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Network North and HS2 Phase 2: Comparative Assessment

Volume 738: debated on Thursday 26 October 2023

2. What comparative assessment he has made of the economic impact of Network North and the second phase of High Speed 2. (906732)

Before I answer this question, Mr Speaker, may I put on record, on behalf of the Government side of the House and myself, that I share your congratulations to Jim on his service so far and still to come. It sounds like Quentin Letts was rather kinder to him than he often is to many of us.

As the cost of HS2 has increased, the relative benefits have dwindled. Every penny of the £36 billion that would have been spent on phase 2 of HS2 will be reinvested into local infrastructure and transport schemes across the country, including £20 billion on projects across the north. That investment will support thousands of new jobs, on top of the thousands already supported by the construction of phase 1 from Birmingham to London Euston.

We know how vital rail infrastructure is for economic growth, connectivity and inward investment. Eighty-five per cent of the projects announced in Network North were previously promised, committed to or subject to approval. If those projects have not been delivered in the 13 years that this rabble have had in government, why should my constituents trust that this is not a case of the north, yet again, having to choose and getting neither, while London gets HS1, HS2, Crossrail 1, Crossrail 2 and a fully integrated and Department for Transport-subsidised public transport system?

I think the hon. Lady is missing the fact that every single penny that we are not spending on phase 2 of HS2 in the north is being—[Interruption.] No, she raises a good point. Every penny of what was going to be spent in the north is being spent in the north, and every single penny that was going to be spent in the midlands is being reinvested in the midlands. It is the money that has been freed up from our more ambitious development project at Euston that will be spent in the rest of the country. The north of England is getting exactly the same amount of money, it is just being spent on transport projects that are better fitted to what people actually need, rather than phase 2 of HS2.

In a recent episode of the “Green Signals” podcast, the former chair of the Strategic Rail Authority, Sir Richard Bowker, claimed that no Government included in the business case for HS2 the economic value of additional passenger and freight services that would run on the classic lines, enabled by HS2. May I ask my right hon. Friend to investigate whether this is the case and, if it is, why it has not been properly evaluated?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The phase 1 benefit-cost ratio process for HS2 captured some of the benefits of released capacity, including new demand for existing services. It did not include all the benefits from new services, but I know that the rail Minister will be happy to meet him to discuss that in more detail.

A new city centre station and a fast rail connection to Manchester are vital to unlocking Bradford’s economic potential, and I welcomed their inclusion in the Government’s Network North strategy. However, the Prime Minister has since stated that many projects in the strategy are not final but illustrative. So will the Minister confirm that this Government will, at long last, firmly commit to a new high-speed, high-capacity line, without interchanges, between Manchester and Bradford?

Yes, I can confirm that. The day after the party conference I went to Bradford and met the leader of the council and the West Yorkshire Mayor to talk about our plans for the station at Bradford, their ambitious plans for the growth of Bradford and the new rail lines. They very much welcomed the plans we have made. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does too, and it would be nice if the Opposition Front Benchers shared the same views as their party colleagues.

I welcome the almost £1 billion that Tees Valley will receive from Network North. What advice can the Minister give me to ensure that Darlington secures the £160 million for the northern link road and £10 million for the North Road station?

My hon. Friend is a great champion for transport schemes in his constituency and I welcome his recognition of the funding we have allocated to the Tees Valley Combined Authority under Network North. I encourage him to raise the issue of those schemes with the combined authority, which will be able to use the money allocated to it to focus on the transport projects that matter most across the combined authority, particularly in his constituency.

In June 2019, Ministers were reportedly told by the new chairman that HS2 was billions over budget and years behind schedule, yet as MPs in this House debated the Third Reading of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands – Crewe) Bill on 15 July none of that was made clear to parliamentarians. Does the Secretary of State agree that if the true cost was hidden from Parliament, that would represent an outrageous breach of the ministerial code? Will he say right now whether that was the case?

First, let me welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position on the Opposition Front Bench. Obviously, at the time he mentions I was not in the Government. I am sure that all of my ministerial—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) would allow me to answer the question rather than chuntering from a sedentary position, that would be welcome. As I say, I was not in the Government at that time, but I am sure that all of my ministerial colleagues, both past and present, are well aware of their responsibilities under the ministerial code and that they gave truthful answers to Parliament at the time.

Many of us question this Government’s moral compass, but the Network North plans give rise to concerns about their actual compass, with the provisions for Plymouth and Bristol. The first recommendation in the “Union Connectivity Review” backed

“investing in the West Coast Main Line north of Crewe to properly use HS2 and its faster journey times and capacity to serve connectivity between Scotland and England”.

Yet Network North justifies continuing with HS2 phase 1

“as it provides the most effective solution to…constraints on the congested southern end of the West Coast Main Line”.

So when will the Secretary of State deliver the upgrades north of Crewe to unblock the bottleneck to the Scottish economy and that of the north of England, including Chorley?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have made it clear that we are going to make sure that high-speed trains can still continue past Birmingham on to the west coast main line. We have already had a debate in this House, and I believe we had this debate at length when I made my statement after the House returned last week, about the capacity on the west coast main line. The southern section is the most congested part, which is why we are continuing with phase 1. There is a debate to be had and people can have different views about where demand will go over the next 20 years. The view we have taken is that the priority is to focus on the transport needs of people now—[Interruption.] Well, in the north of England we are reinvesting £20 billion of the £36 billion we have saved, so we are putting the money where it would have been invested but on transport projects that are more relevant to people’s everyday needs.