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HS2 Planning Assumptions: Rail Travel Patterns

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 13 July 2023

12. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of changed patterns of rail travel on the planning assumptions for HS2. (905937)

Before I answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question, I hope you will give me permission, Mr Speaker, to inform the House, if it has not already noticed, that HS2 Ltd announced yesterday that Mark Thurston, its chief executive officer, will stand down in September. I want to thank him on the record, in the House, for his work over the last six years on progressing Britain’s most transformative rail project. He successfully oversaw the start of construction, and he ensured that HS2 has created tens of thousands of skilled jobs and apprenticeships across the country. The Government and I are grateful for his exemplary service.

To answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question, HS2 is a railway for the country’s long-term prosperity, and it is already bringing significant economic benefits to his constituents in the west midlands, where businesses have already won £1.7 billion-worth of work delivering HS2.

I thank the Secretary of State for that waffle. I actually asked him about the basic planning assumptions for this project, because the ongoing case for HS2 would have had to be based on estimates of future passenger numbers, particularly for business travel and inter-city commuting. Following the pandemic, we all know there has been a major change because of video conferencing and working from home. What are his Department’s latest projections of inter-city passenger numbers, and how do they affect the viability of the HS2 project, quite apart from the escalating construction costs? Will he publish those figures?

I think the right hon. Gentleman fundamentally misunderstands. First, HS2 is a railway for the coming decades, not for the next few years. What happened during the pandemic should not affect the case for HS2. Also, he assumes that business travellers are the only people who will use HS2. It is true that business and commuter traffic is down following the pandemic, but we have seen leisure services rebound very strongly, with passenger numbers higher than they were pre-pandemic.

When I was in Japan recently, I saw that high-speed trains are not only used by business users; they are used by everyone who uses the railway. HS2 will free up enormous capacity for the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents on the west coast main line, and it will get more freight off the roads and on to our rail network. He should welcome all those things.