HS2: Phase 2b Route (Manchester and Leeds)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the route of Phase 2b of HS2 to Manchester and Leeds.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I am pleased to have secured this debate on a matter of immense importance to me and my constituents. If phase 2b is to go ahead, it is vital that it be done properly. At such a high cost to the taxpayer—£55.7 billion—and with budgets having risen significantly since High Speed 2 was first announced, the route must be designed so as to avoid unnecessary cost to the taxpayer and with minimum disruption to the communities that it affects.
The proposed route of HS2 through my constituency of Eddisbury will not only cause significant environmental damage and noise disruption to many areas, but come at a particularly high cost to the taxpayer because of the unique geotechnical challenges of routing HS2 through an area of current and historical salt mining and across land with a long history of significant subsidence risk. HS2’s route through Eddisbury must be looked at again, and the serious and valid concerns raised by independent experts, academics and local people need to be taken into account to find a route that works better both for the local communities and for the taxpayer.
In addition, HS2 must improve the quality of engagement with communities, who feel that their voices are not being heard. That is a long-standing complaint and has been raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan). It is disappointing that those problems are still arising.
Moving on to the detail of the route, I wish to place on record my serious concerns and those of my constituents about the relocation of the western leg rolling stock depot from an industrial site—a former colliery—in Golborne, outside my constituency, to a greenfield site in Wimboldsley, in my constituency. The decision to site the depot in that quiet, rural area has caused a great deal of anxiety to local residents. The impacts on Wimboldsley appear to be greater than those at the Golborne site. I will add that the relocation was sprung on me and my constituents with no warning. That is no way to gain public trust and support for the project.
I very much endorse the thrust of what my hon. Friend is saying. I, too, am very much opposed to HS2 in principle and will be voting against it. On the specific points that she is raising, there are important questions about consultation; she is right about that. My constituents have similar problems, and we shall be fighting this all the way down the line, with petitions and so on.
I am very grateful for that point, which my hon. Friend makes well. Having long been involved in the process, he knows exactly how frustrating it is to deal with HS2 and the lack of engagement that is apparent in many of the meetings that are held.
At a proposed length of 4 km, the depot in Wimboldsley will be a significant visual and environmental blight on that tranquil rural area. It will be in close proximity to Wimboldsley wood and cause significant disruption to prime dairy farming land. It will impact on six grade II listed buildings, as opposed to one at the Golborne site; requires five demolitions, compared with one at the Golborne site; and an obtrusive and unsightly tunnel-type structure is proposed to cross the Shropshire Union canal. That is at a spot popular for its tranquillity that is well used by locals and tourists alike.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. I am all too familiar with this issue, having the constituency that is arguably the most affected by HS2. Does she agree that HS2 should give more consideration to bored tunnels? They have been requested by constituents in the Kingsbury and Polesworth action groups in my constituency and would help to minimise the impact on residents and the environment, but also on the road infrastructure, which will be severely affected.
I completely agree. HS2 ought to look at tunnelling much more. We know that one impact may be 375,000 lorry vehicle movements. That will cause chaos on the rural roads around Eddisbury and will significantly disrupt some of the arterial routes through Cheshire, impacting on local businesses and local towns, so I agree that much greater consideration of tunnelling is needed.
There are impacts on my constituents, particularly at Wimboldsley Primary School, which is directly next to the proposed 4-km rolling stock depot site. The HS2 sift document, which informed the decision to move the depot from Golborne to Wimboldsley, made no mention of the primary school at all, raising serious questions about the scale of the analysis underpinning the decision. I am speaking for the parents, teachers and children who will have to suffer the consequences of the construction of that large piece of infrastructure and all the associated environmental and noise impacts if my hon. Friend the Minister does not intervene.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. She talks about the construction phase. It has come to light that the construction phase may slow the redevelopment of the Rugeley B power station site—a key development site for new homes and new businesses that will create new jobs in my constituency. Does she agree that we are looking at many different implications from the construction?
One key aspect of the business case for HS2 involved consideration of the economic benefits that it could bring. I question whether the economic blight associated with it has been appropriately considered. It appears very often that, in effect, a line has been drawn on a map and only afterwards have the problems caused by that line been adequately identified. My hon. Friend gives a very good example of how the construction impacts are not being adequately thought about at this stage.
For the reasons that I have set out, I urge HS2 and the Minister to act early in relation to Wimboldsley, where there are clearly significant issues, and to move the rolling stock depot to a more suitable site, either its original proposed site at Golborne or a new location, such as Basford sidings, south of Crewe.
I also wish to raise the decision last year to realign the route through Eddisbury 800 metres to the west, and the concerns that have been raised about taking it through an area with a greater amount of wet rockhead—unstable ground liable to subsidence as a result of salt. HS2’s decision to move the route came about because the original 2013 proposed route went through the area where the UK’s strategic gas reserves are stored. It was of course practical to move the route away from the gas reserves, but moving it 800 metres to the west has caused other problems, because it still goes through an area with geotechnical challenges that are not easy to engineer around and where there will be a significant cost to the communities and the taxpayer.
TerraConsult Ltd produced an independent geotechnical report on the proposed change of route and concluded that there would be an increase of 11% in the route length over wet rockhead. HS2’s lead ground engineer has called the ground conditions in the Cheshire salt area “spicy”, referring to the engineering challenges of building a high-speed railway line in that area, and HS2’s own consultant, Wardell Armstrong, recognises the risks of building HS2 through Eddisbury in its report on salt-related ground instability.
The Government must recognise the risks in the area and move the route away entirely. Alarmingly, before making route choice proposals, HS2 had not done any detailed ground surveys for use as a baseline to track ground movement. As far as I am aware, those surveys have still not been carried out.
The engineering challenges require significantly increased height and length of the embankments and viaducts—up to 26 metres. There will be two additional crossings of the Trent and Mersey canal, one at the location of previous subsidence at Billinge. That comes at an estimated additional cost to the taxpayer of £750 million and significantly increases the noise and visual damage for communities.
The route alternatives set out in the TerraConsult report should be looked at and given serious consideration. The decision document issued in July, following the recent consultation, does not contain any reference to the TerraConsult report or the points made in it. Was it considered in detail before a decision on the route in Eddisbury was made? If it was, why has HS2 to date failed to disclose the AECOM report, to which the Minister has referred in correspondence, despite numerous requests to do so?
In raising such serious issues, I consider the impact on Eddisbury and my constituents first and foremost, which brings me on to community engagement and the levels of communication and transparency. Progress has been made with the appointment of a new director of community engagement last December, and the publication of a residents’ charter, but information on the route has been difficult to obtain and public meetings have often left local residents unsatisfied.
When my office has requested information from HS2, there has often been a lengthy delay in responding. Previously, I have had to resort to freedom of information requests. When information is provided, it often lacks the necessary detail and does not fully answer the request. For a significant government project with huge ramifications for the public, all that must improve so that genuine local concerns can be fed into the process adequately.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour on securing this important debate. I endorse all the points that she is making, in particular those about safety, security, suitability and cost. My constituency, too, is full of brine fields and wells where salt has dissolved and been pumped out, which creates craters underground. Ros Todhunter, a geologist who lives in Lostock Green in my constituency, has also discussed land movement. Railway engineers talk about permitted movement of 5 mm, but we could be looking at 0.5 metres. As my hon. Friend has said, there should be discussions with people who know the land well—their families have farmed this land for hundreds of years and they know about problems under the earth that, I am afraid, the Government have so far not looked into.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s intervention, because I have met Ros Todhunter and am aware that Ministers and HS2 have had high-level technical reports from her explaining some of the real difficulties in my right hon. Friend’s constituency and mine. A deep worry is that HS2 does not seem to be disclosing the appropriate level of technical reports to experts who are meant to be giving expert opinion highlighting proper concerns which are right to express at this stage in advance of a serious engineering project. One such expert is one of the most eminent professors in the field of salt subsidence, who wrote to the Secretary of State more than 18 months ago to emphasise that ground-level surveys ought to be started now, so that HS2 can identify subsidence and problem areas.
I say to the Minister that it would be extremely beneficial for MPs across the House who are affected by HS2 to be regularly updated by the engineering team on the detailed design of the route, to ensure that there is an appropriate level of scrutiny and to allow valuable input in the process. Reports regarding route decisions and sift documents ought to be shared with Members as a matter of course, not kept from us. There simply has to be better engagement, and with an acute awareness and understanding of local issues.
Many constituents have raised legitimate concerns about the compensation schemes for properties that lose value due to their close proximity to the route. Those schemes are failing to recognise the true extent of the blight caused by HS2, and more needs to be done for residents. A number of tenants have particular problems and, as it stands, do not stand to be compensated at all—particularly tenants with agricultural holding tenancies and a tenant in a property owned by a charitable trust, who has a secure tenancy and may not be able to secure another similar to the one that he has now.
There appears to be an increasing trend in phase 2b of need-to-sell applications being turned down. The latest figures show that, out of 139 applications received, just 25 have been accepted, with 49 rejected and 52 pending. Those living beyond 120 metres from the line have no alternative but to rely on the restrictive need-to-sell scheme. I am seeing an increasing number of cases in which constituents are unable to sell their homes due to HS2 but are not fulfilling the highly subjective and restrictive compelling-reason-to-sell criteria. They are then trapped and unable to move, which is extremely unfair. That really needs to be looked at again, with further consideration given to a want-to-sell scheme for those who are blighted and cannot sell. More also needs to be done for tenants who are affected.
On a more general note, I raise the issue of the destruction of woodland in phase 2b. The Woodland Trust estimates that phase 2b alone will destroy or damage at least 18 ancient woods. HS2 must be seen in the context of being a project for the future, but the current mapping along the whole route sees 98 irreplaceable ancient woodlands affected. I urge the Department for Transport to do all it can to diminish the impact on rural areas and to promote a green agenda.
I urge the Minister to reconsider the route of phase 2b through Eddisbury. It would be much more sensible to craft constructive solutions to the issues I have outlined. The new proposed location for the western leg rolling stock depot is extremely unsuitable and will cause long-lasting damage to the local area. The 2016 route realignment through Cheshire raises serious environmental, noise and safety risks and cost implications, as highlighted in an independent geotechnical engineering report, and should be looked at again.
Finally, I hope that if we shine a spotlight on examples of poor engagement and a lack of transparency thus far by HS2, the Department for Transport will look at ways of improving collaboration with communities and local MPs who know and understand their areas. Then, not only will local aspects be fully taken into account, but public trust in the project will improve.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) on securing a debate once again on this matter. Some Members will have heard in meetings that we have had with HS2 directly in this House that my constituency was to have been affected by HS2, which was going to go to Sheffield Meadowhall. Last year, the consultation on Sheffield Meadowhall ended, and for some strange reason, HS2 decided to consult on another route; how much this has cost the public purse, I have no idea whatsoever. The reason given as to why HS2 did not want the Sheffield Meadowhall station in South Yorkshire was that there had been objections from Sheffield City Council and local business organisations. Indeed, they had spent thousands of pounds of public money lobbying the Government for a second railway into the centre of Sheffield. They did not want to travel 10 minutes to Sheffield Meadowhall.
HS2 Ltd has now said that it will put HS2 into Sheffield Midland station; the line lands there and goes no further. At a consultation meeting on 12 July this year, Sir David Higgins said that the electrification of the line from Sheffield to Leeds, which would see a continuation of the HS2 route, was an aspiration. We were slightly disappointed, to say the least.
Last year, when I first questioned HS2 at the consultation meetings here in Parliament, Sir David Higgins said the development would not go ahead at Sheffield Meadowhall because there was a lack of consensus, so I asked him politely, “If there is no consensus on the new line on the eastern M18 route, which goes through my constituency, will that not go ahead?”. He would not answer me. I said to him, in Committee Room 20 or 21, “You don’t want to answer that question, do you?”, and he just shook his head and nodded up and down. Of course he did not want to answer that question. There has been very little consensus throughout the HS2 process.
The consultation on the M18 route ended earlier this year. There were 271 people who argued for the route, and 4,157 people who voted not to stop HS2, but to put the HS2 station back in Meadowhall, so that South Yorkshire would get the benefit of an HS2 station to help regenerate the local economy; that was what HS2, which I voted for in the House quite some time ago, was about. It is quite clear that the consensus arguments are not being accepted. We would not have a motorway or a railway anywhere in the UK if we first wanted consensus.
I believe that the decision is being based on data that, to put it kindly, are wobbly at best. I have raised the issue of the properties affected numerous times, both with Ministers and with HS2, and I have still not received an adequate answer. Chris Matthewman and Simon Cross from the local HS2 campaign groups have provided the Minister and HS2 with true property impacts, which were referred to on 29 August in a Yorkshire Post article that starts:
“HS2 is facing paying compensation to people and businesses in almost 1,300 properties along its revised route through South Yorkshire”.
“the ‘M18 route’ after current official estimates said just 51 properties on the route were due to be affected”.
My understanding is that it is not denied that these 1,300 properties are likely to be affected.
The fact that roads have been split in half between those who can claim compensation and those who cannot is already causing huge anxiety in my constituency. The reroute will go through three villages in my constituency: Wales, at the southern end of my constituency; Aston; and Bramley, where it goes through an estate that I live on, which was built about 20 years ago and is right next to the M18, which is a crucial part in all this. As I say, this issue is causing huge anxiety. This is a prime example of the poor community engagement that still exists, despite pleas from many Members across the House not to leave residents to worry for many, many months.
I have received an email dated 4 September from a constituent—I will not use his name because I have not spoken to him, but I will send him a copy of Hansard. I will not read it all out, but it says:
“We live on Sherbourne Avenue on the Broadlands estate and have done so happily for over 10 years. We have 3 young kids aged 12, 6 and 4 and it was mainly for the wellbeing of the kids that we decided to make the difficult decision to sell to HS2 under their scheme. We are only 40 metres from the proposed track and are well within their safeguarded zone…We started the process in late January and are now at serious risk of losing the new build house that we hoped to move into (in August) due to the baffling incompetence of HS2…We have had more bad news from our solicitors this morning saying that it could be another 20 days minimum before anything significant happens!”
That is just not acceptable. The people at HS2 have known about this reroute since July last year. This person has three young children; given their ages, I would be worried about their education and where the family ought to be living in years to come. I am not saying that the children will be at school in 20 years’ time. This is a disgraceful way to treat people when we have known about this situation all along.
At the 12 July consultation meeting with the HS2 chairman, Sir David Higgins, in Committee Room 20 or 21, we had a battle over issues of property impact—that is a nice way of saying it—and an HS2 senior manager named Leonie Dubois said, “The number of properties affected does not form part of the route decision-making process.” I have had reams of emails and letters from the Department for Transport and from HS2, and now HS2 says that the number of properties does not affect the route.
The Minister is new in his job, so I am not blaming him, but the Department for Transport, which obviously gets advice from HS2 from time to time, wrote to me in a letter of 23 July:
“Using this approach, HS2 Ltd’s advice is that the M18/Eastern route would require 35 residential and 16 commercial demolitions, including 16 residential properties at the Shimmer estate.”
I have written to the Minister about that, and I thank him for the letter I received, although I do not understand how somebody in a new property in Mexborough can be offered £30,000, while my constituents who have been living in their houses for 20 years are offered nothing. I still cannot work that one out, but let us leave that aside for the moment. The letter continues:
“The refined Meadowhall route would require 80 residential and 47 commercial demolitions.”
I will not bother the Minister with more at this stage. However, I am still waiting for the meeting that I should have had in April with the group and with Ministers, which was called off because of the general election. I hope the Minister will agree to have that meeting, so that he can come and listen to what people are saying about what is happening in South Yorkshire. How can the fact that 600 properties in one village will be affected by HS2 not play a role in the location of the track?
I have been very positive in this House about HS2, but I have to say that I am now a little tempted to change my mind. Last year I was at the Broadlands estate in Bramley with three HS2 engineers. We stood next to the M18 and they tried to convince me that HS2 could get within 30 metres of the motorway and the houses. HS2 has implications for hundreds of houses on that estate. Like my constituent, I would just get out now.
It seems that route decisions in Cheshire were made on the basis of the number of properties affected; I think that was recorded in official documents from HS2. The problem is that one thing is being said in one location and another thing is being said in another. The only thing we have in common is that our residents are not being treated in the timely manner that they deserve. There has been a massive impact on their lives, as the right hon. Gentleman has outlined.
I completely agree.
According to the article in The Yorkshire Post, HS2 told journalists that the figure of 51 properties affected on the whole route—it will actually affect hundreds of houses in my constituency—was a reflection of a “very early design stage”. I know that the Minister has inherited this, but as a taxpayer I have to tell him that it is not acceptable to use tens of thousands of pounds of public money to pay compensation to those in houses on the Meadowhall route while people are using excuses of non-consensus. I hope that at some stage we will look again at what is happening in South Yorkshire, because it is doing damage. It is not in the interests of my constituents, South Yorkshire or the public purse.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) on securing this important debate. We have already heard some of the complexities of the issue.
Like the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron), I have been supportive of HS2 in principle; but the more things go on, the more we start to wonder whether it is worth all the stress and uncertainty for our constituents. I hope that we can get things sorted out, because it is important. The major infrastructure project will be good for our economy, for connectivity and, above all, for people who are living and working in the midlands and the north. My main priority, however, remains securing the best possible deal from HS2 Ltd for those residents in my constituency who will be directly affected by the line of route. The line of route goes half way through the town of Long Eaton and will be on a 17-metre viaduct, so we can imagine what impact that will have.
On a practical level, because of the unique nature of the property market in Erewash, it is almost impossible for people whose homes have been acquired by HS2 Ltd for phase 2b to purchase a like-for-like property just two streets away. Houses just two streets away are too expensive for them, even with the plus 10% compensation. Many of the residents have lived in their homes for many years. They are elderly and cannot get another mortgage. Indeed, why should they get another mortgage? There is also a real lack of industrial land available to be developed for the businesses that are having to relocate. I fear that they will either move out of the area completely or end up closing, and that is the last thing that we want.
When the Secretary of State confirmed the final phase 2b route to the House just before the summer recess, he agreed with me that no one should lose out as a result of HS2. With that in mind, would the Minister consider scrapping the one-size-fits-all approach to property compensation and replacing it with a bespoke scheme that reflects the individual circumstances in each affected area? As we have already heard, it has already been done in Mexborough, so why not in Long Eaton and Rother Valley? I am sure that if we really want this project to happen, it is not beyond the realms of possibility to make sure that nobody loses out as a result of it, as the Secretary of State agreed.
Briefly, turning to the administration of the compensation scheme, I have found HS2 Ltd to be woefully inadequate. The way in which HS2 Ltd continues to treat residents and play with their lives cannot be allowed to carry on. I have witnessed the stress on the residents’ faces. That stress cannot be described. I know that my residents are awake throughout the night, night after night. They see that their neighbours are the same, because the lights are on in the kitchens. They are all making cups of tea, really concerned about what is going to happen to their futures, and end up ringing each other because they know that they are all awake. That is wrong. We live in the 21st century and cannot get right a major infrastructure project so that it really looks after our residents.
It is not just the fact that the residents have to move; it is the fact that they are not being offered compensation that allows them to move without an impact on their financial security. All that people have are the houses that they live in. When the properties are being valued at vastly different amounts by the chartered surveyors for HS2 Ltd and the renowned chartered surveyors that are being put forward to my residents, something has to be wrong. That starts suspicion and makes people think that HS2 Ltd wants to buy the properties on the cheap. There is a lack of information and lack of transparency.
I know a row of really old Victorian railway cottages. HS2 Ltd will not talk to the people at one property about compensation until it has settled with those at another property. Why is that? Why can they not get on? These properties will be demolished; they are in the safeguarded zone. Why not realise that if the project is going to move forward at a reasonable pace, those people should be paid what the properties are worth?
Just a few weeks ago one couple were going through the exceptional hardship scheme and the property was valued at £185,000. They have now been offered £150,000 for the same property by HS2 Ltd. It is the same company. Something has to be wrong, and it really needs to be addressed. The compensation is based on pre-blight valuation. For another property, a lady has been offered less than she paid for it 11 years ago, and yet we know property prices have gone up since then. Something must be done because people are losing confidence in HS2. People welcome what may come in future, but if we cannot get it right now people will lose confidence very quickly.
I hope the Minister will look at the requests for compensation. He has written to me recently and things have improved, but at a slow pace, one by one, and people cannot wait. They know they have to move out of their homes and find somewhere else. They cannot put their lives on hold any longer. We have some elderly people in Long Eaton and they want to start afresh now, not by the time everything has gone through the petition stages. They want to be able to move on. They are being forced out of their homes, so why should they lose out? I request that the Minister gets a grip of HS2 Ltd and does the right thing by my and other Members’ constituents.
I thank the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) for securing the debate today.
There is no doubt that HS2 has the potential to deliver some benefits to the economy, but the people in my constituency are less than convinced. Many constituents are already feeling short-changed by the unsympathetic and bureaucratic process of applying for compensation, and they agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) and the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) that the Minister should look again at the compensation scheme. Many are rightly asking how Leigh will benefit from the scheme and how the impact to the environment is to be minimised.
Another concern is connectivity. How is it right that it will take longer on public transport to get from Mosley Common in my constituency to Wigan—they are both in the same borough—than it will to get from Wigan to Birmingham? I recently wrote to the Secretary of State highlighting these concerns and how investment in infrastructure in our towns is essential. His response was to admit that there is no plan for the future: no plan to realise the potential that HS2 can have in smaller towns.
Places such as Leigh have been consistently overlooked. While the scheme is blinkered into seeing the benefits to major cities, people fail to see the huge benefits that could be gained by investing in greater connectivity to the wider network and places such as Leigh. We need to kick-start local economies. We need to invest in our towns and make full use of HS2. We need to ensure that places such as Leigh are connected to HS2, and that Leigh is not somewhere it simply runs through.
The Government risk disenfranchising large parts of the north from any potential benefits from this large-scale national project. With most large infrastructure projects going to London and the south-east, there is little confidence in the north that the Government are serious about delivering an economy that works for everyone.
Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this debate, Mr McCabe. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) on securing this debate, which is an important step in making sure residents and people across the country have confidence in this controversial and difficult project, but one that has the opportunity and potential to make some difference to our country if it is done in the right way. In the same way that HS2 is controversial in this House, HS2 is controversial in my constituency of North East Derbyshire as well. I genuinely welcomed the Secretary of State’s statement on 17 July, which helped to clarify matters in my constituency. The route has moved slightly further to the east, although that causes problems for the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) in the constituency adjacent to mine.
I have three quick points on the change to the route. I hope the Minister will be willing to consider each of those. First, now that we are clearer about the route, following the statement on 17 July, my constituents’ thoughts and conversations over the summer have turned to what that actually means on a practical level. I recognise that, for all large infrastructure projects, a long period of design and development needs to take place so we understand what the implications are for the roads, the railway network, and the traffic and transport that is required to construct them. It would be very helpful if constituencies such as mine could obtain an understanding of the likely implications when the construction works begin. Which roads will be affected and how much is likely to come down them? That will enable people to start preparing and having discussions at this early stage. I fear that if we have yet more consultation meetings in North East Derbyshire and across the country in which such basic, practical questions cannot be answered, or are deferred for a couple of years, it will add to the weight of cynicism that is already in place in constituencies such as mine.
The second issue relates to where HS2 will link to existing track. In my constituency, given the changes that the right hon. Member for Rother Valley talked about—it will move into Sheffield directly—it is proposed that existing elements of the legacy track will be used. There will need to be significant changes to the legacy track, including electrification, one assumes. It would be useful to get more detail at the earliest possible stage, because residents who think that the track has moved elsewhere and are no longer quite as affected by it as they were still need to understand the great implications of the changes and upgrades to the lines on the existing network, and the implications for the midlands main line and the franchise that runs on the existing network.
Finally, villages in my constituency, including Killamarsh, Renishaw and Spinkhill, have previously faced the real challenge that many colleagues have talked about today. They were on the previously reserved route and have suffered the blight that has been described. Happily, most of the blight has been removed, at least for the villages in my constituency, because the route has moved elsewhere, but they have suffered for a number of years. We have had four and a half years of missed opportunities, economic consequences and decisions foregone. For example, for four and a half years the Chesterfield Canal Trust has not been able to make decisions about the restoration of a very important asset in north Derbyshire. I recognise that money is tight, and I promise the Government that, as a Back-Bench Conservative Member of Parliament, I will not make a habit of coming to ask for money, but I wonder whether consideration can be given to compensation schemes for those who were affected by the blight for several years. They may be no longer affected but their lives have been changed none the less. I hope the Minister will be willing to consider those issues.
I thank the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) for bringing this debate forward. It is so important that there is proper scrutiny in this House of the plans. After all, a Bill will not be laid before Parliament until 2019, so we have a window of opportunity to scrutinise every inch of track to make sure that the right decision is being made.
The clearest comment I have heard in this debate is that the Government have got to get a grip of what is happening. After all, it is the responsibility not of HS2 Ltd but of the Government to make sure that our infrastructure is right. That is why Labour wants to see the development of the UK’s infrastructure. We supported high-speed rail for that reason: to improve capacity and connectivity, and to boost the economies of cities, particularly in the midlands and the north.
We cannot have a siloed approach to HS2. It has to be embedded within a wider integrated transport strategy. Economic development across our towns and cities, which feel so ignored, has to be at the heart of everything. Therefore, while HS2 will provide a main artery, we cannot ignore that objective, which sometimes gets missed. The focus is often on the engineering expertise and the excitement around that, but that misses the point of what high-speed rail is all about. It is about moving goods and people to help the economy grow.
There is real disappointment among Labour Members at the Government’s strategy of late around rail, full stop. They are turning off the power in the north and we are not going to see the investment in HS3 that we were promised to make sure that there was east-west connectivity. Part of the original plans for high-speed rail was an inverted-A route, with high speed across the Pennines. There is a serious piece of the jigsaw missing. It was a deliberate ploy by the Government to make the announcement when even Network Rail had not made the decision. The Government jumped the gun, to cut off the north. Those kind of blatant decisions are really hurting people in my constituency and across the north.
We must recognise the need for investment in rail. We need to decongest the current networks and ensure better connectivity as we move forward, but not at any cost. That is what is so important. Points have been made powerfully today about ensuring that the details are right, understanding the engineering complexities and the environmental concerns that need to be at the forefront of the project, and making sure that people are at the heart of decision making.
Yes, we do want to see the economic benefit. I ask the Minister to ensure that clear economic benefit is mapped out from this development. If we get things in the wrong order and do not put the economic investment into cities in the north, I am concerned that their economies will be sucked down to the south-east and we will not realise the potential. I fear that that could happen to my city; we would just be another commuter zone. It is really important that we understand how the plans relate to the economy and economic investment, and that we get the sequencing absolutely right, to ensure that we see the benefit of high-speed rail. I take on board the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Jo Platt) that HS2 cannot stop at every town along the route, but if it is well-connected—we do not even have a draft national timetable yet—it will serve those purposes.
Just south-west of my constituency, the little village of Church Fenton is now being described as a massive interchange. The origins of HS2 were very much about making sure that there was connectivity between the major conurbations of the north and the midlands. Although Church Fenton may have that elevated status, we have to look at the impact that that will have on a small village in North Yorkshire. Obviously, it does not want to just be turned into a car park. Those considerations are incredibly important.
There has been much discussion about Sheffield and that discussion must continue. I have real concerns about taking the line into the heart of Sheffield, because not having the electrification and connectivity going north makes a nonsense of HS2. We are not achieving the original aim of joining up the major conurbations, and therefore HS2 does not meet its objectives. Given the cost of the investment, if it does not even do that and is not even able to make those connections across a county, it is right that we ask serious questions of the Government. We must look again at the proposals and make sure that we get this absolutely right.
Where we place stations and routes will be crucial in how our economy grows in the future. I want to hear much more from the Minister about the connectivity issues. I also want to hear about why lines cannot be moved. As we have heard, 800 metres in one direction could make a huge difference to an area of environmental protection and present an engineering challenge. If we can move lines to reduce the risk to our environment and beyond—it sounds like that would reduce cost as well—the Minister has an absolute responsibility to do that.
I recognise that progress has been made on parts of the line through the consultation with HS2. We need to keep bringing HS2 back to the table time and again over the next 18 months to make sure that we make clear progress on the outstanding issues. Clearly we want to ensure that when we are making such a serious investment in the future of our country, at a time when perhaps we are most challenged as to where our economy sits in the wider sphere, there is a response on those issues.
I ask the Minister to site this issue within the rest of our investment in the rail network. The east coast main line is in urgent need of repair and upgrade, with the overhead lines needing power to run high-speed. We know that it will cost about £900 million for the southern route, but the northern route also needs a proper upgrade to take on the HS2 line heading north of Church Fenton, York and beyond. I want to know the timing of those upgrades. When will they happen? I also want to ensure that we bring real connectivity across the network, to make sure that it works.
Finally, I want to hear what the Government are doing about the cost of the project, which is, again, a matter of major concern to our constituents. It is a massive investment, particularly at a time when there are people in our constituencies who are hungry and starving. Billions of pounds are being spent on a rail service that perhaps will not connect to them. I want to hear how the Minister is keeping a lid on the costs and ensuring that the investment brings benefit to constituencies across the north and the midlands.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I shall do my best to cram as much as I can into the remaining 10 minutes. The hour-long debates in this place are neither fish nor fowl, I have rapidly learned.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) for doughtily providing her usual list of issues for me to consider. She is a firm champion of the people of Eddisbury, and I shall try to focus on her main concerns, but I want briefly to address some of the points made by the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) from the Labour Front Bench. I agreed with much of what she said about economic investment and the need to ensure that things all join up. However, I must gently chide her on one key point: we have not stopped work on east-west links across the north. I met only the other week with both Network Rail and Transport for the North to talk about how they are bringing forward Northern Powerhouse Rail. I have always argued that HS2’s full potential will not be fully delivered unless we properly improve east-west links as well. It is not for me to determine the engineering solution that Network Rail will alight on for any particular line or stretch of line, but that work is ongoing—on a cross-party basis, as Transport for the North is also governed by Labour local government leaders across the north, who are also setting the objectives. That seems to me to be how things should be taken forward.
Will the Minister give way?
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I will not; I am sure it will not be the last time we have the discussion, and I must give some time to the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury. Her main concerns focused largely on some of the ground instability problems that we encounter in Cheshire, crossing the salt fields. As someone born and bred in Northwich I have been brought up on photos of houses that have collapsed because of subsidence, and have suddenly disappeared into the Bull Ring in the town centre. I am more than aware of those issues; but I reassure hon. Members that we are seeking to manage them actively.
HS2 has commissioned a specialist mining engineer, in consultation with the Cheshire Brine Subsidence Compensation Board, to undertake a study on the consultation route using available data such as those from the British Geological Survey, the salt industry and local authorities. Those light detection and ranging surveys have been completed by HS2 Ltd, identifying the wet rockhead features to which my hon. Friend referred near to the route, and will be considered with other LIDAR surveys. I think it is fair to say that between Crewe and Manchester every route option presents risks and issues. It is a matter of balancing those carefully and working out which offers the optimum solution. We carefully weighed those matters both in 2013, when we listened to concerns, and on the now-confirmed 2016 route. On our assessment those risks were more manageable on the latest version of the route. One of the key reasons for that was to avoid the gas storage caverns to which my hon. Friend referred. The route has been moved to better avoid salt brining and gas storage infrastructure, reducing underlying mining and geological risks during construction and operation. The route has also been raised to better allow for drainage and options for ground stabilisation. In terms of travel through Cheshire, other alternatives were looked at, including tunnelling options, but this was felt to be the best option of those on the table.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury referred to the report by TerraConsult. Its first report was taken into account before the November 2016 announcement, as was its second report before the July 2017 announcement. I further understand that HS2 Ltd is meeting on Tuesday 12 September with TerraConsult and Mid Cheshire Against HS2 on how HS2 Ltd came to make its recommendation on the alignment between Middlewich and Pickmere. Senior engineers with a background in geotechnical engineering will attend that meeting. I also understand that HS2, accompanied by engineers, is more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss her concerns and is waiting to confirm a date with her office. Once she has had that meeting, I will still be more than happy to put myself—with my limited expertise—at her disposal also.
I recognise that this is a sensitive and complex section of the route. There is more work to be done to further assess geological risks and to provide suitable mitigations for them. HS2 Ltd plans to carry out early geotechnical investigation work in the mid-Cheshire area to gather more advanced survey information. We will continue to work with my hon. Friend to try to ensure that the best mitigation possible occurs.
I also want to touch briefly on my hon. Friend’s concerns about the siting of the depot at Wimboldsley and its proximity to the primary school. The re-siting of the rolling stock depot to Wimboldsley has taken into account both the potential risks of the previous site in Golborne, which saw the demolition of a grade I listed property, and the potential impacts in Wimboldsley. The site is strategically located on the HS2 network, south of the Manchester junction, so that it can receive empty trains from both the HS2 main line—from Preston and indeed further north—and the HS2 Manchester spur. It is also located at the point where the line deviates from the existing west coast main line, so it is also well placed to receive empty HS2 trains from Liverpool. Other locations around Basford and Crewe are less proximate to where empty trains from Liverpool and Manchester might be coming from.
While I understand that there will be impacts associated with the rolling stock depot, I very much welcome the fact that HS2 Ltd is in conversation with the headteacher at Wimboldsley Primary, and I hope that any outstanding concerns get fed into me as well, so that I am aware of them.
In particular, this proposal avoids direct impacts on the grade II listed buildings to which my hon. Friend refers and also proximity to sites of special scientific interest. I recognise that there are still concerns about the Leeds and Liverpool canal. Indeed, other canals were also mentioned. As someone born in mid-Cheshire, I have a great fondness for canals and want to ensure they do not suffer in this process.
If my hon. Friend has further information on where she thinks there might be impacts, I will happy to look into it.
Furthermore, significantly less infrastructure is required at this location than if it were at Golborne. In particular, there is no need for a northern chord from Manchester out to the HS2 junction. That reduces the overall infrastructure development requirements in the area and, indeed, creates more space in the HS2 budget for other mitigation elsewhere on this stretch of the route.
In the remaining two and a half minutes, I will not be able to do justice to everything that my hon. Friend said, so I am more than happy to meet her. I recognise her points about ancient woodlands and about some of the lowland deciduous woodland in Cheshire. There are woods around Plumley, Smoker wood and woods around Lostock Gralam. I know that HS2 is very keen to ensure that when it does the environmental assessment, it can put forward how it intends to mitigate that loss of woodland. I urge Members to look carefully at that assessment when it comes out later in the year, because it will be full of information, and I am sure that local people will want to have their say on whether the mitigation is adequate.
I want to finish on the most important point. I apologise to the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) that he will not get any look-in in what I am saying, because I have run out of time, but I am more than happy to meet him as well. I know that there is an outstanding meeting, and I will be keen to meet him. There is a wider point here about how HS2 engages and consults with local communities and how it processes need-to-sell applications. This is a difficult area, but it is impossible to build infrastructure of this scale without inconveniencing someone. The key test is whether those people who are being inconvenienced and asked to sell or leave their homes feel that they are being treated in a fair and proportionate manner.
I urge all Members here today who have specific cases to come to see me personally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) did. It is only by properly understanding those individual cases that I get a more holistic sense of whether the system is working or not. I noted the concerns that my hon. Friend raised about how some specific local circumstances make the existing package not always appropriate. I have heard that message and will ask officials to look more closely at Long Eaton in particular. If Members have a specific local issue, they need to let me see the detail, because there have been examples already where I have been able to exert influence. I expect HS2 to get this right, and that will be my final word on the matter at this stage.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).