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HS2 Cancellation and Network North

Volume 743: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2024

[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Transport Committee on 8 and 30 November 2023 and 10 January 2024, on HS2: progress update, HC 85; Oral evidence taken before the Transport Committee on 6 December 2023, on Rail services and infrastructure, HC 361; Oral evidence taken before the Transport Committee 15 November 2023, on Work of the Secretary of State for Transport, HC 86; and Written evidence to the Transport Committee, on HS2: progress update, reported to the House on 14 November 2023 and 9 January 2024, HC 85.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Network North and the cancellation of HS2 Phase 2a.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Davies. I am delighted to have secured this debate. The cancellation of High Speed 2 phase 2a is an important topic for consideration, as is the transfer of funding to what has been dubbed Network North. I will start by making my position crystal clear. I welcome the cancellation of HS2 phase 2a because the reality is that it would have caused great pain to Staffordshire, and I welcome the Network North initiative because it promises great gains for Staffordshire. Because Staffordshire is the heart of the country, and is increasingly a national base for north-south and east-west logistic operations, its gains will be gains for the whole United Kingdom economy.

There is of course a big “but”. Network North is greatly encouraging—but it must not merely illustrate projects; it must deliver them in a coherent programme of transport improvements that get the country moving and deliver productivity gains.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate on an issue that is very important for Staffordshire, as he rightly points out. Does he know—perhaps the Minister can clarify this later if he does not—where the money will be allocated in the west midlands region? In Lichfield, we are very keen to extend the cross-city line, which runs through Birmingham and Lichfield to Burton. There will be a station to serve the National Memorial Arboretum. Does he think funding might be available for that?

My hon. Friend has been a long advocate of restoring the important cross-city line. I very much hope that such local considerations will be taken on board and that funding will be directed locally to make a difference. I am sure the Minister will clarify the position and expand on what my hon. Friend said.

When we can see the wood for the trees, the important point is this: there are localised projects that will help knit together our national transport network for the benefit of a far wider range of people than the elite who want to get in and out of London on business expenses as quickly as possible regardless of the consequences for local communities in Staffordshire, like those in Yarnfield and Swynnerton in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). We have already experienced that in north Staffordshire, even before HS2 phase 2a. I am not just talking about the Beeching axe, which was bad enough and of course did not exclusively affect the Potteries; I am talking about the last Labour Government’s decision to make it quicker to get between Manchester and London via the west coast mainline Potteries arc by annihilating three local stations that had survived the Beeching cuts of the 1960s.

Is my hon. Friend aware that we led a massive campaign to reopen Stone station, and that the footfall there has been absolutely phenomenal since it was opened, which demonstrates the need to get these stations back in line?

Absolutely. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Stone station was a victim of the west coast upgrade changes, but thanks to his work and that of those who campaigned for its reopening, it has reopened and been extremely successful. I hope we continue to see those types of station reopen.

The west coast upgrade meant that in Stoke-on-Trent, for marginal time gains between Manchester and London, Etruria station—the very place where the fist sod was cut for the North Staffordshire railway in September 1846—was closed by the Labour Government in September 2005. To the south of the city, Wedgwood and Barlaston stations were suspended in 2004 and neither has subsequently reopened or been maintained in a good state of repair. I understand from Network Rail that neither can now be reopened to passenger services without significant investment and potentially being completely rebuilt, which means that there is now no intermediate local station between Stoke-on-Trent and Stone.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stone illustrated, the same happened with Stone station, but thanks to his efforts and those of the community, it was reopened in December 2008 and now has some services for that town. So much for Labour’s Strategic Rail Authority! That experience has made us determined that HS2 would either have to work for Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, or we would have to drop it entirely. Unfortunately, it had become clearer and clearer that HS2 would not bring benefits to Staffordshire, certainly not the net benefit that we would need to see to justify the horrendous disruption, painful compulsory purchases and the disruption of ancient woodland.

A constituent attended my surgery recently whose business has been and continues to be affected. Unbelievably, he has recently been asked by HS2 Ltd to commission further thousands of pounds of costly reports to prove the value of his business, despite the 2a route no longer even going ahead. He is not alone: many businesses and property owners throughout Staffordshire continue to be hounded by HS2 Ltd and forced to give up their businesses or sell their land, despite phase 2a being cancelled. A line must be drawn under the compulsory purchase order process. I am sure we will hear more about that tomorrow in the Backbench Business debate on HS2 compensation that is being led by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Theo Clarke). Ultimately, however, it is essential that the Government keep to their word and urgently lift the safeguards on the 2a route, and that efforts are made to rapidly extricate HS2 from the lives of people in those communities and elsewhere in Staffordshire.

Every day that goes by costs the public purse considerably in extortionate security costs and wasteful legal processes for sites that are no longer even needed. If further clarity were needed that HS2 would not bring benefits to Staffordshire or indeed nationally, it was striking to hear from Trevor Parkin and Trevor Gould from the Stone Railway Campaign Group at the oral evidence session of the Transport Committee in Birmingham on 30 November last year. Trevor Gould said:

“I was a great advocate of the HS2 project. I fully support the idea in principle and I still think that it is important that high-speed trains are segregated from freight and slower passenger trains, but unfortunately this HS2 is not the way to do it; it does not do what it says on the tin. It does not release capacity north of Birmingham, it does not improve connectivity because of that”.

As we know, the three fast trains an hour currently serving Staffordshire—one via Stafford and two via Stoke-on-Trent—were set to be replaced by one HS2 service calling at both, which would have terminated at Macclesfield. That is a major reduction on what we currently enjoy, so it is not at all clear that there would have been extra capacity or connectivity, which is what HS2 was supposed to address. In fact, according to HS2 Ltd’s updated 2022 strategic outline business case, the only places north of Birmingham that would have received a higher number of services than they do today would have been Runcorn and Liverpool.

In the meantime, there is a pressing list of other projects that need to be delivered to ensure local services and connectivity into the hub stations are maximised. The reason for that is the major constraints at Crewe, particularly Crewe North junction, which were made worse post phase 2. HS2 had no plans to increase the number of platforms or address the constraints at Crewe North junction, which means the only possible way to run HS2 services would have been to take out what already exists, removing local and regional connectivity. I am not even convinced that HS2 intended to run any meaningful service to Stafford, Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield.

On 10 January, the executive chair of HS2 Ltd, Sir Jon Thompson, appeared before the Transport Committee and I asked him to clarify some striking comments that he had made to the Public Accounts Committee on 16 November. I put it to him that he had said to the PAC that if HS2 phase 2a had indeed been built,

“HS2 trains would never have gone on to the west coast main line”

at Handsacre and that “they would have joined” the west coast main line only “north of Manchester.” To that he replied: “Yes.” Of course, I pressed him on that because it would mean that the proposed services to Stafford, Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield were never actually going to materialise, even on completion of phase 2a. Sir Jon said that

“if 2a had been constructed, the advice to me, which I have got written down here, is that we would not have used that junction.”

That is Handsacre junction. I await further clarity in writing, but that does, at face value, confirm my worst fears about what HS2 Ltd was actually planning at Handsacre, which is a fait accompli of connections that would not have carried HS2 trains up the Potteries arc—and it would have all been too late by then to do anything about it.

Macclesfield—always a very odd choice of terminus, fine though that market town undoubtedly is—appears to have been a fig leaf to quieten Staffordshire down during the construction phase. Originally, under the hybrid Bill of 2013, it was proposed to create a full connection at Handsacre for HS2 by connecting the new track into the existing fast lines, enabling HS2 services to join on to the west coast main line. Then, in 2019—Trevor Parkin of the Stone Railway Campaign Group made this point very well at the Transport Committee on 30 November—HS2 redrew its intentions at Handsacre in order to join the slow lines of the west coast main line and not the fast lines. The options analysis for that extraordinary move has never been published, and we still do not know why that bizarre decision was taken.

With the cancellation of phase 2, it is clearly essential that we now revert to the original design for the Handsacre junction, to enable a proper connection with the fast lines to maximise capacity and allow services to run beyond. As I said, we await further clarification in writing about the reasons behind the changes, which are unlikely to be to do with cost, as people have attempted to claim. It seems unlikely that HS2 had intended any real, meaningful Stafford-Stoke-Macclesfield services to run at all.

I am sorry to intervene on my hon. Friend again, but he mentions Handsacre, which of course is in my Lichfield constituency, and I am fascinated by what he says. I know, for example, that the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, is banking on the service from Curzon Street in Birmingham providing an HS2 service, albeit not necessarily at high speed, up to Manchester. That would be impossible if the Handsacre link were now not to go ahead. My constituents need clarity on this and I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will be very clear about whether the Handsacre link is going ahead—we all assume that it is.

I thank my hon. Friend for that point. It is essential that the Handsacre link goes ahead, otherwise there is no way to connect those services back on to the west coast main line to provide that service into Manchester, Liverpool, the rest of the north-west and ultimately up to Scotland. It is vital that the Handsacre link is done right and that we see HS2 connect not just on to the slow lines at Handsacre, but on to the fast lines. If we connected it on to the slow lines, that would severely constrain the capacity of the west coast main line in that location, so it is essential that we revert to the original design and that HS2 connects on to the fast lines at Handsacre to maximise the potential of that capacity release.

The issues that we have been raising about Handsacre are things that we have long feared. In January 2020, I wrote—with my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon), for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Dame Karen Bradley)—to the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to make it clear that our support for HS2 was conditional on realising the Handsacre link in full, with services to Stoke-on-Trent and on to Manchester, and not just Macclesfield. Then, of course, the whole world changed for two years because of the covid pandemic.

It became increasingly clear that the costs of HS2 were going to balloon and that the focus on whether to deliver on it at all had changed. Further, given the many failings of the project and the few solutions it offered to the problems of capacity and connectivity, with costs spiralling out of control, it is right that it was paused for a period of reflection and that ultimately phase 2 was dropped.

That decision frees up huge amounts of funding for other pressing projects that are better suited to the post-covid reality of the trend of working from home, and more flexible and online working. Few of us had heard of Zoom or Teams before covid, but their use is now commonplace, including for entire conferences. At the same time, leisure travel by train has been very strong. We need to see a network that meets today’s challenges and consumer demands, and I think Network North can help us to achieve that.

For a start, unlike HS2, Network North recognises that the transport network is not rail alone and nor is it just about getting to and from Euston. Got right, the national transport network improvements focused on the midlands and the north, with enhancements such as junction 15 of the M6, which I hope will be completely upgraded, will facilitate much more seamless travel, faster journeys, more destinations and considerable freight gains, including reduced carbon miles and greater connectivity north-south and east-west that will benefit the midlands and the north. Even projects undertaken outside the midlands and the north will benefit those areas.

I particularly highlight the proposed rail upgrade at Ely junction, which will drive the momentum we need to see towards re-establishing a proper east-west freight route, with options to increase freight from Immingham and Felixstowe to Liverpool via the Potteries. Much of that currently takes a significantly elongated route down to the north London line, across and then up the west coast main line. That could also include reuse of the North Staffordshire line. That would facilitate the reopening of a station at Keele University, which was one of the aims of the restoring your railway bid sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. Its time will come, and probably sooner if the result of dropping phase 2a is to closely look at east-west links just as much as at north-south. The advantage of that would be a significantly increased capacity on the west coast main line by moving more freight on to other lines and significantly reducing journey lengths for freight. That would deliver major cost and environmental savings. Indeed, there is now an amazing opportunity to look not just at linking up our big cities with even quicker rail links than they already enjoy, but at transport connections within city regions.

That brings me nicely to the major area of my speech today, which is the use of capital release from HS2 phase 2a to fund restoring your railway projects. Restoring your railway is a very good scheme. It has been hugely popular among colleagues across the House and the communities we represent. Its flaw has been that it runs to only £500 million and that it expects some of the poorest areas of the country to stump up 25% of the funding for any projects taken to delivery. That local contribution hurdle has threatened to be insurmountable for a number of schemes, so I am completely delighted that that is no longer necessarily the case. Suddenly, it becomes possible to get 100% funding for the delivery stage of transformational projects, such as the reopening of Meir station in my constituency and the reopening of the Stoke to Leek line, which includes a station at Fenton Manor, which is also in my constituency. That is hugely welcome and we will continue to press the case for that funding in order to achieve the national objectives of levelling up: increased productivity, better connectivity, improved life chances, carbon reductions and much more.

The misery of HS2 was going to be fully funded, so it is only right that its successor projects are fully funded too. As I am always keen to say, I fully support levelling up, but we cannot simply level ourselves up after years of having so much taken away from us by Beeching and the Strategic Rail Authority. Much of our transport planning has been focused on making north Staffordshire an easy place to get to and for outsiders to travel through, but it is harder for local people to travel around. Meir in my constituency, which has the A50 running through it, has some of the worst traffic congestion. Despite 40% or more of households in Meir North being without a car, there are still major traffic issues there. Similar issues are seen in communities such as Blyth Bridge, where local roads often take the brunt of congestion, especially when anything goes wrong on the A50 or the A500. Further consideration needs to be given to addressing reliability problems on the A500 and A50 corridor, and it is positive to see that corridor listed for improvements as part of Network North.

In north Staffordshire, public transport—where it exists—is based mainly on buses that often do not go to where people need them or at a time when people want them. We have secured major investment to improve our local bus services—there is £31 million of planned bus service improvement funding—but the time has come to restore our rail services as well. We should reverse the Beeching axe, so that skills, training and employment opportunities are opened up to communities such as Meir that are deprived on multiple measures.

I am delighted that Meir station is now at the advanced project stage of RYR, and very advanced in that stage. I want shovels in the ground as soon as possible. A station will put Meir within 10 minutes’ direct train journey from the heart of the university quarter in Stoke-on-Trent, whereas the bus journey can take over an hour in traffic. I hope that, following the opening of Meir station, we might also see a doubling of passenger services on the line from Crewe, through Stoke and Derby, to Nottingham, and go from one train an hour to two.

Meir is not alone in needing rail connectivity to Stoke town and the university quarter—connectivity not provided by bus—so I am delighted to see that restoring your railway has taken the Stoke-to-Leek line project forward to the feasibility stage, our strategic outline business case having been accepted. This line was closed to passenger traffic in 1956, except for a few football specials, and to freight in 1989, and has never served some of the biggest post-war estates in Stoke-on-Trent. Even when it ran, in the 1950s, there was no station for inter-war estates such as Abbey Hulton, which has many of the same challenges as Meir. Fenton Manor in my constituency will reopen under the Stoke-to-Leek line proposals. That opens up a major centre for leisure, employment and secondary education—St Peter’s Academy —to more of our city’s residents, while reconnecting residents of Fenton to the rail network.

Sadly, my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands is unable to be with us today, but she very ably chaired the Stoke-to-Leek line project. It would be remiss of me not to plug the benefits of visiting her beautiful constituency, which more of our constituents will be able to do with ease once the Stoke-to-Leek line is rebuilt. It can easily take longer to get from Leek to Stoke-on-Trent station by road—especially by bus—than it takes to get from Stoke-on-Trent to London by train. Again, that makes the point that getting to and from London and big cities such as Manchester slightly faster is not as pressing a priority for people in Staffordshire as getting around and across our county and its sub-regions more easily and quickly.

To make that work, we really need Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Network Rail finally to deliver the funded and promised packages of the transforming cities fund. The city’s MPs have had to watch with horror as delay upon delay has been announced in delivering the package, although we busted a gut to secure the funding, as the city council repeatedly seeks to redefine schemes that should already have been delivered. I am particularly concerned about the promised improvements to Longton station and the environments of public realm around Times Square, with its iconic railway bridge. Covid has too long been an excuse for the delays to these projects. Longton needs a properly accessible station with lifts. The Victorian ticket hall could also be restored. The station needs to look and act like a station, rather than being just a backwater of the town.

The Department has shown great patience, and I am grateful for that. I hope it will consider all the options available to get the transforming cities fund package over the line and delivered in Stoke-on-Trent. I note that paragraph 69 of the Network North document makes an explicit commitment to improving the accessibility of our train stations, with £350 million more having been provided for 100 stations. Funding released from HS2 can easily rescue aspects of TCF from further downgrading and delay. Further improvements are needed at Stoke station to increase its capacity, in terms of both platform and concourse space.

The cancellation of phase 2 means that it is more likely that high-speed services will run through Stoke to Manchester, so it is essential that Stoke station be properly equipped to accommodate those additional services. That is alongside the Stoke-to-Leek services, the upgrade to two trains per hour that we need on the Crewe to Derby line, and the potential for additional freight. A lot of mothballed railway infrastructure in north Staffordshire needs to be brought back into play, including not only the Stoke-to-Leek line, which is still a statutory railway that is owned by Network Rail, but a number of other parts of the network.

On the Crewe-to-Derby line, we also need a redoubling of the track between Crewe and Alsager, which would help to release significant capacity and allow for increased services through that part of the network. I would like to see track re-laid around the back of Stoke station and new platforms to the west of the station, which is currently a car park but was formerly full of freight lines that ran around the back of the station to the goods yard. The goods yard is now a major levelling-up project; it is time for the station and its capacity to be levelled up as well.

Given the tens of billions in funding released from HS2, there will now be many hands in the air for projects across the country, either those already included in the “Network North” document or projects elsewhere. I have already mentioned junction 15, which was part of the road investment strategy 3 pipeline, the A500 and A50 corridor, Meir station, and the Stoke-to-Leek line. There are also existing RNEP—rail network enhancements pipeline—projects that would be useful. I hope that the Minister can say whether the Department intends to reallocate HS2 money to any of those projects, or add in HS2-ready works that we need on parts of the west coast main line to upgrade it to take phase 1 services.

When the RNEP was first introduced in 2018, the Rail Industry Association welcomed it as an open and transparent way of sharing the forward pipeline of potential works. It was updated in October 2019, in what was intended to be the first annual update, but there have been no updates published since, despite repeated requests. It may be another casualty of covid, but the time is right to revisit the RNEP and publish an updated list that takes account of the changed focus following the cancellation of HS2 phase 2 and other, more recent publications. That will help to prioritise schemes that will have the greatest impact on connectivity, levelling up and productivity. I am confident that Meir and the Stoke-to-Leek proposals will be important additions.

A new station to serve Trentham or Barlaston, which I have been campaigning for, would also be welcome. I am actively engaging with Network Rail and the West Midlands Rail Executive on how they could deliver that. It would restore the rail connectivity that was lost with the suspension and demise of Wedgwood and Barlaston in 2004, and to the Beeching axe, which closed Trentham station in the 1960s. I have been on site with Network Rail at the former location of Trentham station, and I look forward to seeing Network Rail’s plans for how restored rail connectivity at either Trentham or Barlaston could best serve communities between Stoke and Stone.

Our transport problems in Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire cannot be solved by buses alone. We have tried that. Cross-city journeys that were once reliably fast on our local train network are now painfully slow on multiple buses that are extremely unreliable because of severe road congestion. It is not that buses have no place—they absolutely do—but they solve different transport problems. They are not always the most viable alternative to the car, or the most effective at cutting road congestion, but that does not stop them being a valued part of the public transport mix.

I welcome the extension of the £2 fare until the end of this year; that will help get people back on buses. Passenger numbers were in steep decline even before covid, and costs were certainly a factor. I hope that the bus service improvement plan for Stoke-on-Trent, which provides all-day bus travel for £3.50, will galvanise that effect. However, if cross-city bus services are to be restored, much rests on delivering a seamless bus-rail transport interchange at Stoke station, which was promised under TCF. Even then, they will not cover the cross-city journeys that could easily be completed with a restored Potteries rail network. Ultimately, we need an Oyster-style system that will allow passengers to travel by both local bus and rail across the Potteries. That might eventually also apply to a tram network—something we are keen to see delivered in north Staffordshire. To work up those proposals to the required level of detail and engineering feasibility, some of the released HS2 moneys might need to be set aside for development funds. That worked in the case of the restoring your railway fund, where the initial hurdle is to prove that a transport problem exists, and that a public transport solution needs to be explored—although I repeat that a 25% local funding requirement is a major barrier to achieving that.

I want to mention briefly the improvements that might be needed on the west coast main line to make the network HS2-ready. In addition to Handsacre reverting to the original design, we must see action to address the issues at Colwich and create a properly grade-separated junction there. Consideration should also be given to what could be done to achieve four tracks at Shugborough. At Shugborough tunnel, there is a section where there are only two tracks. If that were addressed, there could then be four tracks all the way to Crewe. As with Stoke station, we need to look again at how best to optimise Crewe station. I have already mentioned the need to redouble the Crewe-Alsager section of the Crewe-Derby line, and the opportunity to reuse old sidings at Longport to relieve congestion on that line.

We also need to look at the capacity constraints at Crewe that HS2 Ltd failed to address, not least by drawing on Network Rail’s 2016 report, “Crewe Hub: improving capacity and connectivity for our customers”. That report noted that services have to cross over and share tracks at the Crewe North and South junctions, which cannot fit any more crossing train movements. There is an opportunity with the cancellation of phase 2 to focus on Crewe station to help address some of those constraints.

In particular, we should seriously consider delivering the bi-facing island platform on the Manchester independent lines to the west of Crewe station. That was envisaged in the hybrid Bill but subsequently scrapped by HS2 Ltd. I hope the Minister will revisit that, because using those independent lines with a bi-facing island platform will solve a lot of the conflicting movements and congestion issues at Crewe, especially for the Cardiff-Manchester train, and open up possibilities for more frequent local services and new services, and for restoring lines to Crewe. There can also be freight gains, and we need to remember that our transport network is not just for passengers but for goods and logistics.

Finally, I want to mention Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is obviously impacted by the decision on phase 2, given that it was proposed that it would share some of the track. However, I have recently seen alternative proposals for upgrading to a different, shorter route, which could offer a much more viable solution to NPR. I will share those proposals with the Minister, and I hope that he will give them serious consideration, as they could mean delivering NPR sooner, with greater benefits, and at a third of the cost of what is being proposed.

In conclusion, the cancellation of HS2 phase 2a promises to release resources that can make Staffordshire a place of great transport gain, instead of a place of great transport pain, which is what HS2 was likely to make it. For the many people who have had their properties compulsorily purchased, the pain has already been incurred, and that pain needs to be drawn to a final close, and properly compensated and addressed. At the end of the day, HS2 phase 2a just did not add up, or rather its costs kept mounting, but its benefits kept diminishing. We have an opportunity to focus on local benefits that will add up to a more coherent, productive and well-connected transport system across road and rail, for the benefit of more than just those elite travellers moving between our biggest cities. Meir station and the Stoke-Leek line must be among the local schemes that are delivered. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on bringing this debate to the Chamber. It continues to be important to talk about HS2.

Rail should be a lifeline for our communities, connecting every part of the country through green public transport. After months and years of defending HS2 and spending millions of pounds preparing for it to go ahead, we are left with nothing but a missed opportunity, now that an essential part of it has been scrapped. I have long supported HS2. High-speed rail should modernise our railways, connect more of the country and increase capacity. Our rail network struggles with constant delays, cancellations and crowded trains. HS2 going all the way should have been an important step forward for all our communities.

However, HS2 faced death by a thousands cuts. Its delivery was characterised by Government mismanagement. It was hollowed out, costs were allowed to spiral out of control and the Government turned their back on Manchester and Leeds. Without additional capacity, any plans to improve our railways will be limited, and we will be left with a rail system that cannot effectively connect the whole country.

Public transport will be crucial to our meeting our net zero targets. It is a clean, green alternative to cars, and it showcases the benefits of net zero to our communities. Transport is the largest emitting sector in the UK. Rail produces over 70% less carbon dioxide emissions than the equivalent road journey. We must encourage a modal shift away from polluting transport modes towards greener public transport such as trains. The Government know that, yet Network North contains plans to move £8 billion meant for the railway to supporting road use. We need to win hearts and minds for net zero, and demonstrate to people that the green transition brings opportunities. However, at no point have the Government attempted to bring the public with them. Before cancelling the northern leg of HS2, they put a huge amount of doubt in people’s minds about cost and impact.

We should be positive about public transport as a solution. HS2 and phase 2 should have been sold as a great improvement to our rail infrastructure, rather than an expensive inconvenience. Each train unlocked by HS2’s extra capacity could have removed over 120 lorries from the roads. Britain’s highways are already among the most congested in Europe. The decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2 will lead to up to half a million more lorry journeys up and down the country, and a lot more congestion in our towns and cities.

Tens of thousands of jobs and a great economic opportunity have been lost. Why should anybody invest in the UK when the Government do not provide long-term investment opportunities? The Institution of Civil Engineers was clear that delaying HS2 would mean that construction firms shifted their focus to other countries. Our global trade is also affected, and the British Chambers of Commerce emphasised that we need more capacity for that reason. One in four sea containers arriving or departing from a port is carried by rail. Our global partners need to be able to trust that we can move at speed and with capacity. Now businesses have been left with a gap in their strategic plans, and where is the plan to establish Great British Railways? Why is the transport Bill delayed?

The whole HS2 debacle has exposed the lack of an industrial strategy. The Government should consider giving a statutory underpinning to the publication of a national infrastructure strategy every five years. We need certainty, and the scrapping of the northern leg of HS2 just shows that when we dither and delay about long-term strategic plans, all we have is loss and absolutely no gain.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this debate.

I congratulate the Minister on making the right decision to cancel HS2 phases 2a and 2b. HS2 is absorbing £1 in every £3 spent on transport in this country. Many of my constituents and many people right around the country feel that that is the wrong priority. Mr Davies, I know that you have long campaigned for the bypass around Shipley. The cancellation gives us the opportunity to spend the money in areas where it is required. I will touch on a number of those areas.

A couple of decades ago, we saw the reopening of the Chase line, which serves not just Cannock and Rugeley but Landywood station in South Staffordshire. We have seen a transformation in communities. With the electrification of the line, passenger numbers have grown. That has also resulted from the change of timetable on the Birmingham to Shrewsbury line, with a large increase in the number of passengers. By getting investment right in local services, as opposed to white elephants such as HS2, we can transform communities and transform people’s lives.

I ask the Minister to take the opportunity to look at some recent changes that have been detrimental to communities. An example is the Birmingham-Stoke-Crewe line, where there has been a cut in services because of timetable changes. I would appreciate the Minister looking at that, because it is having a detrimental impact on many local stations along the line. With the money that will be freed up from the cancellation of this service, there are opportunities to make further improvements to our network. We could see the extension of the Manchester-Stoke service all the way to Stafford, which would have a real benefit for many stations across north Staffordshire.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South mentioned the north Staffordshire railway link. Improving east-west connectivity is absolutely vital for moving freight transport off the busy west coast main line, to ensure it goes to places it needs to and gets more freight on rail and off our roads. It would be wrong not to mention our roads; I am delighted to see that, as a result of the cancellation of HS2, Staffordshire has benefited by an extra £4.4 million.

Let us be clear: the people of Kinver, Codsall, Wombourne, Great Wyrley, Brewood and every place across south Staffordshire want to see the potholes eradicated. That extra £4.4 million will go a long way towards blitzing some of those problems. I appreciate that it is not in his portfolio, but I ask the Minister to go back to the Secretary of State for Transport and say that we want more money to deal with those potholes right across Staffordshire. This cancellation can make a real impact, delivering better services in every community across Staffordshire, but let us make sure that that money is well spent.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Cadeirydd; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this debate. He mentioned the slogan “gain or pain”. The slogan for HS2 in Wales has become “The great Welsh train robbery”: it is a rip-off. It will be interesting to see what the scrapping of the Manchester leg of HS2 means for Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland will continue to receive billions of pounds in Barnett consequentials from the remnant of the HS2 project from London to the English midlands; Wales, of course, will not see a single penny in direct consequentials from this project.

We recently heard the HS2 executive chair’s jaw-dropping admission that the cost of HS2 has ballooned to £66 billion. That means that Wales is now losing out on £3.9 billion in much-needed funds. I ask the Minister directly to outline why he thinks there is any argument for cross-UK equality while Wales is short-changed to the tune of £3.9 billion. What reasons can he give for not treating Wales in the same way as Scotland and Northern Ireland? Just think what £4 billion could do for Wales’s transport infrastructure, particularly in rural areas where bus services have been run into the ground for years.

Extra funding within Wales, managed within Wales, would not just benefit passenger services but allow us to develop freight opportunities, which would in turn strengthen our economy—just as the original railways did in 1804, with Richard Trevithick’s pioneering locomotive in Merthyr Tydfil and the slate exports from my own county of Gwynedd.

There is also the matter of the £36 billion that has been reallocated from the scrapped phase 2 of HS2 to Network North projects. Again, there is no clear indication whether Wales will receive full Barnett consequentials for money that is spent on services in England through Network North. There can be no excuse for denying Wales full funding on those. Will the Minister outline exactly what compatibility factors and quantum of consequential funding Wales will receive from English Network North projects?

The Government promised, with great fanfare, to pursue the electrification of the north Wales main line, yet the current £1 billion pledge is, at the very least, 50% below what is now estimated to be needed. The figure is based on a business case made nearly 10 years ago; costs now are likely to be north of £1.5 billion.

I ask Opposition Front Benchers whether they are content with Welsh rail being permanently underfunded in this way. If they form the next Government, will they commit to fixing this broken funding mechanism? Do they accept the principle that HS2 is an England-only project, and that Wales is owed full consequential funding? The Welsh Labour Government already do, and there is cross-party agreement on this in the Senedd. Will Opposition Front Benchers here be at odds with their colleagues in Wales?

The billions owed to Wales could be invested to reverse some of the savage cuts made to bus services, which of course also result from Westminster austerity. Over the past 15 years, rural bus services in Wales and England dropped by 52%. In my county of Gwynedd, bus service frequency has dropped dramatically, with change in service frequency measured in trips per hours between 2010 and 2023 dropping by 50.5%. The Confederation of Passenger Transport has estimated that a further 15% to 25% of all bus routes in Wales will be at risk of cuts or significant amendment over the coming year.

It is clear that the UK Government’s boastful rhetoric on transport funding is at odds with people’s real life experiences in our communities. The Government must match their rhetoric with action and commit to full funding from HS2 to Wales.

It is a pleasure to contribute today, Mr Davies. I was a member of the Cabinet when the decision was made to change the investment and reinvest the £36 billion to drive economic growth across parts of the United Kingdom.

It may seem odd that I am here, but Felixstowe is actually part of Network North, which recognises the fact that the port of Felixstowe is the primary port of the United Kingdom. The connections that need to be made, particularly on the rail networks, are part of what will be financed at that point. That is the primary reason why I am here today. In particular, the document recognised the importance of the Ely and Haughley junctions. That investment will lead to six more freight trains per day from the port of Felixstowe, which is the principal route for the northern powerhouse and a lot of the work that will be done up there.

I completely understand that the Ely junction is rather complicated and has had a variety of costings over the years, as plans get more and more detailed. However, I call on the Minister to really push ahead and give the all-clear to Network Rail to re-form the team specifically on the Haughley junction. This is a much more modest project, which was estimated to cost about £20 million. I recognise that, with inflation, that may now be slightly higher. Nevertheless, there is an opportunity to get the team back together, get that work going, and to get spades in the ground, even if only on preparatory work this year. That will help our resilience, both with freight trains and with the passenger trains that link London to Norwich through the counties of Essex and Suffolk. On the project team being disbanded, I know that the Treasury has a part in this, but I am confident that the green light from officials or Ministers in the Department for Transport to Network Rail will enable us to get that together. It is a modest project that does not need much investment to get going.

I turn to the wider consequences of the cancellation of HS2. It is important that where farming land has been purchased, we seek for that land to go back into farming, recognising aspects of food security. I also welcome the fact that the £2 bus fare has been kept until the end of this year, without the anticipated rise. That is a good investment in local public transport. I am conscious that there has been significant investment through the major road network on the A12, for which Suffolk County Council has been granted funds that will help with the traffic and congestion problems that arise in the area. Those problems are anticipated to increase as a result of the construction of Sizewell C, which is now under way after the development consent order was triggered on Monday; I was pleased to be in Sizewell for the recognition of that.

There are other elements of the A14 that really need looking at. I encourage the Minister, as part of this wider investment, to ask the roads Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman)—to look at this carefully. I know that there was a hugely successful project in Cambridge: it was brilliant and was done on time, and it might even have been done under budget. However, that should not be the end of the story for one of the most important parts of the major road network in terms of economic productivity.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) talked about potholes. It is critical that the funds for potholes are ringfenced. There have been some shocking situations with potholes in my own constituency in Suffolk. I met the leader of Suffolk County Council last Friday to discuss some of them, and this Friday I am meeting the council’s cabinet member with responsibility for roads. There are issues with the thoroughfare in Woodbridge, aspects of Aldeburgh and parts of the main A12, and many other places are struggling, too.

I know that the weather has been a challenge and that there have been other issues. Suffolk County Council appointed a new contractor, which started in October; it is not doing the job that it should be doing. I am pleased that the council has recognised that: the contractor is being hauled in front of the council leader. It is important that we keep that scrutiny and that the Government continue to ensure that taxpayers’ money is delivered for the benefit of taxpayers, quickly, promptly and effectively.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this debate.

I stood for election in 2019 in complete opposition to HS2. As soon as I arrived in Parliament, I worked hard with colleagues in the HS2 review group to try to get the entire project scrapped by the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but sadly we were unsuccessful. Since the approval of phase 1, I have been tireless in trying to secure better mitigation for my constituents and in holding HS2 Ltd to account when things go wrong, which I am afraid to say they do regularly.

My Aylesbury constituency has been perpetually, permanently blighted by the construction of phase 1 of HS2. I am very pleased that many colleagues here in Westminster Hall today will not suffer such blight with the construction of phase 2. From Fairford Leys to Walton Court, and from Stoke Mandeville to Wendover, construction is causing untold misery for residents, with noise, traffic and daily disruption to everyday life.

At last, in October, we were given a glimmer of hope that we would finally receive some tangible benefit from HS2 through the cancellation of phase 2. Two projects in my constituency appeared on the list of 80 projects that were part of the Network North plan: the south-east Aylesbury link road and the eastern link road. Those two projects are critical to the future success of the town. They will ease congestion, reduce air pollution and help to spur economic prosperity, which are all things that we can all agree are good for our communities. They are essential to support the huge amount of house building that we have already seen in and around Aylesbury and the thousands more houses that will be constructed in the coming years. I am very grateful to the roads Minister, who met me to discuss the roads projects and promised to help me get them over the line.

However, recent communication from the Department for Transport has caused me alarm and made me think that in fact the money for those projects may not be given to my area in the way that we were led to believe, if it is given at all. That would be wholly unfair and profoundly wrong, given the blight that we have suffered and continue to suffer.

Today I seek reassurance from the Minister present, who knows Aylesbury well, that he will do everything in his power to make sure that the two original projects in Aylesbury outlined on that list of 80 projects for Network North will indeed be delivered in their entirety in the Aylesbury constituency. Ultimately, the simple fact of the matter is that the longer we delay unlocking those funds for what are essential projects that will one day have to be delivered, the more the costs will escalate and the bigger the final bill will be. That would benefit absolutely no one. My town is absolutely gridlocked because of this white elephant of a project. We desperately need our share of the money that is being saved by the decision to cancel phase 2A of HS2. The people of Aylesbury deserve absolutely nothing less.

I would just say that we are not opposed to infrastructure at all in Buckinghamshire. Indeed, many people locally support the Aylesbury link of East West Rail. That is the railway that we want in Buckinghamshire, but it always seems to be just out of our grasp. I remind the Minister that we are very keen to see it getting the go-ahead; I seek any undertaking on that that he might be able to give me. We want railways that are right for our communities, right for our society and right for our economy.

Having voted against this and argued against it for the best part of a decade, I was delighted by the Prime Minister’s decision and by the Minister’s engagement. I have had many, many meetings with Ministers and so forth about the issue over a very long time.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on his extremely powerful speech and on using his experience as a member of the Transport Committee to amplify the issue. That is in addition to the work of Trevor Parkin in my constituency, who has done the most remarkable work on this area.

The line was due to pass straight through my constituency, from top to bottom, and we are thoroughly relieved that it has been stopped after all this time. It is still causing misery for many of my constituents, however, and we are in the midst of negotiations with HS2 over the sale of their property and land. Communication has been slow or non-existent and, in the meantime, the works and the spending of public money have continued. I urge the Government to closely monitor the winding-up of HS2, intervening when necessary, and to make sure that compensation is paid. We will debate this issue in Westminster Hall again tomorrow.

Finally, I will simply add that, along with the money that is earmarked for improvements in transport projects, I agree with everything that has been said in this debate about how regional, national and east-west networks must be improved. Levelling-up has been a tremendous opportunity, but that has to be delivered. I am grateful to my constituents for the support that they have given to me and to the Minister for the meetings that we have had and for coming to the right decision.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler), I was an anti-HS2 campaigner long before I became a Member of Parliament. I declare an interest: phase 2b of HS2 did run through the Grundy family farm. I recognise many of the issues raised by colleagues—communities paralysed for a decade by uncertainty, businesses unable to invest, people unable to sell their homes.

We were successful in getting HS2 scrapped. I am delighted about that and would like to pay tribute to two colleagues. One of them, who is sitting here, is my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter). He fought manfully for his constituents in trying to stop HS2. The other is my right hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), who consistently stood against this project for a very long time.

There was a real issue with what was proposed. The people of Greater Manchester wanted better connections between Manchester and Liverpool, because those are their commuting patterns. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South has said to me that when his constituents get on the train in the morning, half go to Manchester and half go to Liverpool. The idea that people in constituencies such as ours would suddenly all decide to commute to London from central Manchester because the journey is 15 minutes faster was slightly optimistic.

The other problem was that the changes would have meant that places such as Warrington Bank Quay in my hon. Friend’s constituency would have become regional backwaters. If constituents of mine who would previously have gone via Warrington—as I do when I travel down here—had wanted to travel on the new HS2 line running through our constituencies and connecting with part of my hon. Friend’s constituency, they would have had to travel 30 miles north, through heavy traffic, to Preston. They could not have travelled on the line that went through our constituency unless they went to Preston to catch the train. I thought that was profoundly silly.

My final words—the most telling, I think—are these: “We will get all of the disruption with none of the benefits in an area with the worst railway accessibility in the country. Why should we accept that?” Those are not my words, ladies and gentlemen, but those of Andy Burnham when he was the MP for the Leigh constituency and expressed his concerns about the project to his constituents.

On Network North, I am delighted that the money is being redistributed to more popular transport projects such as the bypass, which I raised at Prime Minister’s questions last week. I look forward to meeting the Minister to discuss bringing forward those projects.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my Transport Committee compatriot, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), on setting out the issues so comprehensively. I disagree with most of his conclusions, but that will not come as a surprise to him. He described Network North as a coherent programme, which I thought was stretching the truth a little. Nevertheless, he led the debate very well.

The hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) spoke about the money spent in the west midlands with regard to Network North, which highlights how ridiculous Network North is; that spread means the money is being redirected from the north. The hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) spoke about the reopening of Stone station, but he missed the opportunity to talk about high-speed rail to Rwanda. Perhaps he will bring up that issue later. It is much more likely to get to Rwanda than to the Scottish border.

The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) spoke of death by a thousand cuts, and the fact that the Government have turned their back on Manchester and Leeds. I wholeheartedly agree, but they have also turned their back on all the areas north of Manchester and Leeds that are served by the west coast mainline. The right hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) called HS2 a white elephant. It is certainly becoming one, but that need not have been the case.

The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts)—I am sorry if I have butchered the pronunciation of her constituency—was absolutely right that Wales has missed out on Barnett consequentials from this project. I have raised that issue many times myself. If it is good enough for Scotland and Northern Ireland, it is good enough for Wales.

The right hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) understandably focused on the potential benefits of Network North for her local area, and spoke of the return of any farmland purchased for phase 2 delivery. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) spoke of the benefits of the local roads that may now be built as a result of HS2 cuts. Finally, the hon. Member for Leigh (James Grundy) understandably spoke of the desire for better rail links between Manchester and Liverpool.

It is absolutely right that the GB rail network is expanded. It is ludicrous that HS2 is the first mainline railway to be built on this island for more than a century. That it has taken until now for it to happen is a damning indictment of decades of short-termism, penny pinching and blinkered policies. In less than 50 years, France has built nearly 1,800 miles of TGV lines. If we are lucky, it will take the UK 20 years to build less than 8% of that length of track.

I will try to be on this occasion. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in France commuter lines run a lot slower than in the United Kingdom? France has half the density of population and does not go through the same procedures as us on planning permission—it literally railroads the trains through.

I recognise some aspects of what the hon. Gentleman said, but I disagree with other conclusions that he has drawn. It is obviously up to the Government to change planning regulations if they wish, but they have got themselves into a bit of a nightmare with HS2 land purchases.

We have done all that for the bargain price of £60 billion. I have said many times here and in the main Chamber that in the UK we are often too timid in taking on big infrastructure projects. Incremental change is good, but sometimes a big bang is the only thing that will change things fundamentally for the better. Many of us supported HS2 because behind the headline of a new supercharged branch line south of Birmingham was a substantial increase in capacity on the west coast mainline, and the broader rail network would be freed up when traffic was switched on to the new lines.

I will come back to the hon. Gentleman if I have time. He gave quite a long speech at the start, although I appreciate that he led the debate.

HS2 would not just have helped with the projected increase in passenger numbers, but would have freed up freight paths that could have played a huge part in modal shift by getting freight that is currently on the back of heavy goods vehicles on to rail. The cancellation of everything but phase 1 means that there are no capacity gains north of Birmingham, and any new services that were supposed to result from its capacity extension will somehow have to fit into the already full-to-bursting track—again, all for the bargain price of £60 billion. Only Great Britain could chuck more than £60 billion at a new cutting-edge, gold-plated railway line and end up with slow services to the majority of the country. At £8,000 per inch, it will cost a monstrous sum of money, delivering nothing to the north of England and Scotland, but downgrading services.

Last week at the Select Committee, we heard from the chairman of HS2, who confirmed to the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) that capacity between Manchester and London will be reduced as a result of the Government’s decision. Prior to that, we heard from the rolling-stock companies, which outlined how the use of classic compatible HS2 rolling stock currently planned by the Department for Transport could result in a 24-minute deterioration in journey times between Glasgow and London—so there would be high-speed rail for those in Birmingham, less so for those north of Manchester. Prior to that, the Committee heard from the former head of the Strategic Rail Authority—someone I hope the Government would accept knows his onions—that the decision to cancel everything bar phase 1 means that

“there is no material increase in capacity north of Lichfield”.

We are left with a shuttle service between two cities in the south of England that already have nearly 180 daily services between the stations, all for the bargain price of £60 billion.

Thirty years ago, the channel tunnel was meant to herald direct services from all parts of this island to the continent. Those of us outside the M25 were promised those services, adding to the links enjoyed by London and Kent. Of course, those regional services never happened. At least some of the trains that cost the taxpayer over £200 million—£400 million at today’s prices—got some use, later finding service on the French national railway in a happy bonus for those passengers at the expense of those of us who did without. Meanwhile, the Nightstar sleeper trains were flogged at rock-bottom prices to VIA Rail in Canada at a third of the price they were worth, and the promised link between the original high-speed line leading from the channel tunnel to the rest of the inter-city network never materialised—and it is extremely unlikely that it ever will.

To recap, trains meant for Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff and Edinburgh ended up in Paris, Brussels, Toronto and Montreal. Those trains were paid for by the UK taxpayer but flogged overseas for a huge loss. The infrastructure promised by Government to improve regional connectivity failed to materialise, all while the rest of the UK—including Wales, with no benefit—paid tax into a Treasury that is only happy signing blank cheques for infrastructure that benefits London and the south-east. In other words, the HS2 debacle is not the first time Westminster and the UK Government have promised and failed to deliver for this island outside the M25. It will absolutely not be the last.

In contrast, the SNP Scottish Government have delivered 217 km of electrified track in the last decade. That is a 32% increase, including the Paisley Canal line, the Glasgow and Edinburgh to Stirling, Dunblane and Alloa line, Edinburgh to Glasgow via Falkirk High, Cumbernauld and Whifflet, Glasgow to Barrhead—with a new electrified services between Glasgow and Barrhead just starting in the last few weeks—and the East Kilbride line currently under way, with the preparatory work for the next project ongoing. We have new stations at Inverness airport, Reston, Robroyston, Kintore, East Linton and Laurencekirk. We have reopened the Stirling-Alloa and Airdrie-Bathgate lines, along with the hugely successful Borders Railway, and the Levenmouth link in Fife is nearly complete. We have the biggest rolling-stock order in ScotRail history, pre-covid passenger numbers were up 19% since 2011-12, the peak fare removal pilot has been extended and, of course, latterly ScotRail has been nationalised.

Only yesterday, we saw the real issues with the privatised model, given the reports about the Avanti presentation. That highlighted all that is wrong and the inherent waste of passengers’ and taxpayers’ money in the current privatised model. Avanti and other operators, including foreign state-owned rail operators, are laughing at us. One slide was headed:

“Roll-up, roll-up get your free money here!”

The presentation described how the Government asked the company to deliver good customer service and projects before sneering,

“then they pay for it…nearly all of it!”

Performance-related payments for staff were

“too good to be true”.

In the case of Avanti management, I think most of us would certainly agree that that is an understatement.

When the former Transport Secretary, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), announced the creation of GBR, the plan was for it to take over the development of rail strategies from the DFT. That is desperately needed because the omnishambles of HS2 has shown how catastrophically bad rail policy and management has become. We still do not know when legislation will be introduced to establish GBR, but whatever the shape of the post-election Administration, it has to be one of their transport priorities. We cannot end up waiting another century for network expansion to be on the agenda again and we cannot afford another £60-billion disaster.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Davies. I thank the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) for opening this important debate with a very thorough contribution on the issues affecting his constituency. We have had a range of contributions this morning, with speeches and interventions from right hon. and hon. Members.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South was right to flag the huge waste and financial costs of the decisions by the Government and the need for clarity and transparency on future plans. He was also right to say that we need to make sure that we have a strategy for rail that meets the demands of the future, improving connectivity and addressing capacity needs as well as the strategic value of freight.

The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) said that the Government had turned their back on the north. She talked about the need to be positive about the contribution of rail to our communities and she set out the need for investment in jobs for our economy. Right hon. and hon. Members also spoke about the need for clarity on future plans for rail, for both passengers and freight.

Whatever we think of the decision, it is hard to put into words how much of a mess the Government have made of HS2. It is easier to identify who is responsible for this fiasco. As Chief Secretary to the Treasury and then Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) allowed costs to soar and public money to go down the drain. As Prime Minister, his weak leadership and mismanagement are what led to the chaotic decision made in Manchester in October and the fallout that has happened since—a decision that two former Tory Chancellors have warned is an act of huge economic self-harm; which the Tory Mayor of the West Midlands has described as “cancelling the future”; and which the new Foreign Secretary said shows:

“We can no longer think or act for the long-term as a country”.

It was a decision that the Prime Minister made without consulting our metro Mayors or any of the communities and businesses that depend on the project. The decision means that the Government’s flagship levelling-up project reaches neither central London nor the north of England, and it ensures that a now staggering £65-billion high-speed train moves off the motorway on to a gridlocked road the second it hits the north.

As we heard earlier, last week the chair of HS2 revealed that the Government’s solution, cooked up in a conference hotel room in Manchester, to send HS2 trains on the west coast mainline north of Birmingham will mean fewer seats and longer journeys. What a result after 14 years and £65 billion spent! To make matters worse, in its place the Government announced Network North—

We have limited time, so I need to make progress. The Government announced a plan so rushed and ill-thought through that it included an extension of Manchester’s tram link to the airport, a project that opened nine years ago; an upgrade to the A259 to Southampton, a route that does not exist; and a

“brand new rail station…for Bradford”,

a project that has been scrapped and reinstated by three Tory Prime Ministers in a row.

On investigation, it has quickly become clear that the vast majority of Network North announcements relate to projects that have already been built, have already been announced, or do not exist. Just when we thought the fiasco could not become any more laughable, just a week after the announcement, the Prime Minister revealed that the Network North plans were only “illustrative”.

Do Ministers really think that people will fall for that? They will not, because they have had enough of the delays, cancellations, rising fares and overcrowded trains that they have to endure under this Government’s broken rail system, and enough of being told that Network North is going to transform transport in their community, and then seeing the money spent on potholes in London. They have had enough of the broken promises by a broken Government. Labour knows how vital infrastructure is for economic growth, connectivity and attracting investment. After this fiasco, we know that the north and the midlands—the entire country—cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes that we have had to ensure over the past decade.

No, I will carry on because I am conscious of time. The hon. Member had plenty of time to speak earlier. We have launched an independent expert review of transport infrastructure, headed up by Jürgen Maier, so that we learn lessons from this mess, ensure that we deliver transport infrastructure faster and more effectively, and ensure that communities across the country can see the benefits.

When a Government make huge decisions on the fly without bothering to consult experts or the communities that they will affect, the consequences are vast. I have heard from many small and medium-sized enterprises whose long-term business plans were built around HS2—businesses across the country that will now be letting people go because of the chaos of the last few months. People’s homes, land and businesses have been sold off, and they will now be asking why. Three months on, the Government still have many questions to answer.

On a point of order, Mr Davies. The whole nation is dying to know whether Labour will reinstate HS2 phase 2a. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to refuse to take any questions?

Having been here as long as he has, the hon. Member for Lichfield knows that whether to take an intervention is entirely down to the person speaking; it is not for anybody else to decide.

Thank you, Mr Davies. I am happy to answer the question from the hon. Member for Lichfield: the Government have blown such a huge hole in the HS2 project that, until we know what situation we will inherit, it would not be right for me to set out what we would do. The Government have created this mess.

I would like to put some questions to the Minister. Has an economic assessment been made of the impact of the decision? How much more taxpayers’ money will he spend on phase 1 through rescoping, and how high should the public expect that bill to be? What is the impact of the decision on rolling-stock orders, and how many supply chain businesses does he expect to go under as a result? What plan do the Government have to tackle congestion on the west coast main line, which leads to many cancellations and delays across the midlands and north, and which Network North does nothing to resolve? How much more congestion does he expect to see on our roads, given that the Government have spent 14 years focusing on this transport project, which they have now failed to deliver?

I look forward to the Minister’s remarks, and I again thank the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South for securing the debate.

It is a pleasure, as always, to see you in the Chair, Mr Davies. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) for securing this important debate on HS2 phase 2a and Network North, and for the manner in which he set out his case.

As has been mentioned, on 4 October last year, the Prime Minister announced that phase 2a of HS2, along with phase 2b—the western leg—and HS2 east, would be cancelled, and that funding would be redirected towards alternative transport projects in the north and midlands through Network North. Let me give a bit of the background and rationale. The HS2 programme accounted for over one third of all Government transport investment. That prevented us from spending money on other genuine priorities, and it could be argued that, if we were not investing in the areas that matter to people, we were doing little to improve the journeys that people make the most.

Network North will drive better connectivity across the north and midlands, with faster journeys, increased capacity, and more frequent and reliable services across rail, bus and road. Rather than delivering phase 2a, the phase 2b western leg and HS2 east, the Government are redirecting £36 billion to hundreds of transport projects across the country, one of which, of course, is in Shipley.

I will come to the hon. Member shortly.

Every region is now set to receive the same or more transport investment, on an unprecedented scale. We will still deliver HS2 between Euston and the west midlands as planned: 140 miles of new railway and new stations at Old Oak Common and Birmingham interchange. HS2 tracks will end with two branches in the north: one to Curzon Street station in central Birmingham and one to Handsacre, near Lichfield, where HS2 trains for Manchester, Liverpool and Scotland will join the west coast main line.

Delivery is well under way, and there are 350 active sites. Initial high speed services will start between 2029 and 2033, and will run between Old Oak Common in west London and Birmingham Curzon Street. We will appoint a development corporation, separate from HS2 Ltd, to manage the delivery of the project at Euston, and create a transformed Euston quarter that will potentially offer up to 10,000 homes.

I turn now to land and property safeguarding with regards to the disposal that will come into effect now that phase 2a is not being completed, and I will then come to point made by the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan)—that it is not possible at the moment for the Labour party to determine what it will do. If he listens to this part, he will realise it is entirely possible. We know it is just a smokescreen: the Labour party cannot make a decision because it does not know what to do.

Safeguarding on the former phase 2a of HS2 between the west midlands and Crewe will be lifted very shortly. The lifting of safeguarding does not in any way trigger the start of a sell-off of property already acquired. HS2 Ltd has ceased the issuing of any new compulsory purchase notices on phase 2a and is now working to close out all transactions across phase 2 that were outstanding on 4 October. Where we can agree with property owners to withdraw from an agreed acquisition, we will do so, but in many cases we are under a legal commitment to proceed. In others, we have discretion and we are examining those on a case-by-case basis, considering the circumstances of the claimant and the implications for the taxpayer to identify the right way forward.

We are currently developing the programme for selling land acquired for HS2 that is no longer needed, and we will set out more details in due course. We will take the time to develop this programme carefully to ensure that it delivers value for money for the taxpayer and does not disrupt local property markets. Under what are known as the Crichel Down rules, land and property acquired through compulsory purchase or under statutory blight, and which is no longer required, should in certain circumstances be offered back to its former owner at its current market value. We will of course engage with all affected communities throughout this process.

Therefore, the choice will be quite clear for the Labour party. As I said, the safeguarding will shortly be lifted, and the land is not owned by the Secretary of State; it is owned by other property owners who are stymied at the moment from doing what they may want to do with it because safeguarding is imposed. No land will be sold off until we are ready. It is perfectly feasible for the Labour party, if it supports HS2 going ahead, to say that it will put the safeguarding back on, which would be relatively straightforward. As none of the land will have been sold, it can just continue.

However, the Labour party will not say that because it does not know whether it wants it to go ahead. The hon. Member for Portsmouth South mentioned going to Manchester and not committing to HS2 phase 2a or 2b, but that is exactly what the Leader of the Opposition did last week. He went to Manchester and said, “We will not proceed with that project.” Even worse, I am going talk to all these projects, and hon. Members are here to talk them up, but where are the Labour MPs to talk up these projects across the north and the midlands? Nowhere to be seen. Those projects have not been committed to, so where will the £36 billion that we have committed to these projects go? The silence is deafening.

I am not going to give way because I am going to come to the hon. Lady shortly. I want to refer to the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South raised on the local causes. He said that he is delighted with the decision on Meir station—I was delighted to join him up at Meir to see the site— and since then, he has been really successful in his campaign. That project aims to provide a new station in the town of Meir on the existing Crewe-Derby line, and it was awarded initial funding to develop a strategic outline business case as part of the first round of the restoring your railway ideas fund. The full business case is expected to be submitted in July of this year, and decisions on further funding for the project will be made within the context of the broader programme. As he knows, his station is mentioned in Network North; we are committed to it.

My hon. Friend mentioned Stoke and Leek, and a bid to reinstate the railway line between Stoke-on-Trent and Leek has been made to the restoring your railway programme. The proposal examines the potential for six intermediate stations on the route, and the Network North announcement included the intention to progress the Stoke-Leek restore your railway scheme to delivery. I am grateful to him for all his work on that.

Longton station is another that I visited with my hon. Friend. That original station project includes public realm, cycle hub, waiting shelters and accessibility improvements. The council has faced a number of challenges in relation to cost pressures, delays and technical issues. The estimated cost of the Longton project is now forecast at £3.5 million to £4 million, compared to £1.1 million at the time the funding was awarded. We are committed to working with Stoke-on-Trent City Council—Network Rail has entered into a development services agreement, and the council has indicated that the project is forecast to complete by September 2025. On junction 15, which my hon. Friend mentioned, improvements are being developed and delivery would be on a similar timeline as improvements to the A50. Those are all subject to a supportive business case.

On a point mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), I can assure him and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South that HS2 will be delivered with a branch to Handsacre near Lichfield. In the absence of phase 2a, Handsacre remains the only connection between the high-speed infrastructure and conventional rail. I can confirm that work is being undertaken to assess the options to enhance the railway in the Handsacre area, to support train services and capacity, making use of the £500 million set aside in Network North. I can give my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield that reassurance, which he can pass on to our fantastic Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street.

I will turn to the other contributions—none from Labour MPs because they did not make any. I will start with my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) and thank her for again championing the Ely and Haughley capacity enhancement project. That will increase freight trains from 36 to 42 trains a day from the port of Felixstowe, allowing trains to go into the midlands, rather than further south. Network North has confirmed its support. It is a project that I have long championed but we have been unable to put on the list due to HS2 spend. Because of this decision, we now can. The next steps are for a full business case, and we are engaging with the Treasury. I take my right hon. Friend’s point about getting back the Network Rail team on the Haughley preparation work project. That is something that we are looking at in the Department, and I thank her for her points.

I will turn to other contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield, in addition to his other intervention, referred to funding for the cross-city line. Perhaps I can point him towards the city region sustainable transport settlements and the local integrated transport settlements, which are two funds from Network North. As well as the list of projects we have committed to deliver, we are also committed to deliver money on a devolved basis, so that local transport authorities can determine on which projects they want to spend their money.

For example, an extra £1 billion has been put into the city region sustainable transport settlements fund for the west midlands, which takes it up to £2.64 billion, allowing the west midlands to make its own choices, because there is devolution within this programme. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) mentioned the case for new stations, showing their business case worth. He is absolutely right regarding Stone, and we hope that will be the case for Meir. I also want to thank him for his work with Trevor Parkin, and for the time he took to drive me through his constituency, so that I could see the impacts that he talked about.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) asked me to go away—in the most polite terms, I am sure—and assess the west coast main line timetable. I am happy to do so and will write to him. I hear his call for more pothole funding for his roads. Every hon. Member will have seen money given to them for pothole funding. It is essential that it is spent well, and I hear his call that more should be spent.

I now come to the contribution from the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), which I found extraordinary. She made the case for HS2, and, of course, I agree. That is why we are delivering 140 miles of it. I find it extraordinary that I was delivering leaflets in Chesham and Amersham for the Conservative party, talking up the project on similar lines to hers, yet the entire Liberal Democrat campaign in Chesham and Amersham was to run down HS2 and call for it to be cancelled. I have no issue with individual Members campaigning against HS2 because they always have done, but for a party in a by-election to focus its entire campaign on cancelling a project only to then stand here and talk it up—sorry, only a Liberal Democrat could do that.

The leader of Plaid Cymru asked what HS2 does for Wales. The reality is that it was always an England and Wales project, which is why with Network North we are allocating £1 billion to the electrification—

I will not give way. We are allocating £1 billion to electrification in north Wales, and we will now further that business case.

I will give my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) the assurance he sought. We spoke about the two road projects, and I will take that back for consideration. He has my commitment. I drove through Aylesbury last Saturday, and he knows I know it well.

I am also looking forward to visiting my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (James Grundy) next week.

We have a plan and we know what the plan is, though people may disagree with it. My challenge to the Labour party is: what is its plan? Will it go ahead with HS2? If not, will it commit to some of these amazing projects across the country that the HS2 funding will deliver?

I thank the Minister for his response and all those Members who contributed to a full debate. I do not necessarily agree with all the Opposition Members, but I thank them for their contributions. I hope we can continue to work with the Minister and the Government to deliver on many of the Network North projects we have now seen come forward, because they will make a huge difference, far more than could ever have been realised through HS2.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Network North and the cancellation of HS2 Phase 2a.