Consideration of Lords amendments
Resumption of Previous use of Land
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.
Let me say at the outset that the majority of these amendments are clarifications, corrections and updated references. When a Bill has had such a lengthy passage through these Houses as this one, it is perhaps amazing that there are so few amendments that need to be made. Let me say also that the Government accept all the amendments made by the other place to this Bill.
As you would expect, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will provide some comment on the more substantial amendments, but before I do so, I would like to thank the other place for its careful scrutiny of this Bill. In particular, I thank my noble Friend Baroness Vere of Norbiton for her very great skill and diligence in steering this Bill through the other place. I also wish to extend especial thanks to Lord Hope of Craighead and his Committee for their careful and considered approach to the petitions against the Bill in the other place and for the way they handled their processes during the global pandemic.
Turning to the amendments, Lords amendment 2 introduces a requirement on the nominated undertaker to provide and publish annual reports on the impact of the construction of the High Speed 2 project on ancient woodland. This is a scheme-wide amendment: it applies not just to phase 2a of HS2, but to all phases, including those that the House has not yet considered. The requirement in this amendment to report is about ancient woodland, but I have also committed to wider environmental reporting on the impacts of HS2. I look forward to the first of these environmental reports being published, and I am absolutely committed to holding HS2 Ltd to account on environmental matters.
Lords amendment 3 introduces a new requirement on the Government to undertake the consultation prior to 1 May 2021. This consultation is to be for the people of Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire, and it is to seek views on various types of impacts from the HS2 works. The Government opposed this amendment in the other place, but that was on the basis that it was deemed unnecessary. There has already been considerable consultation with the people of Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire. Nevertheless, I think that accepting this amendment is the right thing to do. As the Minister for HS2, I have been charged with resetting the relationship between the HS2 project and local communities. I have worked continuously with colleagues across the House who represent communities along the line of route. I am listening, and I will not stand in the way of the opportunity to listen more through further consultation. I want to reassure the House that I am taking action on what I hear, where it is needed. Further, I will do all I can to ensure that officials and those working on the project for HS2 Ltd put any consultation responses to the best possible use.
I am acutely aware of the strength of feeling in the affected communities, and I am therefore mindful of the motivation and the sentiments of those who supported and voted for this amendment in the other place. As I have mentioned, extensive consultation has already been undertaken. It is crucial, though, that we remember that local communities are at the heart of this project. HS2 is a massive infrastructure project from which the whole nation will benefit, but there are those who will have to bear a burden for that to happen.
I cannot move on without mentioning that there is a price tag of around £350,000 attached to the consultation. However, the costs of running a consultation are minor compared with the costs of delaying the Bill and of not listening to those who are directly affected by the impacts of these works. Let me therefore be very clear about consultation and engagement. The passing of this Bill does not mean the end of engagement with local communities. Indeed, it is only the beginning of a renewed effort to try to mitigate the impacts of the HS2 works on them. Therefore, while there has already been extensive consultation, I see no harm in there being even more.
The last amendment to which I wish to draw the House’s attention is Lords amendment 5. It simply clarifies when a new road constructed under the powers in the Bill becomes specifically a public highway, and when a temporary highway ceases to be a public highway. This clarifies the position for local authorities and has been highlighted as necessary through learning the lessons from phase 1. The remainder of the Lords amendments—amendments 1 and 4, and 6 to 12—delete references to some specific phase 1 works that have been made obsolete by a Transport and Works Act 1992 order, delete references made obsolete by the repeal of some local Acts and update other references in relation to the Communications Act 2003.
The Bill has already taken far longer to go through Parliament than was anticipated when the legislation was introduced in July 2017. I do not want to delay it further today. I want this section of the railway to be built so that we can hasten the benefits of HS2 to the north as soon as possible and, given all that I have said, I urge the House to agree to the Lords amendments.
Before I call the shadow Minister, I should say that there will be a three-minute time limit on Back Benchers, because we have only an hour for this debate. I remind hon. Members that when a speaking limit is in effect for Back Benchers, a countdown clock will be visible on the screens of hon. Members participating virtually and on the screens in the Chamber. For hon. Members participating physically in the Chamber, the usual clock in the Chamber will operate.
I rise to support the Bill and all the Lords amendments. I thank the Minister for his acceptance of Labour amendments, particularly Lords amendment 3, and for his acknowledgement that the Bill did not go far enough to ensure that local voices were heard. This progress would not have been possible without the excellent work of my Labour colleagues in the other place, including Lord Rosser and Lord Tunnicliffe. I appreciate the hard work that has been done to get us to these final stages since the Bill’s introduction to the House in July 2017. As I am left holding the baton, it falls to me to place on record my immense gratitude to all those who have contributed so far, including House staff, Members’ staff and officials at the Department for Transport. I would also like to thank my predecessors, my hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) and for York Central (Rachael Maskell), for their work in previous years to help improve transport infrastructure.
While I am pleased that we are making progress today, I am deeply concerned about the Government’s approach and commitment to High Speed 2. Yet again, it seems the Government are overspending and underdelivering. They repeat ad nauseam about “levelling up” the north, but their continuing refusal to commit to delivering HS2 in full, including the phase 2b leg to Leeds, and their 40% budget cut to Transport for the North is the exact opposite of levelling up. I sincerely hope that cities such as Leeds are not going to miss out on the benefits of HS2 due to the Government’s failure to get a grip of ballooning costs.
Our northern towns and cities deserve better from the Government, so perhaps the Minister will make the commitment today that HS2 will go all the way to Leeds. I am happy to give way to the Minister if he wants to make that commitment now. That is disappointing, because high-speed rail projects deserve and require long-term and sustained commitment from Government to succeed.
Right now, we are seeing a complete absence in Government support for HS1 and Eurostar. What message does that send about the Government’s commitment to high-speed rail? For this project to be as successful as it can be, we need the Government’s full commitment to control the exploding costs of the project, commit to the stage 2b eastern leg to Leeds, minimise the environmental impact from construction and ensure public consultation.
Lords Amendment 3 addresses one of those main concerns—local consultation. The section of the line that we are considering today stretches from Fradley Wood and ends at Crewe in Cheshire, largely following the Staffordshire-Shropshire border. Residents of those local areas will have their daily lives impacted by the ensuing construction, yet many will see no material transport benefit. Under-investment in transport in those three counties brought about by a decade of underfunding and austerity means links to the HS2 line are simply insufficient. Time and again, the residents of Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire are promised investment from the Government, but they have consistently failed to deliver.
Oswestry, a town in Shropshire, has a population of almost 20,000, yet no train station. That is not an isolated example. Labour’s amendment will minimise disruption from the project and make sure that all three counties benefit by launching a consultation with the good people who know the needs of these counties best—local residents.
Consultation thus far has been poor, yet it was a key promise from the Government and from HS2. Many have voiced their concerns. For example, in the village of Woore in Shropshire, members of the local parish council have repeatedly been told that their point of contact has changed. Just recently, they have been transferred to their fifth official. On an issue that will impact their daily lives for years, that is simply unacceptable.
Many other residents have been frustrated and are left feeling ignored by Ministers and HS2 when they refuse to meet them. How does avoiding proper local engagement assist with development and investment? I am pleased that the Government have finally committed to enhance consultation and to bring any findings to this House. Residents need action, not more warm words, as we have seen with other aspects of the Bill.
Lords amendment 2 concerns ancient woodland. We all know that this project must minimise negative implications for our natural environment, including ancient woodlands. HS2 will deliver increased rail capacity to grow freight and passenger usage, helping to address our climate emergency. For this project not to be held to account on its environmental commitments would be a failure of leadership. After all, while rail accounts for 10% of all passenger miles, it contributes only around 1% of all greenhouse gas emissions from transport. Rail is integral to reaching net zero.
Ensuring rail is more accessible, affordable and sustainable should be a huge part of HS2 and I hope Ministers remain mindful of that. While the Government claim that they want to level up transport, action has yet to be seen. With one of the worst regional inequalities in the developed world, which has only been exacerbated by a global pandemic, levelling up in the north and midlands is more important than ever. Local people must be heard and Government promises must be delivered.
There is less justification for this grossly overpriced project than there was when Labour first proposed it. It is the most expensive way to destroy lives and homes, and tear apart the environment. It also ensures that highly paid HS2 personnel continue to bulldoze through this unpopular project. Public polls show it is an unpopular scheme, and Chris Packham’s petition to halt it in its tracks has already attracted over 136,000 signatures. It is a shame that the Government and this Minister, excellent though he is, do not have the courage to cancel it or suspend construction.
Turning to the Lords amendments, because three minutes really is not enough, Lords amendment 2 applies to all phases of HS2, including the one that tears through the heart of Chesham and Amersham. It covers all ancient woodland, but I am not sure it goes far enough. For example, there has been an ancient oak tree on a property of one of my constituents, but it was on land that was only potentially required during the construction of the railway. It was cut down. There was not the accompanying consultation and the destruction was probably unnecessary, but HS2 did it because it could. That, for me, is not good enough. I hope that Lords amendment 2, now accepted by the Government, will at least go wider and ensure that consultations do take place. I hope that individual trees will be covered and that the reports the Minister gets will include how wildlife is affected, such as the barbastelle bats that have been disturbed at Jones’ Hill wood in my constituency. When HS2 was told it had to stop cutting down trees, it immediately put up very powerful lights at night so that would cause damage to the bats and the environment—so thoughtless and such a cavalier attitude to this rare species.
Turning to Lords amendment 3, the Minister mentioned the cost of £350,000. Let us get that in proportion. It is less than half a year’s salary of the chief executive of HS2. I hope the consultation further up the track will be superior to that exhibited in phase 1 in our area. Our local Chilterns Conservation Board experienced the superficial engagement from HS2, which alienated communities and risks designs, such as that for the Amersham vent shaft, being foisted on our community. They are going to build a headhouse that will stand out like a sore thumb in perpetuity. If that is what consultation means for HS2, beware all of you on the phase 2 line of route. So far, consultation has proved to be poor and inaccurate. On this and on many other parts of the construction, HS2 has failed to inform, consult, communicate and engage meaningfully with the people in communities affected by this wasteful project. At a time when our financial resources should be directed to the benefit of the whole UK, it is a project that is to the detriment of the many and of benefit to the highly paid few.
To follow on from the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), I find it slightly bizarre that at a time when rail travel has been upended and changed dramatically, there was no mention of that in the Minister’s comments. Keynes said, “When the facts change, I change my mind.” The pandemic has certainly changed the facts even more than those who questioned the original rationale of this project could have anticipated. It has especially highlighted the contrast between the grand projet—the great project—and the incremental improvement of capacity. That is what the Eddington report, produced back in the early 2000s, highlighted. It should have been listened to much more.
That is to some extent on the supply side. The impact on the demand side has been dramatic. The question is whether that is a blip or an oscillation, or a structural seismic shift. Has it, in fact, changed travel patterns for good, both for conurbation commuting and for inter-city travel? One factor will be possible annual recurrences of the pandemic, as with flu. It may not be as dramatic in a future wave, but it will certainly have an impact.
We have also seen work patterns change. We see that here, with many people working from home. They may not continue to do that all the time, but they may well be working split weeks. That will have an impact on demand. Far more meetings are now conducted by Zoom. That process has accelerated dramatically in a way that nobody, not even the founders of such companies, anticipated. If those meetings patterns change, what will that do to daytime inter-city travel? Will there actually be the demand? Will having the west coast main line and HS2 not actually mean that both become unviable?
I have to ask the Minister, in the light of those developments, whether the Transport Department has actually reassessed the fundamentals of the project—what work has it done on it? While considering the Lords amendments, and given the astronomical sums involved, should there not be a pause and a reassessment, which could require a complete rethink of the project? We may have sunk a few billions—the sunk costs argument is always attractive and seductive but fundamentally wrong—but do we really want to continue to spend tens of billions more?
It is a great pleasure to speak in the debate. I begin by thanking the noble Lord Rosser for taking up the cause of my constituents in the village of Woore, a small village where Cheshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire meet; Woore actually means boundary. It comprises a strip of about a mile and a half entailing Ireland’s Cross down to Pipe Gate, with a footpath that crosses the road three times. The road is already inadequate for modern traffic, yet perversely, HS2 has decided to go on three sides of a rectangle to take, at the peak, 300 heavy goods vehicles per day—a total of 130,000 extra heavy goods vehicle movements over seven years.
That road is completely inadequate as it stands, and I take my hat off to the parish council and Mr Cowey, the chairman, for battling for those who live in Woore. It is now really urgent, and I welcome the fact that the Government have endorsed and will adopt these amendments, because we have to move rapidly. I will be in Woore again tomorrow morning talking to HS2 and Shropshire Council. We proposed 38 mitigation measures and are down to 33. These are now really important. They mean more than just turning the crossing into a pelican crossing or having a lollipop lady at busy times, when 65 children try to get to their school. I am seriously concerned for the safety of my constituents. The construction phase will begin shortly; it sadly looks as though this project will go ahead.
It really is important that we have a proper consultation and that the Minister, as he is bound to by Lords amendment 3, listens carefully, and that he ensures that those mitigation measures are pushed through and financed by HS2. We plan to spend, apparently, £80 billion, according to the House of Commons Library. It was £30 billion when I was in the Cabinet. I was told we were going to link it up to HS1 and go to Heathrow, but we are not; we are going to somewhere called Old Oak Common. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) and the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) said, this project is now completely out of date. We can use Zoom and Teams. It would be far better to spend £30 billion of that giving every single household in this country top-class superfast broadband.
However, sadly, this project has its own momentum. If I had the chance tonight, I would vote against it again. I thank the Minister very much for adopting Lords amendment 3 and taking on this consultation, but will he absolutely promise my constituents in Woore that those 33 proposed mitigation measures will be financed by HS2 and will be implemented before those 300 trucks a day start pounding down the narrow lane and past that footpath that crosses the road three times?
I am glad that the Minister has agreed to accept the amendments from the House of Lords, particularly Lords amendment 3, which relates to consultation for the people of Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire, who are affected most grievously by this monstrous white elephant, which has cost so much—it has spiralled out of control. I very much endorse the views expressed by my right hon. Friends the Members for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) and for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) and the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar). It has already caused exceptional physical and social disruption in my constituency, which will receive no benefit from its construction. It has blighted my constituency down the line from top to bottom, wreaking havoc on the countryside and the value of properties and damaging the environment.
HS2 is profoundly unpopular in my constituency. I do not have the time today to go through all the examples of the inadequacy and unreasonableness of HS2, all of which are set out not only in the debates I have taken part in, but in all the petitions in the Commons and Lords. I congratulate Lord Berkeley, Lord Rosser and other Members of the House of Lords who voted for this amendment, including my noble Friend Lord Framlingham. This amendment would never have been presented in the House of Lords without them and without the indefatigable presentation of the case by the Stone Railhead Crisis Group, all of whom deserve congratulations, particularly Trevor Parkin. I also want to pay tribute to Whitmore Parish Council and all those in the north of my constituency, particularly Ian Webb, Bill Murray and Sheila Ramage, and all the volunteers too numerous to mention, some of whom have, I am afraid, already died. I also wish to mention Fred Smith.
This amendment provides for these works, which include road traffic, the environment, woodlands, and relates to a question about the provision of further railway facilities. I draw the House’s attention to the fact that all these improvements should be included for the whole line. In particular, the consultations should follow the Gunning principle, which prescribes the basis on which consultation must be followed. I also suggest that people read what has been said by the Consultation Institute and the comments by its redoubtable adviser Rebecca Wright on proper consultation, which is vital.
This has been a long and tortuous journey. These amendments will assist in mitigating some of the problems, but nothing affects my objections in principle and the economic judgment that I have formed about this project as a whole, which I have voted against at every opportunity throughout its passage through Parliament.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). I wish to speak to Lords amendment 2, which will ensure regular reporting on works around ancient woodlands and which, I understand, has been accepted by the Government. However, I am not entirely happy, because this will take the form of annual reports produced by HS2 Ltd, so it will be marking its own homework. We need external bodies, such as the Environment Agency, to be central to that process.
That is important, given the extent of environmental damage. HS2 Ltd itself states that a total of 11 ancient woodlands will be subject to direct impacts as a consequence of phase 2a. To put that in context, the UK is one of the least wooded areas in Europe, with just 13% woodland cover, which compares with a figure of about 37% in the EU27—so we are talking about just one third of that. It is also worth noting that 2% of Britain is ancient woodland older than 400 years, so this is a precious amenity that we need to protect. In all, 63 ancient woods stand in the intended path of HS2. In Warwickshire, four ancient woods have already been felled. In South Cubbington, we have lost much of that 5 acres, but it will be Whitmore wood in Staffordshire where we will see the single biggest loss of ancient woodland on the entire scheme—an enormous 5.5 hectares.
The environmental devastation being wrought by this project needs to be put into the context of the original premise of HS2. It was claimed by the Department for Transport that it would triple the capacity of the trains across the entire route, but then we come to the cost. The original estimate was £38 billion, but by 2015 that had become £56 billion and in 2019 the chairman of HS2 Ltd quoted figures of £72 billion to £78 billion. At the same time, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was talking about a figure of £110 billion, a figure echoed by Lord Berkeley, the deputy chair of the independent Oakervee review of HS2. Then we had the issue of the timetable, as this was already so very late. Yet there has been concern that the Government will not even deliver the phase 2b eastern leg to Leeds.
Lords amendment 2 is focused on the environmental damage, and I want simply to question the economic and environmental priority here. What are the most pressing challenges facing this country, particularly in the light of the pandemic? Given the costs and immediate issue of climate change, is this really the best project we can be investing in? We need electric vehicle infrastructure. We need 280,000 public charge points installed by 2030. We need the delivery of hydrogen to our towns and cities. The need for broadband has been mentioned. A national roll-out of full-fibre broadband would cost £30 billion. We also have the need for regional rail networks. The report by the National Infrastructure Commission highlighted the importance of rail needs for the midlands and north—that is where the priority should be given, particularly given that the world has been turned upside down this past year, a point highlighted by Arup in its “Future of offices in a post-pandemic world” report.
I am grateful for the work done by colleagues in the other place, but it is important that the type of regular reports called for in these amendments should be supported by reviews and debates in Parliament. That is what I want to see and it is what many in this House want to see, and Members may be assured that I will campaign for that.
The case for HS2 before the pandemic hit was made on the basis of the need to expand capacity. I always argued that there was a quicker and cheaper solution for capacity, and that was to digitalise signalling, introduce more short sections of bypass track and improve engineering around the main stations. By those means, we could have got a 25% or so increase in capacity much more quickly at a fraction of the cost, leaving over money to improve local services and the use of the existing railway, and for other purposes.
Now that we have had the pandemic, as we move to the recovery phase, which we hope will be quite soon, we have to accept, as the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) and others have mentioned, that the nature of work and the use of the office will change. We may well find that the intense pressure during the Monday-to-Friday morning and evening peak, as a result of people tending to start work at 9 and tending to leave for home at 5 or half-past 5, will diminish. We may well find that people will want much more flexible use of their railway—that they will not travel every day, and will not necessarily be going at peak hours. One of the big problems that the railways face—capacity on journeys to main towns and cities at peak—will be changed or relieved by that.
We are due, from the Government and the industry representatives that advise them, their interim thoughts on what the shape of the railway and railway demand might look like in two or three years’ time, assuming that all has gone well with vaccination, and that there is a pretty good, robust recovery. We should not assume that it will be recovery to the same work and railway travel patterns that we had before.
I hope that we will make more intelligent use of the railway for freight, because there is still plenty of scope for that if we can get better at single-wagon marshalling, and can make better use of the railway for the relatively longer distances that freight often has to travel to get from ports to all parts of the United Kingdom. That would be a possible use of the capacity that we already have. I dare say that there will also be plenty of promotional schemes for leisure and tourist travel. The fact remains, however, that the use of the railway for work will change very dramatically. I do think this whole project needs appraising in the light of that, and that we are owed a proper plan with the latest forecasts, which must be very different from the forecasts that the Government were using when they first put this proposal to the country and to the House.
I wish to speak to Lords amendment 3, which requires the Secretary of State to consult Staffordshire residents, and Lords amendment 2, regarding the protection of ancient woodlands, in order to represent my constituents who have endured the spectre of HS2 for many years.
From speaking to residents since I have been an MP, I am very aware of the problems that HS2 has caused, and like my predecessor, I have done all I can to assist my constituents in dealing with HS2. I have already visited numerous local groups and business who are being affected, and I have worked with Staffordshire County Council to try to come up with solutions to the disruption that HS2 has caused, and continues to cause. I have also met multiple constituents whose lives have been blighted by dealings with HS2, and have tried my best to improve the situation for them. In September, I presented a petition and stood up for local residents and businesses at the House of Lords Select Committee on the High Speed Rail (West Midlands–Crewe) Bill.
The fact remains, however, that despite the best efforts of local residents and everyone I have mentioned, HS2 will be extremely disruptive for the people of Staffordshire. Lords amendments 2 and 3 go some way to addressing many of my Stafford constituents’ concerns, so I am very pleased to hear the Minister’s remarks this evening. HS2 construction will also disrupt the A34, the A518, the A51 and the M6 motorway, all of which will potentially cause more traffic for my constituents, which is why amendment 3, requiring consultation with my local residents, is so important. I am also very concerned about the feasibility of construction of the Stone railhead and maintenance base, the increase in heavy goods vehicles and the disruption, which will certainly exacerbate the situation on Staffordshire’s roads. This is another reason why Lords amendment 3 is so vital—it will ensure that local residents are adequately consulted on scheduled works.
Lords amendment 2 reflects the importance of our ancient woodlands. At a time when Britain is leading the way on climate change and hosting COP26, we should not be seen to be cutting down trees, which is counterproductive.
Since my election, I have consistently represented my constituents with regard to HS2, and I remain extremely disappointed by the way they have been treated by HS2. I am grateful to the Minister for meeting me on numerous occasions, and responding on specific constituency places. The way that HS2 has behaved is simply unacceptable, and I am pleased that the Government are supporting the amendments and will consult with my constituents. It is right that they be listened to.
I wish to speak to Lords amendment 3, which I am delighted the Government are supporting. I also wish to outline why it is so important. HS2 will cut straight through Staffordshire, and we cannot be subject to all the pain without any gain. I am pleased that the Government have committed to classic-compatible HS2 services for Stoke-on-Trent—an area where levelling-up is essential. HS2 must truly be transformative.
The economic uplift in Stoke-on-Trent would be significant. It is an area with huge potential that has punched far below its weight. HS2 services must match our economic ambitions for jobs and housing growth. One service an hour terminating in Macclesfield, while extremely welcome, will be insufficient. Our services need to terminate at Manchester. We also want Birmingham HS2 services, to address overcrowding north of Birmingham. That might also resolve the lack of direct services to Liverpool and Manchester airport. Network Rail must undertake work to the classic network to facilitate new HS2 services and additional future local services.
We need better engagement from HS2 with Stoke-on-Trent City Council and local MPs to maximise the potential of HS2 and mitigate the impacts. It is vital that disruption to road and rail during construction be minimised, as recognised by subsection (2)(a) of the new clause inserted by Lords amendment 3. There are significant concerns about construction traffic at junction 15 of the M6, on the A500, and on the A34. Junction 15 is already desperately congested, and is included in Highways England’s road investment strategy 3 pipeline. Additional measures are also needed to mitigate impacts on the A34 and A500, particularly given the intense housing growth in the Hanford and Trentham area.
Improving local transport is vital to unlocking the true benefits of HS2; that is reflected in subsection 2(c) and (d) of the new clause inserted by Lords amendment 3. Public transport in north Staffordshire is inadequate, and the area is heavily car dependant. Around 80% of trips in Stoke-on-Trent are by car, yet around a third of people do not own one. HS2 needs to be plugged into all our communities if we are to deliver the full benefits. The start of that is the Transforming Cities fund, which has £36.4 million for local bus and rail, but we must go further. We need to reopen local stations, including Meir; that is progressing well, due to the Restoring Your Railway fund. There is also the Stoke to Leek line, which connects communities in the city with the Moorlands. We must reopen either Trentham or Wedgwood stations.
The city council has ambitious proposals for a light rail system to connect everything up, but we need a feasibility study that brings that together. I believe HS2 should consider contributing funding to such a study, to ensure that HS2 can be plugged into every part of north Staffordshire. Without investment in local transport, the benefits of HS2 will be severely constrained, and the last few miles could end up taking longer than the rest of the HS2 journey.
I am speaking in support of Lords amendment 3, which I am glad the Minister has indicated he will accept. I thank him for the open and proactive way that he has engaged with me and other Members of the House. HS2 represents a huge opportunity, not just for Crewe, but for my constituents in the surrounding area. Crewe has a proud railway heritage as an original UK railway town that was once the site of the largest railway and locomotive works in the world, and it is a uniquely well-connected industrial town.
Like many post-industrial towns, Crewe has faced challenges forging a new future for itself, but businesses still come to Crewe because it remains a fantastic location from which to reach the rest of the country. It is home to nationally and internationally recognised manufacturing and engineering businesses that provide high-skilled, high-quality employment. We must build on this. The advantages that HS2 brings for residents are needed to deliver further high-paid, high-skilled work. Parts of Crewe still face high levels of deprivation, and well-paid jobs are at least part of the answer to that.
HS2 is already providing more opportunities; businesses are investing and growing in anticipation of its arrival. If local employer Bombardier is successful in its bid to help build the trains for HS2, the benefits to Crewe and the surrounding area will be even greater. The bid has my full support. HS2 will also unlock improved local transport connections, which I know are the priority for my residents over quicker travel to London.
For this reason, I support HS2, but that does not mean that I do not understand the very real concerns of residents in my constituency and others who will pay a high price. I pay tribute to various Members who have spoken before me and done their best to represent their residents in opposition to HS2. It is important that HS2 does everything possible to listen to people on whom it will have an impact to ensure that it can avoid or minimise that impact. I have already seen examples of HS2 altering its plans in response to feedback from residents, and we know that nationally other approaches are in place, such as the 7 million trees that are being planted to mitigate for lost woodland.
This is not just about minimising adverse impacts. Local voices are on top of local issues and challenges. In my submission in December to the most recent round of consultation on HS2, I was able to identify roads and routes planned for use during construction that I know will not be available because of local transport redevelopment. Being open and listening to local knowledge and expertise will improve the delivery of the project, which is why I welcome Lords amendment 3 and the Government’s support for it.
I finish by saying that I welcome this historic final step in the passage of the Bill through the House, and all the opportunity it will bring to my residents in Crewe and Nantwich.
It is a pleasure to follow so many hon. Friends and constituency neighbours, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan). I, too, support Lords amendment 3 and welcome the consultation that the Government have agreed to with people in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire. The railway skirts my constituency of Newcastle-under-Lyme and passes through the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme in the ward of Maer and Whitmore, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). I pay tribute to him for all he has done to stand up for his constituents, and to the local councillor, Graham Hutton, who has done a huge amount of work on this for his residents. He is my former office manager, but I pay tribute to him for what he has done as a representative.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) said, it cannot be all pain and no gain for the residents of Staffordshire. We must see benefits from HS2. I am pleased that we have had commitments on services from Stoke-on-Trent, but they are not good enough, as my hon. Friend said. These trains need to run all the way through to Manchester or down to Birmingham or London. It will not be good enough if they terminate too early. He also mentioned some of the mitigation that affects his constituency and mine, particularly the mitigation relating to junction 15. I welcome the fact that that is already in road investment strategy 3, but HS2 will need to do a lot more to satisfy my local residents, given the impact that it will have on their lives.
This is perhaps a more tangential point, but it is one colleagues have made. Newcastle-under-Lyme town centre needs to be connected back to our mainline railway network, whether that is to Stoke-on-Trent to the east, to the HS2 main line in the west, or via a metro. Newcastle-under-Lyme is one of the largest towns in the country that does not have a railway station of its own. Yes, lots of people use Stoke-on-Trent, but that creates huge pressure on our local roads, particularly Basford Bank. We need much better public transport in north Staffordshire, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South said.
In conclusion, I welcome the stance that the Government have taken today. HS2 can be beneficial for north Staffordshire, but I am very conscious that the construction of HS2 poses a large amount of complications for my residents, and residents nearby. I welcome the fact that the Government are engaging with that. As the Minister said in his opening remarks, the cost of this consultation is not nothing, but it is minor compared with the cost of the project, and the cost of not listening to the people of Staffordshire, and to the people of Newcastle-under-Lyme—my constituents. Not having the consultation would have been a huge mistake, and I am pleased that the Government have chosen to accept the amendment. I am happy to support them.
I am grateful for the contributions to this debate from many Members. The amendments that we are discussing are very narrow, and many of the contributions we heard were not within the remit of the debate. However, I appreciate the sincerely held views of all who have spoken today. I am sure that there will be a general debate on the merits of the HS2 project more generally in due course—not least because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) reminds us, her petition calling for such a debate has now passed 130,000 signatures. I will try to respond to as many of the points as I can, but I am also happy to meet any Members who have spoken and to write on any points that I do not address because they fall outside the remit of this debate and would probably be better addressed in the upcoming debate.
I start by thanking the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) for his support and the continuing support of his party for the HS2 project. He rightly paid tribute to the Bill team, the Clerks and everybody who has been involved in this process, which has been running since 2017. Hybrid Bills are massive undertakings, and there have been a huge number of people involved across the House and working behind the scenes diligently to deliver the Bill, so it is right that we pay tribute to them.
The hon. Member for Slough asked about some general points. I do not want to stray too far from the debate, but he will know that I have said many times that the integrated rail plan would be published before Christmas. I failed—it was not published before Christmas —but we are keen to get it published as soon as possible. The integrated rail plan will bring together the Government’s plan for these transformational investments across the midlands and the north of England.
As the hon. Member for Slough knows, the rail-needs assessment from the National Infrastructure Commission only arrived with us in December. We have to consider that, and we also have to consider stakeholders’ thoughts about that report before responding. This morning I spoke to the leader of Leeds City Council, the leader of Bradford Council and others to ensure that I am hearing their views and critiques of the report and that they can be taken into account. I very much hope that we will respond as soon as possible. It is fair to say that we are investing record amounts and getting on with many projects such as 2a, despite the challenges posed by covid-19.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham is a committed opponent of the scheme and has spoken eloquently and passionately about the concerns of her constituents for many years. I have many conversations with her offline, and I am sure that they will continue to address some of the specific concerns in her constituency. We will ensure that the measures in the amendments we are discussing—for example, annual sustainability reporting—really do reflect the impact of the whole project across all phases, including on ancient woodland and things that are directly relevant to her constituency.
The right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) questioned the reason for moving forward with HS2 at the current time. As he will be aware, the Government’s top priority at the moment is dealing with the covid-19 pandemic, but this is ultimately a project for the long term. Phase 1 of the railway is not expected to be opened until 2029 to 2033. Whatever projections we come to about the impact of covid on the business case, this is a long-term investment that is about transforming rail journeys in the UK and freeing up the existing network.
In case it pre-empts a point that the right hon. Gentleman is about to make, I will just add that the revised business case will be published when we make an investment decision. While I cannot come out with a revised business case today, before the Treasury commits, there will be a revised business case based on that investment decision, and similar to phase 1, we will publish that business case for all to see and scrutinise.
I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. Are the Government undertaking an assessment of whether patterns of travel have structurally changed or whether this is just a temporary blip? If patterns of travel have changed, the whole basis of this scheme may have done as well.
We can all see that patterns of travel have changed in the short term, but we are not sure how long that will last. The uncertain end of covid-19—we will get through this, but we are not sure when—means that it is quite hard to predict how long the impact will be. Many studies are going on into this—many academic studies and lots of thought. My personal view is that the global trend we have seen across the world of urbanisation and of people wanting to live in cities and commute between those cities is something we will continue to see. We have seen that in parts of the world that have been affected by previous pandemics and virus outbreaks.
I still think that many people in this country will want to live in cities. When I was growing up, Manchester was like a ghost town and Leeds was similar. Now they are thriving cities and places where people want to live. Therefore I think that projects such as HS2, which is about connecting up the largest cities, still hold sway. As I say, this is an investment for the long term, and phase 1 will not be opening until 2029 at the absolute earliest. I think there is still a strong rationale for it.
I am happy to commit to continuing to keep the House updated. When I was in front of the Transport Committee earlier this month, I committed to informing the House of our thinking about HS2 in my six-monthly report to Parliament. The next six-monthly report on HS2 will be in April, so I intend to give more of the Government’s thinking then. Also, if there is a general debate on this issue, when I am sure lots of these points will be made, I am sure I will be much more closely challenged on the broader point.
Is one of the main drivers not peak-time capacity and daytime capacity? Inter-city travel is very much driven by business travel. We have seen how remote conferencing—Zoom we call it, but there are all the other companies as well—has changed the ways in which people are undertaking those meetings. Might that not really drive down use, so that we do not need that peak-time capacity? In the evenings, there is no problem at all, and that may be when people travel for leisure. Has there not possibly been a significant change?
This matter really needs its own debate—I am sure it will get one—where we can go through these things in some depth. What I will say is that if we look at the aspirational growth plans of some of the cities we intend to connect, we see that Leeds, for example, intends to double the size of the city centre. We are going to see different people wanting to use transport. We are certainly going to see changes. How long those last for, who knows? We have all in this House spent many months now on Zoom. I cannot wait for us to return to normality and to get back to face-to-face meetings. This is a debate for another day, however, and with your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will try to get back to the topic and the amendments in hand. I am more than happy to debate this topic with the right hon. Gentleman at another stage.
Turning to the comments from my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) about the village of Woore in his patch, and the impact on that particularly affected parish, I am more than happy to commit to meeting him to discuss the challenges in that area, as well as the undertakings and assurances that have been given, to ensure that we continue to mitigate where we can the impact on his local residents. While the Bill contains numerous undertakings and assurances, it is an ongoing process, and we need to ensure that we are continually looking at the best available evidence of the impacts and mitigating wherever we can.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) spoke with passion about his constituency. He has met me many times about this topic. He is one of the directly affected line-of-route MPs on the 2a route. I am very keen to visit his constituency. He has invited me a number of times to meet specific residents and some of the directly impacted local groups. I am very keen to do so when it is safe for me to do that.
The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) talked about environmental reporting and his concerns that, if HS2 does that via a sustainability report, there could be an element of HS2 marking its own homework. I want to be clear that that is something about which I am very passionate. I want to see HS2 setting a good standard—a new standard—for environmental sustainability reporting. I touched on that point in my last six-monthly report to Parliament. I hope to provide more details in my next six-monthly report.
I am committed to ensuring that the project starts the reporting in a way that looks at all the material impacts and in a way that is seen as credible by stakeholders, and not just greenwashing or something else. The board of HS2 Ltd has now formed an environmental sub-committee chaired by Allan Cook that is looking at this, among other issues. I really want to get environmental sustainability reporting right: it needs to be at the heart of this increased transparency from HS2 Ltd. I am therefore more than happy to meet hon. and right hon. Members to discuss the details of how we get it right, not just on reporting about ancient woodland but on reporting about a whole range of environmental impacts.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) again questions the demand for HS2. I think we have covered that quite well. I am more than happy, obviously, to write to him. As I said, I hope to shed some light on that in my next six-monthly report, but I am sure it will also be the focus of future debates.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Theo Clarke) talked with passion about her constituency and the need for the consultation provided for under amendment 3. She lobbied me very hard about amendment 3, as she has about a number of land and property cases since being elected to this House. I pay tribute to her as a doughty champion for her constituents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) talked about the benefits to his area—comments that were echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan), who sees the benefits to Crewe. I was pleased to be able to visit Crewe prior to the start of the pandemic to meet my hon. Friend and the local council leader to talk about the benefits for regeneration in Crewe. Amendment 3 is important for further consultation with residents in Staffordshire and in Cheshire to ensure that we are taking all people’s views into account. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) also talked about amendment 3 and the importance of consulting with Staffordshire because, again, he recognises the benefits.
The Bill itself concerns 36 miles of track between Fradley in the west midlands and Crewe in Cheshire. At its conclusion, the Bill is accompanied by over 17,000 pages of environmental assessment and a register of undertakings and assurances that make over 1,500 individual commitments to petitioners and other interested parties about matters they have raised during its passage. The Bill has been scrutinised carefully by both Houses and improvements have been made to it.
I am sure that the wider debate about HS2, on which we have been slightly exercised tonight, will continue for many months and years. I look forward to further engagements as we prepare for the next stage of HS2—the hybrid Bill taking HS2 from Crewe into Manchester. It is right that we debate this project because it is of such significance nationally, and also so costly at a time of so many pressures on the public finances.
At its heart, though, HS2 is a project that will connect people and places. It is a project that will help the country to level up and help us to build back better from the coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, it is my view that we must get on with it. We must equip our people with the training and education needed to undertake the highly skilled roles in planning, in engineering and in constructing this railway. We must offer the jobs promised and get shovels in the ground. This Bill is a small part of a bigger project that will create much-needed capacity on our rail network. I believe that opponents—they may disagree—are short-sighted.
It is right that people stay at home now and we reduce travelling to an absolute minimum, but this will not last forever, as we will defeat the virus. The pandemic will end. People will travel again, both for business and for leisure. When that time comes, I want people to be connected. I want this House to have thought about the long-term future of our country and to have planned for it. I want to join up the west midlands and Crewe. I want us to drive investment in infrastructure, in skills and in growth across a whole levelled-up country. In short, I want this Bill to pass.
Lords amendment 1 agreed to.
Lords amendments 2 to 12 agreed to.