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High Speed 2

Volume 742: debated on Thursday 14 December 2023

7. What estimate he has made of the net cost to the public purse of land purchased and planned for sale in connection with HS2 phase 2. (900654)

16. What estimate he has made of the net cost to the public purse of land purchased and planned for sale in connection with HS2 phase 2. (900663)

As of October 2023, a total of £573 million had been spent acquiring land and property assets on phase 2. That includes all property asset types, such as plots of land, farmland, farms, commercial property and domestic property. Any land and property asset that is no longer required will be sold, and a programme is being developed to do that.

Data from the High-Speed Rail Group suggests that the Government’s fire sale of land on the former Birmingham to Manchester stretch of HS2 will cost taxpayers a staggering £100 million. But they are not content with wasting taxpayers’ money and denying us the high-speed rail in the north that we deserve; Denton and Reddish is not even set to benefit from local rail improvements. That would not be hard—I have one train a week serving Denton and Reddish South stations. Why?

I am glad the hon. Gentleman mentioned that report, because it is completely wrong. For a start, it states that £205 million has been spent on land and property, which is wrong—it is a different figure.

I just stated exactly what it is, if the hon. Lady had listened to my answer. We have published exactly how much has been spent: on phase 2a it was £273 million, and on phase 2b it was £201 million. Property and land will be sold only when it is right to do so, ensuring good value for the taxpayer and the communities where the property is sold.

It is my understanding that HS2 trains are designed for new tracks rather than the current Victorian-era infrastructure. Surely, that incompatibility will result in HS2 trains running slower and in fewer trains per hour for my constituents. Can the Minister explain how decreased capacity across the network, slower trains and reduced services will be better for my constituents?

Again, that is not the case at all. HS2 trains will be built to run across the network that they will travel on. I made the point previously that on the parts of the west coast main line where tilting trains go faster, HS2 trains will also be able to go at that faster speed. As a result, the journey time to Manchester will come down from two hours and 12 minutes to one hour and 40 minutes, leading to a faster service for all, Mr Speaker.

As the Minister will know, I very much welcome the decision on phase 2 of HS2. However, there is still an impact on many land and property owners in Staffordshire. We heard in the Transport Committee that it could take up to two years to get land back to those owners. Will my hon. Friend look into this urgently to ensure that those property owners—particularly farmers, who need to know when they can sow their crops—get that land back as soon as possible?

In the words of Take That, I ask my hon. Friend for a little patience. It will take time to develop a programme to ensure that we deliver value for money for the taxpayer and do not disrupt local property markets. We will engage with the affected communities throughout the process. Where land can be rented back out and therefore put to use—farming is a good example —that is happening right now, and we will ensure that that happens even more so now that we have certainty about HS2.

Between July and September, Ministers admitted that tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money had been spent on HS2 land, at the same time that the Prime Minister was planning to cancel the project. Now, Ministers plan to flog that same land at a huge loss. Even the party that crashed the economy is still able to find unique ways to fleece the taxpayer. Will the Minister explain what safeguards he will put in place to protect the land and taxpayers’ money from this ill-judged and costly fire sale?

Despite what I said about this being the season of good will, quite frankly that is complete and utter nonsense. As I have stated, there will be a very careful analysis of the property that will be released. The Crichel Down rules require tests to be met, and only once they are will we return the property to the original owner at its market value. This will be done properly. We have delivered certainty: we have said that the route will not go ahead. What I am sure everyone along the line of the route would like to know is whether HS2 would go ahead under the Labour Transport team, or whether it would not, because of the Labour Treasury team. Give them some certainty.