part of the case for HS2 that convinced so many was that it was not simply another project designed for the benefit of the south-east but that it would benefit regions across the country.

Crewe is already a gateway station for the north-west, with regional and long-distance connections to the wider north-west, the east midlands and Wales, but there are significant capacity constraints that have an impact on reliability, which has been below industry targets, and there are bottlenecks at Colwich junction and around Stafford. This is also a problem for national freight operators, with much freight traffic on the west coast main line routed through Basford Hall yard, south of Crewe, and 43% of rail freight journeys using the west coast main line at some point.

The phase 2a link will help provide much needed additional capacity for freight and will improve reliability for commuter services, so it should be welcomed that the Government have brought forward the opening of the phase 2a link to 2027 as that will provide benefits to the north-west and beyond. However, it would be disappointing if a Crewe hub were not developed, as the fact that it is already a regional hub provides a springboard for further developing and improving connectivity with conventional rail. The benefits of stopping more trains at Crewe are clear, as expressed in David Higgins’s “HS2 Plus” report.

We welcomed the Government’s decision to accelerate the section of route from the west midlands to Crewe so that it opens six years earlier than planned in 2027, bringing benefits to the north sooner than initially thought, but the primary concerns are the rumours that phases 2a and 2b might be downgraded or delayed as the project increasingly comes under budgetary strain.

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indicated dissent.

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I see the Minister shaking his head—he can give me that assurance, then. In the words of the Public Accounts Committee report,

“the cost estimates for phase 2 are still volatile”.

There was a cost estimate from the Department for Transport that was £7 billion over the agreed £28.5 billion funding, and then £9 billion of potential savings were subsequently identified. We know that much of the savings are a result of more detailed and accurate estimates being applied, but the worry is that without a confirmed route and a firm cost estimate, and with budgetary pressures, the planned savings on phase 2 will be delivered by adversely affecting the expected benefits of the programme to the north, including the north-west.

I know the Minister will wish to reassure the House that he intends to preserve the integrity of HS2 to the north, because that will tackle the lack of capacity south of Birmingham and the poor connectivity not just between the region and London but within the north. It is crucial that we ensure that HS2 remains an infrastructure project that delivers for the whole country.

We have seen the uncertainty surrounding the proposed route changes in south Yorkshire. We do not want to see the same uncertainty on the western leg. It has been rumoured that if costs for the existing scheme cannot be brought down, one option under consideration is to delay or abandon altogether the section to Manchester and build the line only as far as Crewe, or to delay the line—an HS2 spokesperson said that the Treasury is taking the position that that nothing is ruled out.

I echo the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester and stress the importance of delivering a hub station at Crewe, which will benefit the sub-region, the north-west and the country as a whole, and of phase 2b, which ought to transform connectivity in the north and through the country. It would be disastrous for the north-west and make a mockery of the so-called northern powerhouse if phase 2 were to be downgraded.

We eagerly await the Government’s proposals for HS2 phase 2, but whatever the forthcoming route proposals, they must ensure that HS2 is an infrastructure project that delivers for the whole country. I hope the Minister can provide reassurances to that effect.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) on securing this debate on HS2 connectivity in the north-west. He represents a beautiful city—one of the many places in the north-west that really stands to benefit from HS2. It has been great to hear the appetite for the scheme from across the Chamber.

HS2 will become the backbone of our national rail network. It will be a key part of building a transport system and economy that works for all. It will increase rail capacity and improve connectivity, and people will not need to travel on HS2 to benefit from it. By providing new fast lines for inter-city services, HS2 will free up space on our existing railway network for new commuter, regional and freight services. We are already starting to see the benefits of the scheme in the form of jobs and skills, which are being created now.

HS2 is working with businesses across the UK, including many small and medium-sized firms, to ensure that they are well prepared to bid for contracts and reap its benefits. Construction alone will generate about 25,000 jobs and 2,000 apprenticeships. A supplier roadshow has travelled the UK, highlighting the range of commercial opportunities that the construction schemes will present, encouraging companies from all over the UK to consider tendering for some of the work. I attended the last one, which was up in Aberdeen, which highlighted to the engineering businesses in the area who have perhaps developed great skills through the oil sector that HS2 presents opportunities for them.

HS2 is not just about serving a few destinations—that phrase was heard across the House. It is not just that; HS2 services will also run on to the existing network, serving destinations in the north-west and indeed those going as far as Scotland. Interchange with conventional rail will also be key in allowing places far beyond the network to benefit. Last year we decided to take the HS2 route via Crewe and to open the route to Crewe in 2027. The journey time between Crewe and London will be just 55 minutes—that is 35 minutes faster than today. Passengers interchanging at Crewe, for example from Chester or north Wales, will also be able to take advantage.

Sir David Higgins recognised the opportunity that Crewe presents for the region. He recommended a north-west hub at Crewe to integrate regional and high-speed rail. It is a sensible idea; Crewe already is a hub. It has rail services to London, Birmingham, Shrewsbury, south Wales, Stoke, Derby, Manchester, Liverpool, Scotland and, of course, north Wales and Chester. It is also well connected to major A roads and the M6.

The Government are developing options for Crewe and we expect to provide an update on the scheme later this year as part of our planned announcement on phase 2b. I will talk a little bit more about the timing later. The hon. Member for City of Chester has clearly put across the local ambition for high-frequency HS2 services at Crewe and for the increased frequency of conventional services between Crewe and Chester. I understand that local ambition. I have made the case for my own constituency as well, as indeed have many hon. Members. We are already investing in connectivity in the region, and we only have to look at the working taking place at the Halton curve to see that. We are looking at what HS2 connectivity could be provided at Crewe to benefit the whole region.

I have to say that it is too early to lock down the service proposition at this stage. We need to understand what is possible and what benefits could be delivered, but options need to be left open so that services meet the demands and priorities of the 2020s and beyond. I also have to say that we have to think about affordability. We have incredibly ambitious rail investment programmes and there are priorities for investment across the network.

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Does the Minister accept that the opportunities for the 2020s and beyond will actually be created by getting the service level for HS2 right?

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I have absolutely no doubt that when we consider those services we are all thinking ahead. I entirely buy the argument that transport investment is a driver of economic growth and, indeed, social progress—whichever mode of transport we are talking about. The Government are not buying trains because we like trains; we are buying them because they facilitate economic growth. That is the same with buses and social progress.

Taking HS2 to Crewe will play an important part in turning the town around. It is already a hub and it is also a town that is in need of investment, but HS2 is not a silver bullet in itself. We need to ensure that HS2 drives regeneration, not only in the places that it serves directly but far more widely. For the economic growth benefits of HS2 to be realised and to spread, local partners have an important role to play.

It is fantastic to see the north-west making such excellent progress in its plans for the region. The northern gateway partnership is already developing its growth strategy. That work, which is aiming to deliver around 100,000 homes and 120,000 jobs, will ensure the regeneration benefits of HS2 are felt right across the region. I have met with the combined authority, Transport for Greater Manchester, on a number of occasions, and I have done the same with the west midlands. It has been fantastic to see the ambition that those areas have for regeneration, recognising that, when HS2 arrives, it will present them with significant opportunities.

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The Minister said it is too early to “lock down” the level of service, but he will undoubtedly appreciate that, if we cannot establish a bare minimum level of service, this becomes a rather pointless and redundant exercise. If he is not able to do that now, will he give some indication of when he will be able to give a little bit more detail about the basic minimum level of service we have been discussing this afternoon?

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I will come on to timing a little later on. I turn to the matter of the north Wales main line and the work that is being carried out by the North Wales and Mersey Dee rail task force. I welcome its establishment and it is doing a good job of making the case for rail modernisation in north Wales and of developing wider growth plans for the region. This is an opportunity for north Wales to make the best case for investment in rail infrastructure and services. It is vital that a shared local vision is brought together with a defined set of prioritised outcomes based on economic growth, journey times, connectivity and modal shift. We will continue to work closely with that taskforce and with the Welsh Government to provide advice and assistance and to consider what can be jointly accomplished. We want the taskforce to advise us effectively on options for enhancements, including electrification, to address the regional economic needs and, of course, on the value of those options.

Many hon. Members have commented today. I will first respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), who has raised concerns with me previously regarding the route north of Crewe, given the ground instability problems associated with the route crossing the Cheshire saltfield. I have been down that salt mine as part of looking at the winter preparations for the road network last year. I have to say it was a very interesting place to visit. I am aware of the scale of this enormous undertaking and I reassure my hon. Friend and other hon. Members that we are not ignoring that risk. HS2 Ltd has carried out surveys to better understand the geological issues in Cheshire and has commissioned further studies from third-party organisations. We are looking at a range of options in that area.

At this stage, I cannot provide any further information about where that part of the route will run. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make an announcement on that during the autumn. My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury also made a further point about blight for residents affected by the potential routes. I will look at those cases with every sympathy, and I know she will write to me so I will look out for her letter.

I thoroughly agree with the points made by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) on transport being a driver of economic growth, on how capacity is necessary and on how, looking not too far ahead, we will have a rail network that is full, which is something we have discussed previously. He will not be surprised that we are in further agreement. To my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans), I say this is not a white elephant: it is a scheme that is a fundamental and critical part of our national infrastructure and it will happen.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson), I say yes, the debate really has moved on; it is not if but when this happens. The debate we should be having is on how we maximise the benefits that will flow from HS2 when it arrives. To the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), I say that I completely recognise that Manchester airport is thoroughly important, not just for Manchester but for the whole of the north of England with its power to connect it. I can also confirm that we are developing plans for HS3 alongside HS2; they are not separate schemes being developed in isolation. We are looking at integration of the two.

I can confirm that we have had absolutely no loss of ambition. I will run through some timing: on phase 1, we hope the Bill will complete its passage through the Lords very soon and we hope to start the build in the spring. The necessary work to prepare the Bill for phase 2a is underway and we intend for it to start its parliamentary journey next year. On phase 2b, the Government will announce our proposed route from Crewe to Manchester and from Birmingham to Leeds, south Yorkshire and the east midlands later this year. That will be an important moment and will begin to make the project far more tangible.

This is a project that is from the UK and for the UK. It is all about national benefits, including extra capacity on the network and developing skills, and companies from right across the UK will be able to benefit from the significant amount of work required. We view this as a critical part of our national infrastructure and of building a transport network and an economy that works for all. We have had a positive debate today. Though it has been focused on the north-west—and it is clearly right that this presents a huge opportunity for the north-west, for the city of Chester and for the whole region—it is a national project and we have to view it in that way.

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Will the Minister give way? This will be very short.

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It will have to be.

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Will the Minister confirm that in November the Secretary of State for Transport will confirm the phase 2b route, from Birmingham to Crewe, up to Manchester and also the Yorkshire leg?

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I can confirm that we will announce the Yorkshire leg. I do not know when the Secretary of State will announce it, but I can confirm that we will be announcing the full “Y” route—that is the Yorkshire leg and the Manchester leg.

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This autumn?

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This autumn; that is exactly right. This is a major undertaking for our country but it is an essential one. I emphasise one further point with my last comment: this project is one that central and local Government, and both the public and private sectors, have to come together to deliver. If we all come together to deliver this project we will maximise the benefits, both in transport and regeneration, and our whole country will benefit from that.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered HS2 in the North West of England.

Sitting adjourned.