Consideration of Lords amendments.
Power to Acquire Land Compulsorily
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.
Let me say right away that the majority of the amendments are technical clarifications, corrections and updated references. The Government accept all the amendments to the Bill made by the Lords. I will provide some comment on the amendments of substance. Before I do so, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Lords for its scrutiny of the Bill. I pay particular gratitude to Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon for having very skilfully steered the passage of the Bill through the other place, and to my noble Friends Lord Viscount Younger and Baroness Buscombe for their diligent work in assisting Lord Ahmad during the Lords stages of the Bill. It would be most remiss of me not also to thank Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe for his distinguished chairmanship of the Select Committee that considered the petitions against the Bill in the Lords, and to thank the other members of the Committee.
Lords amendments 1 and 2 were introduced by the Lords Select Committee and concern the removal of a strip of land in the Chelmsley Wood area of Solihull from the Bill. The Government were proposing to acquire the land to re-provide public open space for local residents. However, the Lords Select Committee concluded that this was not necessary. As we set out in the Government’s response to the Lords Select Committee report, the Government regret that that means that the residents of Chelmsley Wood are to lose permanently a portion of public open space, but we will be working with Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council to consider, within the limits and the powers of the Bill, reasonable ways in which to reduce the temporary impact of construction and the permanent impacts of the operation of the railway. Clearly, any solutions agreed that fall outside the limits and powers of the Bill will be for Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council to deliver in its role as the local planning authority.
Lords amendment 4 was also introduced by the Lords Select Committee. It removes the power in clause 48 that made provisions for the Secretary of State to promote a compulsory purchase order to acquire land for regeneration purposes related to High Speed 2. It was always intended that the power would be used only as a backstop if commercial negotiations failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion and if a significant regeneration opportunity would otherwise be lost. However, the Lords felt that given the broad nature of the powers and the fact that local authorities already had similar powers, it was unnecessary for the Government to take the powers. The Government accept that ruling and will continue to work with local authorities to ensure that opportunities for regeneration arising from phase 1 of HS2 are not missed.
Amendments 3, 51 and 52 introduce a new clause and schedule in relation to traffic regulation orders. TROs are a mechanism for local highways authorities to impose temporary or permanent restrictions on the use of highways in their areas in order to control traffic. Local highways authorities will need to make a range of TROs in relation to the construction of HS2. They will also need to ensure that they do not make TROs that conflict with the construction of HS2. The amendments ensure that local highways authorities will be required to consult with the Secretary of State for Transport before making any orders that affect either a specific road identified for use by HS2 or other roads related to HS2 construction works. This will avoid TROs being made that might otherwise inadvertently cause problems for the construction of phase 1 of HS2.
The amendments also allow the Secretary of State, if required, to make TROs himself and prohibit or revoke TROs that unnecessarily hinder the delivery of the railway. These powers are similar to those that the Secretary of State already has under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and will ensure that TROs necessary to deliver phase 1 of HS2 in a timely and economic manner can be made.
I appreciate that there would be a desire, particularly in central London, to prevent any local transport authority, whether the local authority or Transport for London, from frustrating the building of the railway, but will the Minister give an assurance that the Secretary of State’s powers will be used sparingly? In London we already have democratically elected authorities, through the local authorities and Transport for London, that are able to represent the public interest in this regard, so it is a slight concern that the Secretary of State could use the powers less sparingly than might be desirable for democratic accountability.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point and I can give him the assurance he is looking for. The powers would only ever be used in a very sparing way, as he suggests is appropriate. Basically, the right way forward is for HS2 and the Department and local highways authorities to work together to agree some kind of consensus; these are just powers that might be necessary should situations arise. An example of success in that would be Camden, where there has been agreement between the borough council and the Department and HS2 Ltd on how to take forward the TROs required.
Although we may be seeking consensus, if there is disagreement, these provisions would ultimately give the Department for Transport the power to proceed by fiat and override the local authority or, indeed, local residents’ concerns, would they not?
The Bill certainly does give the Secretary of State the power, if required, to make TROs himself and to prohibit or revoke TROs that unnecessarily hinder the delivery of the railway. The answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question is therefore yes, but we cannot allow a significant national project to be held up over the small matter of a TRO. As I have said, the best thing to do is to work with the highways authorities; these are some backstop powers, just in case that does not deliver the consensus required.
The powers were subject to significant debate and amendment in the House of Lords, and I am glad to say that the powers we are considering this evening represent the correct balance between giving the Secretary of State the powers necessary to construct HS2 and providing reassurance to local highways authorities about how they will used. Clearly, we hope there will be little or no need to rely on them, as the regular meetings established with local highways authorities will be used to consult, agree, monitor and generally supervise the local traffic management plans. However, the powers are needed to ensure that, if those arrangements fail, HS2 can be delivered in an efficient manner.
The remainder of the amendments make technical clarifications in relation to the changes to the Housing and Planning Act 2016, update references and make corrections. I urge the House to agree to the Lords amendments.
I am pleased to contribute to the progress of the Bill once again. I was fortunate enough to have been able to contribute to it in Committee, and I know the Minister will share my enthusiasm for the fact that this Bill will soon receive Royal Assent. High Speed 2 is, of course, the brainchild of a Labour Government, but I give credit to the coalition Government and the present Government for providing continuing support.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s clarification, but if a party is in power, it is in power. Whether or not this happened in 2009 or 2010, Labour were still the Government of the day.
There are some points of disagreement between the Opposition and the Government on HS2—I shall return to them later—but the consensus that exists across the House and among businesses and industry experts on HS2 is to be welcomed. Projects of this scale often require the support of successive Governments and support from the Government and Opposition Benches, so it is reassuring to see a consistent approach to this critical investment in our nation’s rail infrastructure.
Is not the hon. Gentleman rather ignoring the fact that most Members are not affected by this project, so they show very little interest in it at all? If MPs’ constituencies are affected by the project, Members are of course passionately engaged. In fact, that consensus has really gone by default.
Order. Let me say that our time should be devoted to the amendments, and I am bothered that we might stray into other areas that should not be debated. I have allowed a little latitude, but I do not want us to open up into a general debate. Let us keep to the amendments.
Let me just say that this project benefits the entire country in its construction and its reach. I shall leave it there, Mr Deputy Speaker.
HS2 helps to address the severe capacity constraints on our rail network and improve connections between cities in the midlands and the north of England and beyond into Scotland. HS2 is vital for unblocking the capacity constraints that are undermining punctuality and constraining economic growth.
I would like to place on record my thanks to all Secretaries of State and Ministers, shadow Secretaries of State and shadow Ministers and Members of both Houses who have contributed to and carried the Bill forward. I want to pay tribute to all the Clerks who managed the petitioning process and provided invaluable advice and guidance throughout. I would like to pay a particular tribute to the great professionalism and dedication to his task of the late Neil Caulfield, who as Clerk to the Committee was immensely patient and attentive, giving me his time to ensure the smooth progress of the Bill. He is very sadly missed, but not forgotten.
This is a large and complicated Bill and has been subject to the highest levels of scrutiny throughout the process, and we now have a much improved Bill. We will support the Lords amendments to it. The majority of the amendments are without controversy and simply seek to tidy up the measure and make small changes where necessary. It is not necessary to debate them in any detail.
The most significant change to the Bill is the new schedule on traffic regulation, which, given the identified effects of the redevelopment of Euston station, is particularly pertinent for the London Borough of Camden. I acknowledge the consultation that took place following Committee with local highway authorities, which informed the changes to the new schedule. Entirely legitimate concerns were expressed that the new schedule as originally drafted would have given powers that were too wide ranging and could have caused a lack of proper regard for the residents of London—concerns expressed by Camden Borough Council and Transport for London. To a large extent, these concerns were addressed in the changes made to the new schedule, but some issues are still outstanding. I understand that the discussions between the promoter and both TfL and Camden Council are ongoing, and that an undertaking has been negotiated, but not yet received. I understand that the undertaking will say that the use of these powers will not affect bus lanes, cycle ways, the safer lorry scheme and the congestion charge zone.
Is the Minister able to give assurances that the promoter of HS2 will meet the costs incurred by local authorities in putting in place and removing traffic regulation orders required by the Secretary of State? Can he also give assurances that the Secretary of State will be required to provide justification when seeking to use these powers? The powers are needed for construction, but Labour’s position from the start has been that the impacts of construction on affected areas must be mitigated as much as possible, and such assurances would be appreciated. Pursuant to the new traffic regulation, will the Minister tell us what plans the Department has to minimise the number of HGV journeys on London roads, in the interests of the environment and public safety, during the redevelopment of Euston station? No fixed target has been endorsed, and the issue is crucial to London residents.
Labour supports the progress of HS2, a hugely important undertaking which will not only remedy the considerable capacity problems that currently exist, but bring enormous economic benefits. There will be immense opportunities for young people, who will be able to spend their entire careers in high-speed rail. It will showcase Britain at its best to the world, and will serve as a real manifestation of our national pride and confidence in ourselves. We are more than capable and good enough to build HS2, and more than capable and good enough to run it when it has been built.
There are two more sentences, Mr Deputy Speaker.
HS2 does not have to be a Deutsche Bahn HS2 or an SNCF HS2 or Nederlandse Spoorwegen or Trenitalia state-run HS2, but it can be—if I may paraphrase the Prime Minister—a British red, white and blue HS2, and the Government should guarantee it.
HS2 may well embrace young people’s entire careers, as the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) suggested, and they will have good careers out of it if it is built. However, I do not underestimate the fortunes being made—by the top echelons of HS2, certainly, but also by people who are benefiting from very lucrative contracts at the taxpayer’s expense.
I presume—and I am hardly surprised—that the Government have accepted the Lords amendments. A number of them correct inaccuracies, many of which have been and continue to be attached to this project, and which have been a source of great anxiety on the part of people directly affected. I join those on both Front Benches in saying thank you to their lordships, who were restricted in what they could do. They were unable to amend the Bill significantly—they could not make any additional provisions—and we are therefore dealing with a group of amendments that the Government are, of course, able to accept in their entirety because they do not do that much to the Bill.
I must say that I would welcome the acceptance of Lords amendment 4, which I call the “land grab” amendment, because it would limit the power of the state to acquire land compulsorily in association with the project for the purposes of regeneration or development. I think it fair to say that the current Secretary of State for Transport, when lobbied by me and by many others—particularly the CLA—responded very positively. Such a sweeping power would have added insult to injury, namely the plundering of property that has resulted from a project that is as ravenous for land as it is for taxpayers’ money. Without the amendment, the Government would have been able to buy up land for lucrative developments virtually without control.
However, some of my constituents have serious concerns about schedule 16. They believe that HS2 has only to give 28 days’ notice to enter, do what it likes to the land and pay no compensation until the job is finished, which they believe could take many years. During those years, my constituents would have to shoulder the loss of value to property and income. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright) believes that there are constituents fighting to prove that they are affected by HS2, whose applications for compensation have been successful, but who are still struggling to agree on a value for their property. When the Minister responds to these amendments, I wonder whether he will care to say something in relation to that and this land grab amendment, which I am grateful the Government are accepting.
I, as much as anybody else, have supported the right hon. Lady for a long time in respect of this scheme, and she raises an important point. I have constituents who cannot get a penny of compensation because they do not meet the necessary requirements. I think something very serious should be done about that, and I hope the right hon. Lady agrees.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and this is what has worried me about this project: it has been a David and Goliath project, and Goliath has won. It has crushed the spirit of so many people, and it is going to affect people who do not yet know how they are going to be affected. I worry for the years of disruption that will come, as I will discuss later.
Amendment 7 will improve the reporting on vocational qualifications, but when it comes to personnel—this is an amendment about personnel—a project such as this should have had continuity and strong leadership. Far from that, there have been three Prime Ministers, five Secretaries of State, four permanent secretaries and three chief executives over the past six years. Young people joining this project to obtain the vocational qualifications that amendment 7 reflects will want assurances that the personnel and training functions are being run by reputable contractors and a reputable organisation.
Questions are being asked about the relationships between the Department, HS2 and contractors such as CH2M. CH2M has already been paid hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in connection with this project and its director has been placed in temporary charge since the very highly paid Simon Kirby departed to Rolls-Royce. It has had so-called Chinese walls during the latest bidding process and now another director of the same company has been appointed as the new permanent CEO on less money than the departing CEO.
We read reports in the Financial Times this morning that the losing bidders on phase two are considering legal action because CH2M could well have been party to information from the CH2M professionals embedded in HS2 on phase one. I ask the Minister to clarify this: he needs to give assurances, or else the pall of suspicion will continue to hang over the top personnel of this project and will affect those young people referred to in amendment 7, whose vocational qualifications are going to be reported on.
Order. The right hon. Lady knows very well that she is stretching not the patience of the Chair, but the terms of the debate in order to allow it to continue. We have to concentrate on the amendments, so we do not want to get into salaries and comparisons in that regard. I am therefore sure the right hon. Lady is coming straight back on to the amendments before us.
I take your admonition, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am trying to use these amendments to make the points that my constituents would expect to be made in the House. They do not understand that we have to try to stick exactly to the final letter, but I do understand that, so I shall attempt to stay in order and not try the patience of the Chair too much.
Lords amendment 11 updates references to environmental regulations, but I am afraid that HS2 continues to be environmentally unsound. The promoters of the project will never be forgiven for the violation of a nationally protected area of outstanding natural beauty, when the technology and capability exist to have tunnelled the whole of that protected area. In fact, the line emerges now from a tunnel near the railway’s highest point.
The derision with which campaigners have been treated is no better reflected than in the words of Lord Snape during the Lords debate. He said that what extra protection was achieved in the Chilterns through tunnelling was
“as a result of demands, including semi-hysterical demands from a then member of the Cabinet, which in the view of many of us who have taken an interest in the project has added unnecessarily to the cost and makes travelling by train less pleasant.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 January 2017; Vol. 777, c. 84.]
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. Lord Snape was always a real gentleman when he was in this House, and I can see that he has gone on to maintain those credentials of politeness and to be a champion of equality. His elevation was undoubtedly deserved.
Lords amendments 12 to 25 correct references to local roads, and Lords amendment 51 covers the traffic regulation changes. The residents of Great Missenden parish still have concerns about the siting of the north portal and the effect of construction traffic in the area. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell me which of the traffic regulation changes will reassure my constituents, who are disappointed that there has been no relocation of the haul road. Great Missenden Parish Council has noted that
“residents were aggrieved that an undertaking to move the haul road further north is not to be met”.
The mitigation package of assurances for Great Missenden was first discussed in October 2016, but it has still not been formally entered on to the HS2 register of undertakings and assurances. I hope that the Minister will also be able to comment on that.
All the major changes to traffic referred to in Lords amendments 12 to 25 will require good community engagement. When it comes to engaging with local communities, however, HS2 still has a lot to learn. My right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and I know that we and the constituents we represent are not being treated with due respect.
My constituents have instances of HS2 experts failing to take local concerns seriously, even to the extent of giving incorrect information. Indeed, many of these amendments contain corrections to inaccuracies in the legislation. I understand that this is now a matter of formal complaint, but HS2’s actions have continued to fall short of what is expected from a public body. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam has noted that people often have to resort to freedom of information requests and to petitioning Select Committees because communication with HS2 is so poor. It is really disappointing that HS2 Ltd has not shown more empathy or understanding of the human cost of HS2, even now.
With Royal Assent will start a right royal assault on the people still living on and around the route. The disruption that will be a daily part of their lives during this project’s construction will go on for many years. It would be fitting to say that this has been a life-changing experience—not just for me, but for so many people in the Chilterns and beyond. We are discussing these Lords amendments today, but I have learned that the House of Lords could actually prevent Members of Parliament from speaking up on behalf of their constituents. I was amazed that our locus standi was challenged by the Department for Transport’s subsidiary, and that any Member of Parliament wishing to put forward constructive ideas could be shut up by a House of Lords Committee.
I support my right hon. Friend’s point. It is incomprehensible to our constituents, who have elected us to speak for them, that we should be prevented from articulating the real concerns that have arisen since this legislation left our House. There are very strong feelings among our constituents about that prohibition.
I would have thought that in a democracy, and particularly as elected representatives in a representative democracy, we would have the freedom to speak in these Houses but, no, that is not the case. The Lords amendments were arrived at without the help and support of the elected Members for the affected constituencies. The process certainly taught me a lesson, and it changed my life and my view of democracy.
Does the right hon. Lady share my regret that MPs were shut out from representing their constituents by petitioning the Lords Select Committee? There are constraints at the various stages of a Bill’s consideration in this House, and the Lords Select Committee was an opportunity for our points to be made in detail on behalf of those we represent.
Thank you very much for reminding me of the rules, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am trying to stick very closely to the amendments. Of course, I am referring to the Lords proceedings and to these amendments. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) that it is extraordinary that Ministers who represent constituencies along the route, and who were therefore unable to speak in this House, were prohibited from speaking to the Lords Select Committee because the locus standi was challenged by the very organisation set up by the Department for Transport—in collusion, in other words. MPs were shut up on this issue, as they have been in many instances since the project was first thought of.
With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will now pay tribute to people such as Hilary Wharf and her husband Bruce Weston. They helped to lead the brave HS2 Action Alliance, which still gives advice to beleaguered people and tries to stop or improve this project. My county council, ably led by Councillor Martin Tett, has put an enormous amount of work into the Bill, as has my district council, Chiltern District Council, led by the formidable Councillor Isobel Darby. I particularly mention my parish council, which is struggling to find the resources, alongside the larger councils, to carry out the work necessary to protect and inform its residents.
An additional burden runs from the amendments on traffic regulations, for example, and those costs will fall on our local councils. The amendments covering flood risk, possession of land and changing traffic flows, for example, will lie at the feet of our financially challenged councils, and there is little chance of the full costs being restored to those councils for all the extra work that has been forced on them, unless the Minister tells me different at the Dispatch Box today. In other words, our constituents are paying not once but two or three times over for this project.
Will HS2 be a success? I am still not convinced. Will these amendments make it a success? We learned from last weekend’s newspapers that the Department is so concerned that HS2 may be overtaken by new technology, such as driverless cars, that it is trying to encourage technology companies such as Google and the ever-popular Uber to take a financial stake in the recently announced combined franchise for the west coast main line and HS2 in order to offset the risk that HS2 is, in fact, old technology.
This is my last opportunity to speak on the Bill, and I want to acknowledge, as did the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, a couple of other people who tried to help those affected by HS2. I think particularly of Neil Caulfield, who tried so hard to help people through an obscure and often frightening process. He was a credit to this House and to the Clerks Department. He was scrupulously fair, and nothing was too much trouble for him. Quite frankly, he went above and beyond the call of duty to try to deal with an arcane process that really should be banished from our procedures in this House.
I also want to mention an amazing constituent, Mr Ray Challinor. He was chairman of the Hyde Heath village society, and his commitment to our community and social action was second to none. Sadly, his family laid him to rest this afternoon. I would have liked to attend his funeral to pay my tribute to him, but I pay my tribute on the Floor of the House because he was not a man who supported HS2. He was a man who was fiercely protective of our local community.
Lastly, I should mention all those individuals who have supported the campaign to either stop or radically change HS2. These are people who often could not afford to donate but did so because they could not believe that the state could ride in such a roughshod fashion over the very people who put it in charge.
The Government will get their way—Royal Assent will be given—but this Bill and this project are tainted by the way in which their people have gone about their business. In a democracy, there should not be a process that is so unequal, giving the state such powers over its citizens without the balance that we would expect from a fair society. I hope that at some stage we will be able to consign this hybrid Bill process to the history books. I wish I could say the same about HS2.
I shall be brief, as I am well aware that for some people in the House this has been a long process and it is good that we are getting to the end of it. I caught the end of the previous debate, in which people were saying that the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill was 64 years in the making, so this Bill has, in fact, taken somewhat less time. My party is generally supportive of this bold proposal from the Government, but we would like it to be bolder in the long run as it is important that HS2 extends to Scotland. We also need improvements to the existing line north of Crewe in the meantime so that we can have shorter journey times up north.
I am well aware that I am supposed to be speaking to the Lords amendments. As they have improved the Bill, we support them. We welcome the amendments to clause 48 relating to compulsory purchase order powers. It is important that the Secretary of State sticks to his commitment that any CPO powers will be used sparingly and as a last resort.
As I said, we are supportive of the concept. My background is in civil engineering, so I appreciate the value that infrastructure investment can bring in long-term wider business and economic benefits. On that basis, I would like to see the project go forward and I look forward to the start of the construction. I am well aware that some enabling contracts have been let. While we want to see construction starting, I again remind Ministers that we need improvements north of Crewe, and we need this line to get to Scotland sooner rather than later.
It is not every day that one walks into the Chamber to find parts of one’s constituency, villages or parishes singled out in legislation, but Lords amendment 1 does precisely that. Madam Deputy Speaker, you reminded us that these amendments are narrow, describing them as largely “typographical”, but I wish to impress on hon. Members that this is a topographical amendment. I should not want any Member to leave this Chamber without understanding exactly what we are talking about. The lovely parish of Bickenhill is perhaps where some hon. Members have disembarked from the west coast main line at Birmingham International station. Perhaps they have stood on the platform looking across to the National Exhibition Centre, but they might not have been wholly aware that they were in the green belt. Very close by is Chelmsley Wood, one of the largest council estates in western Europe. I mention those topographical points because, as I am sure that hon. Members can see, names such as Bickenhill and Chelmsley Wood conjure up images of lovely rural locations, yet people there are at no point further than 8 miles from the centre of either Coventry or Birmingham, so we are talking about land that is precious to those who try to keep the balance of green space and urban density.
Bickenhill parish lies in what is known as the Meriden gap, and ever since I have been a Member of this House, I have fought strenuously to protect it, because it is the green lung that holds Coventry and Birmingham apart. Although a matter of 3 or 4 hectares of green space may not theoretically—maybe abstractly—appear to be all that important to everybody else listening to this debate, it is an important issue for the residents of Chelmsley Wood, because the estate has a very high population density of 60 units of accommodation per hectare. The loss of green space in the area is therefore significant.
The local authority, Solihull Council, made representations when the Bill was considered by the Lords Select Committee because every hectare of green space in our green-belt borough is a matter of great importance to all of us who share completely in the local authority’s motto of “Urbs in Rure”. All Latin scholars will realise that that tells us everything we need to know about the balance we need to strike between urban and rural sustainability, side by side. I would therefore say that this is a bit more than just a typographical matter, Madam Deputy Speaker; it is really important for my constituents.
Will the Minister consider whether the Government’s proposals are compatible with their commitment to biodiversity offsetting? As the 2012 “Natural Environment” White Paper set out, the whole principle of biodiversity offsetting was to make it clear that when we destroy green space, we should create new green space to make up for the loss of natural capital. When he responds, will the Minister be clear about whether he has considered that important dimension?
If, by chance, the Government have not thought about the compatibility of their proposals with biodiversity offsetting, I impress on the Minister the enormous opportunity that exists to do something ambitious, at scale, to offset the loss of green space of the type referred to in the amendment. A good proposal to regenerate the Tame and Blythe river valleys has been worked up by a professor at Birmingham City University and presented to the Department. Rather than glossing over a small piece of green space, should we not seize the opportunity of working together to ensure that people who prize green space in urban areas get proper compensation for the green space that is so important to them?
My right hon. Friend is articulating, through the medium of this small amendment, the fears of many people about environmental matters. Does she agree that we face a huge danger because the costs of the project are spiralling out of control, and we all know that it is environmental payback that gets sacrificed if the project cannot afford it? As a major infrastructure project has never been delivered on time and on budget in this country to date, that is the danger.
I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. The fact is that we now know so much more about the true value of green space that is lost—we can actually calculate the value of the natural capital. I set up the Natural Capital Committee, which reports to the Treasury, so that we no longer make decisions on the assumption that nature provides things for free. That is not true, because when we take away natural capital, there is a cost to our economy, so it is important that there is proper offsetting.
When the Lords Select Committee discussed the issues relating to Lords amendment 1, it was stated that there is already enough public open space in the locality. Well, I beg to differ. With a housing density of 60 units of accommodation per hectare, there is obviously great pressure on what public open space remains. We should not regard the situation as static, because from the moment the high-speed railway is built, the pressures on the parish of Bickenhill will be enormous. People are always trying to put some new development in the Meriden gap—we already have the M6, the M42, the west coast main line, Birmingham airport and the Chiltern line. We almost had the national football stadium, and we have the National Exhibition Centre. Space will be at an enormous premium, so to disregard the significance of just 4 hectares of green space is not a little matter, which I why I particularly wanted to raise it in this debate.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) dubbed Lords amendment 4 the anti-land grab amendment, which I think will go down in posterity as a good description. I welcome the change it brings. This is very important for precisely the reason that I have just outlined. The effect of building the high-speed railway will be to make the land adjacent to it considerably more attractive for development. The Government were entirely right to constrain the power of HS2 to acquire more land than it necessarily needs for the construction of the railway. I commend the CLA for its very strong campaign to get the balance right on this issue.
May I just impress on the Minister the importance of this matter, particularly when one thinks about the parish of Bickenhill or indeed the wider borough of Solihull, because the local authority already has important plans to improve the connectivity to the first station outside London? There will be a 31-minute journey time from Birmingham airport to London Euston, which makes that locality very attractive for other uses. Solihull Council has come up with a proposal for a garden city that would connect to my council estate in Chelmsley Wood. For the first time in its existence, this housing estate, which was built at the same time as other garden cities, would be connected to 21st-century transport infrastructure. That would mean that people would feel included, which is important, because as one of the main aims of the new Prime Minister was to underline inclusivity. That can be achieved, but only if we strike the right balance between what HS2 takes for the purposes of building a railway and what other key stakeholders such as the local authority might need for housing or other purposes.
While the amendment is very important to my constituency, it is also very important to the airport, which is another key stakeholder in this very sought after piece of transport infrastructure. Getting the balance right between the different players is crucial, so I impress on the Minister that using this power judiciously will be important for a sustainable outcome around the new parkway station.
Although the Transport Secretary said that the powers conferred by clause 48 would be used as only a last resort if commercial negotiations failed to reach satisfactory conclusions, the Lords Select Committee concluded that it was
“not sound law-making to create wide powers permitting the expropriation of private property on the strength of ministerial statements, not embodied in statute, that the powers would be used only as a last resort.”
Let me tell the Minister that trying to deal with compensation cases is a life-changing experience for any MP and their staff. A handful of Members are bearing a disproportionate burden of dealing with what are sometimes very complex and distressing cases, such as when the site of someone’s retirement home is required for the construction of the railway. I am concerned that we strike the right balance with this measure, because I have seen malpractice in the form of pressure being put on my constituents to concede their private properties at prices that they would certainly deem to be below some of the estimates of their true market value.
In one case, enormous pressure was put on one of my constituents to concede what he saw as a below-market price for his property, but he was not allowed to make any reference to it before appearing before the Select Committee. Such undue pressure on our constituents has been completely unreasonable. I am concerned about the conclusion that there will be sufficient powers to protect our constituents. Some of the compensation cases are still outstanding. Despite writing to the outgoing chief executive, David Higgins, in August about a particularly difficult ongoing case involving a very vulnerable constituent of mine, which he had promised to expedite, there is still no conclusion to that case in late February 2017. As we consider Lords amendment 48, we need to give some ongoing thought to the fairness of the compensation process and to where our constituents will turn in the absence of any third party to oversee that fairness.
My right hon. Friend mentions David Higgins. In fact, the outgoing chief executive is Simon Kirby. Sir David Higgins is the chairman. He has just joined the board of Gatwick, and he is also on the board of an Australian bank, so he is doing three jobs at once. I think that my right hon. Friend has made a mistake, which I would love her to correct.
There has been a bit of change at the top of HS2—my right hon. Friend is right. However, I received a letter from David Higgins, and, despite my reminding and re-reminding the offices of HS2 that the case needs to be expedited, it still has not been dealt with.
Lords amendment 51 deals with traffic regulation, which will be very important during the construction phase. I do not pull my punches over this issue with my constituents. We are going to be a building site for at least five years, and that will be extremely disruptive around one of Britain’s busiest transport nodes: the midlands motorway crossroads. I impress upon the Minister that a continuous haul route is very much sought after in my constituency. We have so far been unable to secure undertakings that construction traffic can be prevented from thundering through some of our villages.
Such a village is Balsall Common, which is just outside the parish of Bickenhill. It carries the Kenilworth road, and an alternative for haulage needs to be found because the thought of construction lorries going through the village centre, where children walk to the secondary and primary schools, gives me and their parents real cause for concern. Is there anything the Minister could do to assist with this? David Higgins showed real interest when I raised the possibility of finding a solution under the legislation. It is not in HS2’s interest to have its construction traffic thundering down the centre of villages where children walk to school, but all the alternatives cost money.
Local authorities just do not have the money to create new roads to take five years of construction traffic away from centres of habitation. There is a very real prospect of a good legacy project arising from achieving a continuous haul route so that permanently, and once the railway has been built, people who want to use it do not tear through the centre of the village trying to catch a high-speed train. Perhaps the Minister could make a note of the importance of that for my constituency. Of course, we really wanted a tunnel, which would take some of the pressure off, but rather like my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) we recognise that some of our early requests have not fallen on fertile ground.
I also pay tribute to the work of Neil Caulfield. It is important, particularly with the Clerks of the House present in the Chamber, that we share with colleagues that he was a man who went the extra mile for our constituents. I always think that the Clerks go the extra mile for us as Members of Parliament in a way that the public often do not see, such as by helping us with amendments to Bills and finding ways to give expression to the things that our constituents want to see in legislation, but Neil went even further than that. He interacted with a huge case load of people’s needs. These people were desperate to find solutions to the threat of losing their home, or at the very least to get proper compensation. I remember that he took the trouble to come away from the Houses of Parliament to visit the constituency with the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill Committee in order to see it all for himself. That was a remarkable commitment by a Clerk of the House. Although the Chair of the Commons Select Committee is not present in the Chamber, I am sure that all members of that Committee, who put in many hours of listening to our constituents’ needs, would like to ensure that we recognise the special role that Neil played.
I give my last word to my constituents, who have gone from being shocked at the proposal when Lord Adonis first mooted it, to believing that it would never happen, to having the dawning realisation that we have to work with how it turns out in practice. I commend Solihull Council for creating a working group that meets once every month—I attend the meetings—to talk through the day-to-day implications as the project unfolds. However, there is no disguising the fact that this is going to be a life-changing experience for the constituency of Meriden and especially for those of my constituents who are most directly affected. They will read this debate and listen to our deliberations, and I would like them to know that I will not give up fighting on their behalf to ameliorate and mitigate the impact of the railway, which will fundamentally benefit our region, but whose impact will fall disproportionately on a few homes.
May I begin by joining the tribute to Neil Caulfield? The construction of HS2 will have a devastating impact on thousands of my constituents—one has only to go to a meeting with them to see the concern etched on their faces. Some of them made their way to Parliament to try to go through the bewildering process of making their concerns known, and Neil went out of his way to explain the processes to them and to help them to put their points. I know all the Clerks have done that with us and with others, but what he did was appreciated by my constituents, and I was pleased to be able to write to his family to convey to them what he had done on behalf of my constituents. I am therefore grateful to be able to join the tribute to him.
Amendments 3 and 51 deal with traffic regulations, and amendment 52 deals with lorries and lorry bans. As noted by the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), traffic and lorry movements have particular relevance in Holborn and St Pancras and in Camden. As the Lord’s Select Committee on HS2 recognised, Camden residents face disruption on an
“unprecedented scale, both in intensity and in duration”
from the HS2 construction works, which will continue over no fewer than 17 years for my constituents.
That is why the Select Committee made a strong recommendation that all households in Camden, and others similarly affected, that qualify for noise insulation as a result of the works should be eligible for the upgraded level of compensation available to residents in rural areas living within 120 metres of the line. The traffic, the lorry movements and the construction will go on for a long period and will have a profound impact, and that can be demonstrated by the fact that anybody in Holborn and St Pancras having a child this year or next year faces the prospect of that child growing up with construction works taking place for pretty well the whole of its childhood. Equally, anyone retiring this year or next will probably spend their retirement during a period of construction works.
The Select Committee estimated that its recommendation about compensation would benefit 1,300 households in Camden, which, again, gives an indication of the extent of the impact there. Those households would be eligible to receive the full unblighted market value for their property or a cash payment of up to £100,000 if they remained in occupation of their property during the works.
In response to the Select Committee, the Government accepted the part of the recommendation about households that are subjected to severe and prolonged noise and disturbance, but they did not accept the full recommendation. Other components of the Government’s compensation scheme, which they have stated will provide a fair and proportionate remedy for affected households, are still to be specified and remain completely unknown. It was disappointing that, on Report in the Lords, the Minister responding, Lord Ahmed, had nothing to say on the Government’s position on compensation. I remind the Government of the ongoing obligation to meet my constituents’ very genuine concerns about what the future holds for them in relation to mitigation and compensation for such a prolonged period of construction and its impact on them.
The location of the tunnel portal in Camden will make a material difference to the construction process and to the traffic and lorry movements. As the Government will know, there have been rumours for some weeks that an announcement is to be made concerning a move of the tunnel portal in Camden from the top of Parkway to a location south of Mornington Street bridge, several hundred metres nearer to the station. That may seem like a small thing, but to the constituents of Holborn and St Pancras and those living in the area it makes a huge difference. This proposed change has the potential greatly to reduce the damage and disruption to residents of Camden, and is therefore welcome. In the Lords Grand Committee, the Minister promised to provide an update in writing about this important matter, but that has not yet happened. I urge the Government to bear in mind that anything that can be said here, or at any stage in the near future, about the portal will alleviate some of the very real concerns that my constituents have about this, as the Minister knows.
I turn now to transporting spoil and construction materials by rail. This is again relevant to the traffic regulations and the lorry movements. In their response to the Lords HS2 Committee, the Government reiterated their
“overarching commitment to continue to seek to maximise, as far as reasonably practicable, the amount of material that can be moved by rail”.
That is obviously welcome, but there is huge concern felt by my constituents, and by me, about the lack of detail and ambition. We ask the Minister to provide a commitment that every possible effort will be made to increase the removal of spoil and materials by rail, thereby reducing the burden on my constituents over such a prolonged period.
Finally, there is the ongoing issue of the integration of the station at Euston. That has become a central concern in terms of the overall impact and the absolute requirement for integration.
As the Bill is completing its stages in this House, this will be the last opportunity that I have to raise these concerns on behalf of my constituents. I hope that the Government and the Minister will respect the spirit of the points that have been made and commit to an ongoing dialogue so that mitigation of the consequences can be as great as possible. The battle leaves this House, but for my constituents it will go on for many, many years to come. I will be proud to stand up for their interests for the duration of that period.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to say a few words. I had not intended to speak, partly because HS2 does not go through my constituency, but I have a lot of sympathy with right hon. and hon. Friends and Members whose constituencies are directly affected. As an MP in central London, I have had Crossrail going through my constituency in the past decade or so. I have made several hundred enemies by not opposing that scheme, but it is clearly a scheme that is very much in the national interest. I am afraid that that does not apply as much to the rail scheme we are discussing.
Where I would disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) is that I do think that the Government have done their level best to make sure that we have legislation that has allowed people to have their say. I know that the outcome is not what she wanted, or indeed what many other right hon. and hon. Members wanted. I hope that the Minister will very much take on board the comments of my constituency neighbour, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). This has got to be the beginning of a process, not the end of a process. The issue of an ongoing dialogue with constituents who are going to be affected by this in the London Borough of Camden and, indeed, throughout the UK must be at the forefront of the Government’s mind.
While we should support large-scale infrastructure projects that are going to work—whatever one thinks of HS2, there are clearly designed to be benefits in that regard—the disruption will clearly be very profound. One of my particular concerns in relation to London is that we also hope to have Crossrail 2. I am already getting letters from constituents within the City of Westminster who are very concerned about the impact that that will have. We must remember that the efforts made by the Government in relation to HS2 will set a precedent for the way in which they deal with those who will be affected by another big infrastructure project such as Crossrail 2.
I fear that there has been a missed opportunity, but not in relation to the amendments. As I have said, I give credit to the Government for their work in getting this hybrid Bill together. We should all support large-scale infrastructure projects that are in the national interest, but whether or not this is the right way forward has been far more open to question. The one thing that the Government can do for those many Britons who will be affected by it directly—whether they are in the midlands, further north or, indeed, in central London—is ensure that they keep their interests at the forefront of their mind as and when the building work commences; otherwise, life will be made incredibly difficult for them. We need to do our level best to ensure that, if the national interest is to be served by an infrastructure project, Ministers keep the mitigation of the disruption at the forefront of their minds and that, although the legislative process is coming to an end, this is not the end of those considerations.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to say a few words. I suspect that the boundary commissioners will have a part to play in ensuring that I work very closely with my constituency neighbour to make sure that all people in central London are properly represented in the many years ahead.
There are quite a lot of questions to answer. This has been a very helpful final debate on the Bill and I will try to answer colleagues’ questions, some of which had themes in common.
I will address the questions in no particular order. Several Members have said that it is important that we maintain and commit to an ongoing dialogue. I am happy to make that commitment. I do not view this as the end of a process; I view it as the end of one phase of a process and the start of another. We go from a project in development to a project in delivery, and that will require more dialogue, not less, particularly as we work, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) has just said, to keep mitigation at the forefront of our minds during the construction process. I am happy to make that commitment —there is no doubt about that.
Many people have also been concerned about the hybrid Bill process. The locus standi rules are set by the House, not by the Government, but the House is considering the hybrid Bill procedure. That review is under way and I am sure that it will consider colleagues’ views on whether they were able to participate and petition in the other place. I know that those petitioning arrangements caused much frustration and, indeed, confusion among our constituents. The process is not straightforward.
I know that it is too late now, but it would have been nice if the Government had actually instructed HS2 Ltd not to get its very expensive barrister to object to our locus standi. The Government had a simple solution in their hands: they could have let all the MPs represent their constituents, but they chose not to do so. I appreciate that the Minister is relatively new to the issue, but it was really and truly a case of being let down by your own side and of your own side letting down democracy.
I am not sure that I can comment on that point. It refers to something that happened way before I took any responsibility for this area, but my right hon. Friend has made it firmly.
The Labour Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), asked about traffic regulation orders and I can confirm that reasonable costs will be met by HS2 Ltd. I will ask HS2 Ltd to confirm that to local authorities, in case there is any doubt.
On Great Missenden, the relocation of the haul road was considered by both Houses. Moving the haul road north would have created new, significant environmental effects, and a new version of the register of undertakings and assurances, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) has asked about, will be published at Royal Assent.
Several Members talked about the skills footprint and the careers legacy of HS2, with people perhaps spending their entire working career on the project, and I completely agree with them. I had a great visit to the HS2 college in Doncaster this morning. The college is progressing very well. It is due to open in September, and it is already attracting significant interest. In fact, the number of applicants seeking to go there in September is way ahead of projections. This is part of how HS2, among our other railways, will redefine the future. I saw the progress that the college has made—it has actually got as far as having track laid in the training workshop area—and that brings home to us that the project really is a very big and exciting opportunity.
I can confirm, in answer to several requests, that the Government fully accept Lords amendment 4, which colleagues have called the land-grab or non-land-grab amendment. I confirm that we accept all the Lords amendments, including Lords amendments 1 and 2 in relation to the work in the Meriden constituency.
Many colleagues have mentioned the compensation arrangements and how long it is taking to come to financial arrangements with HS2 Ltd. This is a mixture of the financial costs and the fact that we must recognise that there is also a human or emotional cost. We do not just invest cash in creating our homes; our homes are much more than that, and we must respect the human cost. If some people have their homes repossessed or changed, we have to be sensitive and to treat people with respect and generosity. Quite frankly, if colleagues are not seeing that happen, I am sure they will be keen to raise that with me—they have already done so—and I am very happy to continue to raise their points with HS2 Ltd. I want HS2 Ltd to be a good neighbour, and I know that view is wholly shared by HS2 Ltd itself.
I welcome the SNP’s support for this project. I recognise that we are going no further north than Leeds and Manchester—I should perhaps add that we are going no further north than Leeds and Manchester yet, and I see much merit in taking it further—but there will be immediate benefits for the people of Scotland from the development that will, I hope, receive Royal Assent this week. Its capacity will allow more services and the time involved in journeys will be reduced.
That is way above my pay grade. I simply do not know the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, so I will have to do some checking to find out.
There were a number of other questions. I have clearly heard the points about compensation and mitigation raised by the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). I can confirm that we are working on the tunnel portal location, but we are not yet in a position to make any announcements. I recognise that such a change will make a significant difference to many people, but we are working on it, as he will be aware.
I am sorry to go back to the Barnett consequential, but as it has been raised may I point out that there was a Barnett consequential to the travel element of the Olympic park for Wales and Scotland? As this is a transport project, I presume that there will be Barnett consequentials for the devolved Administrations.
I am not sure that I can add anything to what I said a moment ago. Barnett consequentials are way above my pay grade, and I will have to do some checking before commenting one way or the other. It sounds as though making a presumption would be a very foolish error, and that is clearly not within the remit of these amendments.
I am grateful to the Minister for his comment that this is the beginning of an ongoing dialogue about compensation and mitigation. The tunnel portal is no small matter. Is he able to say when an announcement might be made about the portal, because there is real concern in my constituency about that and other issues?
I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. and learned Gentleman a date yet, but I can tell him that we recognise the importance of this. We are working on it and will seek to resolve all outstanding questions as soon as we can. I recognise that such uncertainty is not helpful for him or anyone he represents.
I have answered a significant number of questions. If there were any further questions, I will write to colleagues.
Taking the Bill through Parliament has been a significant piece of work. We have had 3,408 petitions lodged against the Bill and its additional provisions. In response, the Government have submitted five additional provisions to the Bill, which have made 400 changes to the project. The sheer amount of work that has gone into addressing all the concerns is phenomenal.
The environmental assessment work that has supported the parliamentary and public scrutiny of the Bill has been unprecedented. An almost 50,000-page environmental statement—perhaps that in itself is not environmentally friendly—accompanied the original deposit of the Bill in November 2013. Several further detailed environmental statements have been published alongside the additional provisions that have been made during the Bill’s passage. That work has developed measures to avoid, reduce and, if possible, offset all the major adverse effects of the project.
The Government have given well over 4,500 individual assurances to reassure petitioners about concerns they have raised. Those are binding commitments on the project that will be integrated into contracts for the delivery of the scheme.
Parliament has spent over three years scrutinising the Bill and longer still debating the project. That debate will continue as we move into phases 2a and 2b, and as further Bills are deposited in Parliament in due course. The case for phase 1 has been proven in fine detail. Parliament has voted in overwhelming numbers to approve the project in both Houses at every opportunity it has been given to do so.
I believe that HS2 will deliver much-needed capacity in our rail network. It will deliver economic growth right across our country, north and south. It will deliver jobs and a lasting legacy of economic change. It will be the cornerstone of a world-beating economy—a vibrant economy that works for all of us, up and down our country.
Lords amendment 1 agreed to.
Lords amendments 2 to 54 agreed to.