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Transport: HS2

Volume 743: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2013

Question for Short Debate

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their latest assessment of the cost/benefit ratio, and environmental and social impact, of the HS2 scheme.

My Lords, I thank the Government Whips’ Office for its assistance in tabling this short debate. I also thank noble Lords and the Minister in advance for their participation. Your Lordships’ House last debated the high-speed rail scheme, HS2, last July and I will not repeat all the excellent points made then by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and other noble Lords.

I have been following this debate with interest for some time and I have read all the contributions made in your Lordships’ House and the other place, together with all the relevant documents. I came to the subject with no axe to grind. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who I see in his place this evening, said in the debate last July that he was not biased in his pro-HS2 decision as Secretary of State for Transport. That is quite right and neither am I biased in my views. Since I gave my S-class Mercedes to my plumber last summer, making him the happiest plumber on earth, I have become totally dependent on public transport, in particular the marvellous Great Western Railway to reach my home in Bath.

As a neo-Keynesian, I also believe in supporting large infrastructure projects when they are in the national interest. They can create jobs and boost the economy. In my former role as UK Energy Minister, I understood well enough that large projects, badly needed by society as a whole, can have an adverse environmental impact. We are a densely populated island. Demographic pressures are growing, yet we all want to see improvements in our standard of living and quality of life. Yet, my Lords, I fear that with HS2 we are in danger of developing a huge and costly white elephant, with an ill-thought-out business case, social disruption and a catastrophic environmental impact.

As I said, we are a small island; we are not even the size of France, Germany, Japan or China, all of which have high-speed rail networks. Carbon neutral at best, HS2 will do nothing to enable our country to meet its carbon reduction obligations. Since the 1930s the UK has lost 50% of its ancient woodland which now accounts for just over 2% of total woodland. When our ancient woods are gone, they are gone for ever and we cannot afford to lose any more. Future generations will not thank us for such wanton destruction for the sake of 30 minutes less travelling time to Birmingham. As the Independent on Sunday pointed out, HS2 threatens 350 unique habitats, 50 irreplaceable ancient woods, 30 river corridors, 24 sites of special scientific interest and hundreds of other important areas. Threatened species include the stag beetle, purple hairstreak butterfly, great crested newt—where is Ken Livingstone when you need him?—slow worm, black redstart, long-eared owl, Daubenton’s bat and the badger.

We are told that the HS2 business case is sound—it will deliver much needed capacity, including freight, connectivity at record speed and it is in the national interest. That is wrong, wrong and wrong again. The business case is evaporating before our eyes. Instead of a benefit to cost ratio of £2 for every £1 invested, when you strip out the Department for Transport’s dodgy calculations, it is just 40p for every £1 invested, and it will cost every household in the country over £1,000. The Department for Transport’s record in accurate forecasting is poor—witness the west coast main line franchise fiasco or HS1, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, where again its forecasts were wildly inaccurate.

Improvements to the existing infrastructure, such as working on pinch points within current transport corridors, would be a fraction of the cost—some £2 billion compared with £33 billion and rising—without the widespread disruption predicted by a scaremongering Department for Transport. Alternative proposals to upgrade existing lines provide a benefit to cost ratio of over 5:1. This can be achieved by rolling stock reconfiguration, operation of longer trains and targeted infrastructure investment to clear selected bottlenecks, enabling increased frequency.

I can see why some northern cities welcome HS2 as the best deal on offer. However, the fact is that HS2 will benefit London and connectivity between northern cities can be better improved by east-west connections over the Pennines and other inter-city improvements, rather than focusing on a north-south line to London. Most jobs and benefits will flow to London, as has been the case with Paris and Madrid with their high-speed rail networks. If I am not misquoting him, the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham, has rightly said that HS2 will turn Birmingham into a dormitory town for London. Meanwhile, hard-pressed commuters in the Home Counties, the south-east, south-west and East Anglia despite severe overcrowding will have all the costs but none of the benefits of HS2.

Nor do I think that Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield will be so keen when they are asked to cough up some of the £26 billion subsidy that HS2 requires or to pay the premium fares demanded of their citizens. Besides, has anyone told the Department for Transport that the north does not stop at Manchester? Liverpool and Newcastle have clearly been sidelined, let alone Scotland. Incidentally, I am grateful to the Minister for his prompt and timely replies to my Written Questions on HS2. The responses revealed that the Department for Transport has no idea how much the line would cost to expand to Scotland; nor does it have any contingency plans for Heathrow should another airport take its place as the UK’s hub.

Compensation is another issue. The Secretary of State for Transport in the other place said on 28 January last that he understood that HS2 would be “inconvenient” for some people. It can be argued that being unable to sell one’s house is more than a trifle inconvenient, quite apart from the noise and other impact of HS2 for up to 500 metres either side of the line for hundreds of miles, which will involve clearing thousands of acres of land and property. HS2 estimates that for every 100 metres of track it needs around 2.5 acres, yet just 2% of those affected will be compensated.

I hope that in his response the Minister will flesh out how the Government will keep their oft-quoted promise to compensate properly those affected. I can see the attraction for the Government of announcing a massive infrastructure programme, unparalleled in peacetime, which will not involve significant expenditure until 2017-18 and not be implemented for 20 years, when Ministers will have long moved on. It has all the benefits of giving the impression of action, while doing nothing to alleviate current problems and bottlenecks on the railway network, let alone boost the economy. If the Government really want to spend such an absurd amount of money, there are other projects which they may want to consider; for example, sorting out the nation’s airport capacity.

Finally, I know the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, will be concerned that the house of his late grandfather, Clement Attlee, in Prestwood, near Great Missenden, is imperilled by HS2. Will he do us all a favour, have a change of heart on HS2 and save the old family home?

I remind noble Lords that this is a time-limited debate and when the clock reaches three, noble Lords have had their three minutes.

My Lords, I am sure your Lordships are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, for the opportunity to debate briefly the merits of high-speed rail. I am a strong supporter of high-speed rail and a strong supporter of HS2. My brief contribution this evening is based on my experience as Railways Minister between 1990 and 1994—it seems like an awfully long time ago—when I was responsible for dealing with HS1 and also on lessons learnt from that initiative which are relevant to HS2.

I want to make four brief points. First, the understandable concerns about noise and physical intrusion expressed by the people who may be affected by the construction of the line and its operation can, and must, be rationally and generously allayed in a planned and sensible financial compensation scheme. When I was responsible for the work on the line, the Government spent a lot of time listening to complaints from Members, from this House and the other place, and I hope met many of their concerns. After initial concerns on HS1, I believe that the final route was generally accepted. I know that present Transport Ministers will follow that example.

Secondly, the original HS1 route was changed to terminate at St Pancras rather than Waterloo. There was a strong argument in favour of that from my noble friend Lord Heseltine. The two main reasons were to revitalise parts of east London and to provide a link directly through to the Midlands and the north. That is provided for in a link for some trains to join HS2 from HS1, just north of St Pancras.

Finally, high-speed services will be popular, particularly with the business community; it is easier to work and discuss with other colleagues on high-speed trains because of the nature of their design. It is also easier than flying in many ways because of the congestion and difficulties in getting landing slots for short-haul flights. There should therefore be more capacity left for freight on the railways. I commend support for HS2 to this House.

My Lords, the benefit/cost ratio for HS2 is strong, and stronger still once the high-speed lines extend north from Birmingham to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, with high-speed trains proceeding on conventional tracks through to Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The proposed “Y” network—London to Birmingham, then north-west to Manchester and north-east to Leeds—encompasses much of the economic heart of England in one integrated high-speed network of 330 route miles.

I obviously appreciate that some who live on or near the 330 route miles are opposed to HS2. The golden rule of high-speed rail is that everyone wants the stations but no one wants the line. However, the business case is robust and the Government are right to proceed.

There have been claims that the benefit/cost ratio is too optimistic. Actually, for transport infrastructure such as HS2, connecting densely networked population and economic centres, BCRs tend to be too pessimistic because they have difficulty in capturing wider economic benefits. The Jubilee line extension to Canary Wharf and Stratford was approved with a BCR of just 0.95, less than half that of HS2. Traffic forecasts for the M25, when planned in the 1970s, grossly underestimated usage; it was dubbed the “road to nowhere”—famous last words.

In assessing the case for HS2, it is vital to understand that the status quo is not an option. Critics talk as if the choice were £33 billion for HS2 or a few billion for upgrading existing infrastructure. Sadly, this is false. Patching and mending a 200 year-old railway, working at capacity, is hugely expensive and disruptive. There is no need to gaze into the crystal ball. The last upgrade of the west coast main line, completed five years ago, cost £10 billion. It entailed a decade of constant disruption to passengers and freight, and it delivered only a fraction of the capacity and connectivity of HS2.

Capacity is the key issue. To provide just two-thirds of the extra capacity of HS2 from London to Birmingham by further upgrading the west coast and Chiltern lines, would cost more in straight cash terms than building HS2. For starters, with or without HS2, Euston needs to be rebuilt. It was built in the 1960s for barely half of today’s traffic levels and is falling down. Furthermore, extending HS2 to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds relieves all three main lines from London to the north, all three of which would otherwise have to undergo massive—and massively disruptive—upgrades over the next 25 years.

There is no free lunch here. The choice is this: invest billions in a patch-and-mend of the Victorian railway, or invest a similar sum in 21st century high-speed rail technology, with far greater social and economic benefits, like pretty well every other developed nation in the world. We should invest in the future, not the past.

My Lords, I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has just said. The existing railway lines to the north—there are in fact four—are full. When a line is 85% full, it is impossible to run a reliable service because you get degradation with every incident.

Demand is bound to increase. There will be population growth in areas around London, Essex, Kent, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire. The very heavy extra freight which will come from the new port in London and from Felixstowe needs the railway. Of course, there are expanding markets. Without this, the railway is already expanding. Goodness knows what it would reach by the time we have HS2.

You cannot have incremental enhancement to existing lines. This would be very expensive and disruptive, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has said. Such demand as there is for travel could be met by a new four-lane motorway, probably all the way from somewhere in Kent right through, around London and up to the north. However, that would be colossally expensive and disruptive. Or we could have a lot more flying. The only real choice is to have a new railway.

I was working for the railways when HS1 was built. I endorse entirely what my noble friend Lord Freeman has said. There was an enormous uproar in Kent, similar to that which we now have in the Chilterns. I asked a Labour MP whose constituency straddles HS1 how many complaints he got about noise and disruption. He said, “None at all. I get lots about gay marriage but I do not get anything about that”.

The other thing we must think of is that we need a link through London. I urge the Minister to address this significantly. The present link is very constricted. It will convey very little and offer nothing to people in Kent and Essex, huge areas of population growth, who want access to HS2 as well as Heathrow. A business case is difficult to make so far in advance. There are all sorts of external benefits which are almost impossible to measure.

The scheme will be much modified. Objectors will have their say. Rushing to judicial review in advance of the parliamentary process is premature and a waste of effort.

My Lords, transport is not my area. However, I was pressed to find out more about the HS2 project after receiving worrying letters from disabled people, who will disproportionately suffer under the current proposals.

I shall seek to explain quickly. On reading the various government reports on HS2 and campaign literature on the issue, I was struck by the lack of detail regarding social impacts. I searched for the equality impact assessment and, again, failed to find anything that reflects any serious thinking. I came across only a short document that looks purely at passenger numbers by equality group.

For a £33 billion project, this seems grossly insufficient. A proper impact assessment, for example, would look at the population profile and pick up cultural groups or disabled people who may be forced to move away from the support of family or community. The voluntary purchase scheme applies only to properties within an arbitrary 120 metres of the line. It does not apply at all in urban areas. An elderly woman, now in residential care, is attempting to sell her home to fund that care. She was thrilled to find a couple who wanted to buy. Imagine her distress when they were turned down for a mortgage because HS2 meant the house had no value. No value—yet, at 400 metres away, she is not entitled to any compensation.

None of the schemes for compulsory or voluntary purchase, or the long-term hardship scheme, addresses the additional costs that disabled people may face because of the need to adapt new properties. This can include widening doorways or installing accessible kitchens and bathrooms. These are substantial costs that a disabled person would face if they had to move as a result of HS2.

I heard from a family where both parents are disabled. They are raising a two year-old daughter. The father is a wheelchair user and has respiratory difficulties. The dust and mud during construction would undoubtedly worsen his condition. It has taken many years for them to earn enough to adapt their home in order to have a child. As the father says:

“It is the one place in the world where I don’t feel disabled; where we can raise our child independently”.

They are just outside the arbitrary 120 metres from the planned line itself. HS2 is destroying the future they have so painstakingly put in place. I can hardly bear to think about it.

The Minister may say there is a hardship scheme, whereby if someone meets very exacting criteria, they might just about get the value of their property, but nothing more. When I looked further, however, I found reports of people being turned down for this scheme. One family was turned down despite the likely distress that the construction would cause to their autistic son. To allay their concerns, I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify whether there has been a full equality impact assessment of the project as a whole.

In conclusion, would the Minister be prepared to meet the family I mentioned? If he listens to their concerns, I am sure that he would want an opportune and appropriate equality impact assessment. It is their story that inspired me to investigate an initiative that would normally pass me by. I found it very wanting and I am glad to be able to share my concerns with noble Lords this evening. I would not be here after 7 pm otherwise.

My Lords, yesterday I was at the launch of the International Festival for Business 2014, which will be held in the United Kingdom. The host city will be Liverpool. The Prime Minister was in the city in January, promoting the festival. He said:

“The United Kingdom is in a global race with a fight to win contracts around the world”.

If that is true of the UK, it is also true of Liverpool.

Business leaders in the Liverpool city region are very supportive of the Government’s HS2 scheme. However, they strongly urge the Government to include Liverpool in their plans. There is genuine anxiety that, without an HS2 spur, Liverpool will lose out to other northern cities. The chair of the local enterprise partnership, Robert Hough, has said:

“It is a question of the competitiveness of the city region. It is critical. Our case … has to be properly argued. It is an investment that will endure many decades. If we are disadvantaged now, it becomes a virtually permanent state”.

Without an HS2 spur to Liverpool, it is difficult to imagine how Liverpool will in future be able to bid successfully for such national and international business. I would be grateful, therefore, if the Minister, when he responds, could say whether the Government would reconsider an HS2 spur into Liverpool; without it, we fear a downgrading of the city with impacts on inward investment and regeneration.

My Lords, it is not just Liverpool that will suffer under the present plans. Nottingham, Leicester, Derby and other cities will be bypassed. I do not want to follow the right reverend Prelate, because I do not support HS2 and I never have. Now, of course, it threatens the county that I had the privilege to represent in the other place for some 40 years; I am receiving letters. “Staffordshire’s pain will not be Staffordshire’s gain” sums up the messages that I am receiving both by telephone and in the post.

We have to consider that this is a finite country. Our glorious, beautiful landscape is finite. The noble Lord, Lord Truscott—we are all in his debt this evening—talked about the vaster spaces in France and Spain, our continental neighbours. A thing of beauty is a joy for ever until it is destroyed; we will be destroying some of the finest and most beautiful countryside that this country has, in the Chilterns, the Midlands and beyond. To what point and to what purpose are we destroying it? The people who come to Liverpool and elsewhere come to this country not just to do business, although we hope they will come in increasing numbers. They do not come to enjoy our weather; they come, increasingly perhaps, to enjoy our cuisine; but most of all they come to enjoy our built heritage—our historic towns, villages and cities, and our cathedral cities in particular—and they come to enjoy the truly breathtaking countryside that we are privileged to have. It is our duty to pass that on to future generations.

There are so many other things that could be done with this money. I have the privilege of living in the glorious cathedral city of Lincoln. Lincoln does not have regular services to London. There is one train a day from Lincoln to London and one from London to Lincoln. A Lincoln man or woman can have a day in London, but somebody in London cannot have a day in Lincoln. As we approach the octocentenary of Magna Carta, we are going to have great celebrations in Lincoln. It is essential that we have better rail communications. People from London could have a day in Lincoln as they can so easily have a day in York. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for Transport for the personal interest he is taking in this matter. He is a man for whom I have the highest possible regard, as I do for my noble friend who will respond to this debate.

I think we have our priorities misplaced. We should be spending this money on upgrading and perhaps on reinstating some of the lines that were so ill-advisedly taken up in the wake of Beeching. My time is up; this country’s time will be up scenically and in many parts of its beautiful landscape if HS2 goes ahead. I hope and pray that it will not.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, for securing this debate. I declare an interest, as my home is in Little Missenden, which is close to the current preferred route for phase 1. Of course, being a nimby may encourage some others to devalue my comments, but without that close connection, I would probably not have studied the Government’s proposals in the way I have.

I want to make two points. I support investment in our national rail network and I am in favour of introducing a high-speed network for the UK, although I would start in a different place, both literally and metaphorically. I would start in the places that actually need high-speed connectivity, such as the south-west, Wales, the north-west of Scotland, and Scotland more generally—a contribution, perhaps, to a united kingdom.

I would insist on interconnectivity with other transport systems. Why on earth does HS2 no longer stop at Heathrow? Why does it not connect properly with HS1, through Stratford and thence to the continent? I would follow existing major transport corridors, such as the M40 from Heathrow to Birmingham, or the M1 through Milton Keynes. I would pay proper regard to areas of ancient woodland and precious areas of natural beauty, even if it means that journey times are slightly extended. I would consult properly on all the possible alternatives so that the best choice is made and I would certainly have a much better compensation scheme.

My second point is about the route through the Chilterns. The presentation of HS2 Ltd of the case for the “Y” route north of Birmingham trumpeted that it,

“avoids national parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and registered parks and gardens”.

I welcome this, but it throws into stark relief the fact that the Chilterns is now the only AONB along the entire HS2 route that is adversely affected by the proposed scheme. My local campaign groups, Conserve the Chilterns and Countryside and the Chiltern Ridges HS2 Action Group have suggested a tunnel through the entire Chiltern AONB, which I support. However, HS2 Ltd clearly wants nothing to do with it. It claims it will increase costs by some 10 times the amount that we calculated it would cost but, of course, it will not publish its calculations to prove that.

A continuous full tunnel through the Chiltern AONB would not be necessary if HS2 was routed from Heathrow, up the M40, or through the M1 travel corridor to Milton Keynes. If the Government are intransigent on this, however, the continuous full tunnel would enhance the current phase 1 route because it better protects existing natural assets, meets local concerns, reduces the total phase 1 construction time and saves landscape-related costs of more than £65 million.

The Government should re-consult on the HS2 phase 1 route to allow proper and effective consideration of all alternative options, including those relating to the Chiltern AONB. They should ensure that the Chilterns tunnel proposals are included in the forthcoming environmental impact assessment, or else adopt the Labour Party’s proposals for hubs at Heathrow and Stratford.

My Lords, I am a long-standing supporter of high-speed rail. I served for several years on the Northern Way Transport Compact and we did a lot of work establishing the case for high-speed rail and setting out the positive cost-benefit ratio that could be achieved for the north of England. My contribution this evening comes from that northern perspective, where connectivity for business and growth matters profoundly, for both the speedy movement of people and the movement and export of freight in an increasingly competitive world.

As several noble Lords have pointed out, we have existing capacity problems, the product of both rising demand and underinvestment. When exploratory work was being done on the case for HS2, my great fear was that debate would become dominated by the route to be chosen between London and Birmingham to the detriment of the production of a wider rail investment plan and the wider benefits to the UK as a whole, which would be glossed over. Therefore, I am glad that the Government have understood the case for HS2, which I think is vital to our country’s economic future. It is not just a matter for the south-east and the Midlands because it will help to rebalance our economy away from overdependence on London and the south-east for tax revenues. That means building an infrastructure which helps Scotland, the north and the Midlands to grow. London currently provides 28% of non-domestic rates income in England with only 15% of our population. That is an unhealthy situation and one that requires a better transport infrastructure to put right.

Critically, HS2 will link northern cities with each other, not just with London and Scotland. The Leeds to Birmingham journey time will be just under one hour versus two hours now, and the journey from Leeds to London will take 82 minutes versus two hours and 12 minutes today. Newcastle will not be connected to the high-speed track in the next phase but when HS2 joins the east coast main line north of Leeds, the journey time from Newcastle to London will be two hours and 18 minutes, as against just under three hours now. There will also be an hour’s saving on the journey time to Birmingham. As a consequence of HS2, there will be greater freight capacity on the system as a whole.

I commend the British Chambers of Commerce, which says that HS2 will create confidence, jobs and prosperity. We cannot go on just patching the system. We need to plan for a full national UK network and, pending that, we need to ensure that we maximise speed north of Leeds and Manchester. The cost, at £33 billion plus rolling stock at £8 billion, should be seen as a 20-year investment. Discussions about cost did not stand in the way of Eurostar or Crossrail. I agree entirely with the comments about the Heathrow connection, but the Government’s vision is right. We can debate the detail of routes, and it is right that we do so, but HS2 remains central to our potential for growth and competitiveness.

My Lords, I declare an interest as I was brought up in Amersham and have family and friends living there and in other areas being blighted by this scheme. They are not nimbys but are among the thousands of people throughout the country who have examined the arguments for HS2 and find them utterly unconvincing.

The Government claim that HS2 is in the national interest and that it will serve to bridge the north-south divide. Yet, according to public policy expert, Professor Mike Geddes, that claim has no factual basis, with the likely movement of money and people being towards London rather than back to the north. International studies show that it will just strengthen London’s dominance. HS2 Ltd itself admits that seven out of 10 of the jobs created for phase 1 will be in London. Far from increasing connectivity between our cities, as the Government claim, some UK cities will have a worse service than at present. The Government are pressing ahead with this project despite the fact that it is based on flawed assumptions and calculations about its costs and benefits. The Public Accounts Committee in the other place has today pointed to the basic errors made by the DfT on the west coast franchising fiasco, which wasted at least £50 million of taxpayers’ money.

One of the most glaring flaws is that more than half the benefit claimed to derive from the shorter journey time—55%—is based on the fallacy that time spent on the train is all wasted. We are in the 21st century, with iPads, mobile phones and the internet. Will the Minister explain why his department ignores the extensive research, let alone the evidence of its own eyes, which shows that business travellers work on the train? Why is his department using out-of-date, 11 year-old data and incorrect assumptions on the value of time? Will he also explain why an outdated forecasting model is being used to project demand? I understand that the old model significantly overstated the growth forecast of long-distance trips, and so inflated the growth in demand for HS2.

I am nearly out of time, but any fair cost-benefit analysis would factor in the cost to the thousands of people whose homes have been blighted by this route, the farms that have been cut in two and the businesses ruined, yet the proposed compensation arrangements are derisory. Overall, less than 2% of blighted homes can hope for compensation. Thousands are trapped, unable to move, or can do so only by accepting large losses. As we have heard, one mortgage provider has valued a property 500 metres from HS2 at nil. I do not deny that the country needs infrastructure building, but it needs to spend £33 billion on houses—and on houses built now to draw a halt to the misery being caused by inflated rents, rocketing house prices and the iniquitous cuts to the housing benefit system. It does not need to blight existing houses, and it does not need HS2.

My Lords, this is a very high-speed debate and I am pleased to have the opportunity to repeat my wholehearted support for High Speed 2. I, too, am going to make just two points.

First, we are not in uncharted territory. HS1 has given us experience of the environmental and social impact of high-speed railways. Noble Lords have recalled the furore that greeted British Rail’s proposals to build the high-speed line across Kent in 1987. Protest groups were formed and scare stories circulated, so why do we not hear more about the environmental and social intrusion of HS1 today? Kent lives happily with its high-speed line, and for the county council and local businesses it is a major asset as it encourages inward investment and visitors. The reason is that the line was engineered carefully to minimise environmental intrusion, as the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, said. The use of tunnels, cuttings and noise barriers all help to reduce the sound, which is low anyway because the new track is laid on deep ballast, and the new trains minimise noise that would otherwise be created at the point of contact between wheel and rail. It is far less than that created by motorway traffic, which is intrusive 24 hours a day. Today, the Kent transport network could not function effectively without the high-speed line.

My second point is about how high-speed rail changes the way Britain does business. We tend not to be very good at assessing the benefits of new rail schemes. A cost-benefit approach has been adopted to satisfy the requirement for analysis where public policy or public money is involved. However, cost-benefit appraisals for rail schemes have consistently underestimated the benefits that they bring. The growth in passenger numbers is often achieved much earlier than forecast. Total passenger numbers in 2012 were higher than at any time in our country since 1922, and parts of the railway are already full.

Cost-benefit ratios are only part of the story. The railway will transform the way we do business in Britain. It will offer benefits that we are only beginning to understand, just as it has for high-speed lines in countries all over the world. Its speed will link the south-east economy with other parts of Great Britain and help to encourage economic development in every part that it touches—a point made by the heads of the chambers of commerce in their briefing to us yesterday. It will attract significant numbers of people from road and air, just as Eurostar has between London, Paris and Brussels, and as high-speed rail has in continental Europe. It will release capacity on the classic rail network, which can be used to provide more trains to towns not well served currently, and, in particular, carry more freight.

I congratulate the Government on their commitment to stick to, and indeed expand, what my noble friend Lord Adonis set in train when Secretary of State for Transport, and I hope that they succeed in accelerating the legislative timetable. I want HS2 built in my lifetime, and I want my grandchildren to benefit from the new railway age of the 21st century.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, for securing this debate, which provides an opportunity to discuss where we are with HS2 and to reiterate the point that, with the continuing growth in passenger and freight traffic, even during a recession, a new route is needed to address the inevitable and imminent line capacity problems, such as those on the west coast main line, where service frequencies are already well in excess of what they were a relatively few years ago.

We fully support the HS2 project, but we are concerned about its progress in the current Parliament. No legislation has been published, and the recent Command Paper suggested that Royal Assent for the Government’s first hybrid Bill would not be achieved until some point in 2015, and not by the time of the next election, as was previously intended. On top of that, the outcome of a judicial review is awaited. Perhaps the Minister could say when the Government expect to receive a judgment, and what impact a ruling against the Government would have on the timescale for the implementation of the HS2 project.

We have also expressed our concerns about the lack of a dedicated purpose-built link between HS1 and HS2, which would provide the proper links to enable HS2 to serve areas of the continent directly. Concerns have also been expressed that the Government do not propose to connect HS2 with our major city centres in some instances. There is also the issue of how HS2 will connect to Heathrow, which the Government have decided to park on one side pending the outcome of the Davies commission on aviation capacity, which will not report back before 2015. Our preference was to take HS2 directly via Heathrow. Now even the Government’s compromise position of a spur to provide a direct link to Heathrow has been taken off the table, at least for now.

The reality is that this Government are acquiring a reputation for dither and delay when it comes to major transport projects. A decision on airport capacity in the south-east has been put back until after the next general election. Now it looks as though there may be dither and delay over decision-making on HS2, not only as far as links to Heathrow are concerned but also because of apparent uncertainty over whether the Government still intend to pass the necessary legislation for even the first phase of HS2 through Parliament by the time of the general election. If the Government’s commitment to pass legislation in this Parliament still stands, can the Minister say what statutory issues in relation to HS2 that legislation will address?

The Minister owes it to everyone, whether they are supportive of HS2 or not, to clarify the Government’s intended actions with respect to the HS2 project between now and the general election in 2015. I hope that the Minister will respond to these points.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, for securing this evening’s debate, and I thank other noble Lords for their contributions, some in support and some expressing concern. A project as significant to Britain as HS2 deserves time to debate, and I am happy to try to address questions this evening.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport recently set out his initial preferences for the route and station options for phase 2 of the scheme, extending the route north of Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds. This is an important step forward in the project’s development, a step closer to the high-speed rail network that will address the key challenges that Britain will face in rebalancing and rebuilding our economy.

I have previously expressed to this House that I believe passionately in a successful Britain, and HS2 provides a rare opportunity to secure a step change in Britain’s competitiveness. HS2 will generate jobs and rebalance the country’s economy, acting as a catalyst for Britain’s future prosperity. Benefits will accrue right across the UK, leaving a lasting legacy for generations to come. This is a transformational project that will enhance rail capacity, connectivity and reliability, helping to underpin economic growth. HS2 will provide the foundation for a truly national network and connect seamlessly to the existing network, serving destinations not directly on the high-speed line such as Liverpool, releasing capacity on the existing main north-south lines to enable additional commuter, regional and, most importantly, freight services to use the line, and creating more space on some existing trains. HS2 will be woven into the transport fabric of the nation. It will be accessible to all and not be just for rich business travellers. The recently proposed routes north of Birmingham offer a great starting point for the consultation process to follow.

The Government are determined to make this an environmentally responsible scheme and have gone to great lengths to listen to those concerned about the environmental effects. While I believe HS2 to be in the national interest, we know that it is not possible to build a railway without any effect on the environment. When designing the route, important considerations such as wildlife habitats must be carefully weighed against other concerns such as protecting as many people’s homes as possible. The Government must make sure that any environmental effects are kept to a minimum and also look for opportunities to benefit the environment along the way, such as the commitment already made to plant 4 million new trees as part of the HS2 project.

Following an environmental impact assessment, the Government will be best placed to understand the effects on the environment and bring forward proposals to make sure that it is protected as far as possible. The initial preferred scheme for phase 2 has been designed to avoid or minimise impacts to important sites, and avoid any national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty. HS2 Ltd has worked closely with Natural England and the Environment Agency in choosing options and preparing designs that would have no impacts on sites of internationally recognised importance.

Where it is not possible completely to avoid certain areas, mitigating the effects of the line is important. This has been demonstrated through the proposals for the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty. Of the 13 miles of route through this area, less than two miles will be at or above the surface. This is more than a 50% increase in tunnel or green tunnel than proposed in the route originally consulted on. Noble Lords have mentioned the charming villages of Little Missenden and Prestwood. I would merely point out that my subsidiary title is Viscount Prestwood.

While a decision on this scale will be made on the basis of the long-term national interest, the economic case for HS2 remains strong. The latest analysis, published in August 2012, shows an estimated £2 of benefits for every £1 spent. As with any assessment of this kind, the economic case will continue to be reviewed and updated through the life of the project. However, the benefit-cost ratio can only ever form one part of the decision-making process for a project of this scale. Wider strategic considerations such as enhancing connectivity and regenerating cities to underpin the rebalancing of the economic geography of this country are clearly compelling cases.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about the judicial review case. He will not expect me to say any more than that we expect the judgment shortly. He also challenged me about the progress on the necessary hybrid Bill. He will understand that to design the necessary powers, every piece of land needed has to be specified in the Bill. The process has to be done properly and will just have to take its time.

The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, pressed me hard on the issue of compensating those affected, and he was not the only noble Lord to do so. The Government are conscious that no major infrastructure project on the scale of HS2 can be built without an impact on local communities, as well as the disabled. However, just as the Government are committed to mitigating the environmental impacts, I should like to reassure noble Lords that the Government are equally committed to addressing the impacts on local communities affected by the route. For this reason, for phase 1, the package of measures that have been consulted on goes significantly beyond what is provided for in law, including, for example, a promise to buy all owner-occupied homes in a corridor that in rural areas is 240 metres wide. The responses to this consultation are being carefully considered, and the Government expect the final package to be in operation in the spring. Meanwhile, the exceptional hardship scheme for phase 1 remains operational, and offers have been made to buy more than 100 homes at their full unblighted value.

The Government are currently consulting on an exceptional hardship scheme for phase 2—a consultation that closes on 29 April—and will later consult on a full package of compensation measures for phase 2. Furthermore, the Government are determined to compensate for disruption and effects caused by the new railway, and have been working for years with community groups, local businesses and wildlife charities.

The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, talked about the problem of ancient woodlands. They are very important to our natural heritage; however, the Government have to strike a balance between a range of important considerations for HS2, such as the location of people’s homes as well as other environmental and heritage sites. We are doing everything possible to minimise the impact on ancient woodlands, but where this is unavoidable we will provide suitable mitigation and compensation, following the best practice recommended by ecologists. However, I fully understand the special status of an ancient woodland. As part of the HS2 project, the Government have already committed to planting 4 million new trees and we will also be looking at opportunities to enhance existing, or create new, woodland areas and wildlife habitats.

The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, made important points about the impact of the construction project on disabled people. I understand her points. During the passage through the House under the hybrid Bill procedure, the noble Baroness will have a greater opportunity to raise her concerns. However, I gently point out that hers was an argument against any large-scale transport project, and not just against HS2.

Many noble Lords who spoke against the project claimed that there was no economic case for HS2. I disagree. The latest analysis, published in August 2012, shows a continued, strong economic case for proceeding with this strategically important scheme. It shows an estimated benefit-cost ratio for the Y network of around 2.5, including wider economic impacts. However, the economic case can form only one part of the decision-making process for a project of this scale, as its benefits go well beyond narrow transport economics. The Government remain convinced that HS2 is the best means of avoiding gridlock on our railways, and delivering the required step-changing capacity and performance of Britain’s intercity rail network to support economic prosperity over the long term. It will cost us more in the long term if we do not make the right decision now.

The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, pointed out that there are potential improvement schemes that have a BCR of 5:1. I do not deny this. However, one can run these schemes but at the end of the day still run out of capacity on the west coast main line. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, made much the same point. He also made a very important point about the pessimism of the BCR and the difficulty of capturing the full benefit. I am very grateful for his wise comments, and I agree with everything that he said.

My noble friend Lord Freeman raised the issue of HS1. There are advantages to integrating the two high-speed rail lines. There is a strong strategic case for ensuring that a high-speed network in this country connects directly into the many thousands of miles of network in operation across Europe. I welcome the recognition by my noble friend Lord Freeman of the benefits that providing links with international gateways, such as HS1, can bring. My noble friend Lord Bradshaw also touched on HS1-HS2 connectivity.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, raised the issue of why HS2 no longer stops at Heathrow. The spur has not been cancelled; it has been paused, and it is too early to predict the outcome of the airport’s commissioned work or of any decisions taken following that. There are no plans to slow down progress on phase 1, and we need to press on quickly with it so that we can deliver the wider economic benefits that high-speed rail can bring. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, also asked a question about where to build a high-speed railway. The main driver of where to build a new railway is the business case, and this is heavily influenced by the capacity constraints on the classic railway network. It is important to point out that eight of 10 UK cities will be connected by high-speed rail.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool asked if HS2 could go to Liverpool. It is important to understand that trains will be able to run on HS2 and then on the classic network, so that the people of Liverpool will still get the benefits of HS2, as will the people of Scotland; everyone north of London will gain the benefits.

Unfortunately, I have run out of time. Where I have not managed to respond to noble Lords I will of course write. I am also hosting a presentation on HS2 shortly, and I would be delighted to see as many noble Lords as possible attend.

I reassure the House that the Government will continue to listen to those concerned about the impact of the scheme. HS2 is about helping Britain thrive and prosper. Tough decisions have to be taken, but they will be responsible decisions taken in the interest of making Britain better and stronger.

Sitting suspended.