Motion to Take Note
My Lords, High Speed 2 is the proposal for a new fast mainline railway between London and Birmingham and onwards to the north of England, with a line to Manchester and the west coast main line, and another to South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire. In my view it is a sensible, necessary, long overdue and economically and socially beneficial proposal. It will herald a new era for railways in Britain, and it will form a vital part of bringing together the different parts of England and closing the regional divide. In moving this Motion, I am reaffirming the longstanding Liberal Democrat support for this new line.
Why is it needed? There has been a lot of talk about how fast people want to go, and it has been suggested that HS2 is really all to do with people wanting to go quicker. That is not the case. It is now becoming very clear that the reasons for the line are what are now being referred to, slightly opaquely, as “capacity” and “connectivity”. As far as capacity is concerned, everyone knows that the west coast main line in its present form is already virtually full. For example, it is proving very difficult, in fact almost impossible, to find paths for the proposed new services that Virgin wants to run between Blackpool and London. The east coast main line is perhaps in not quite so congested a state—although it seems pretty full to those of us who use it—but the combination of intercity traffic, commuter traffic, particularly at the southern end, local services and freight services means that the line is pretty full.
People keep saying, “Well, we can tweak the network a bit more and get a bit more capacity out of it; we can improve the situation at Peterborough and provide a freight diversionary line at Lincoln”, and so on, but there is a limit to how far that kind of tweaking can solve the problem. In particular, there is a huge freight potential on both the east and west coast main lines to move a lot more freight on to these main railway lines from the motorways of this country which is simply not possible to achieve at the moment. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, will talk more about this when he speaks.
Is HS2, as proposed, in the right place? I congratulate the Government, in a sense, on their bravery in putting it through the Chilterns, but I suppose that that was originally the decision of the previous Government. However, I want to take an overall view. The network that we have been bequeathed by the Victorian railway builders, particularly the east and west coast main lines, does not actually connect or even go through the main conurbations or the great regional centres. Birmingham is served by a very unsatisfactory loop, and anyone who goes on those services to Birmingham knows how they trundle when they go through the Black Country. Manchester is on a branch line. Derby, Leicester and Nottingham are served by neither the east or west coast main lines, and neither is Sheffield. Leeds is on a branch line. North of London, you have to go as far as Newcastle before you get to a major regional centre that is actually on either of the two main lines. They then of course go on to serve the major Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
HS2’s proposed routes serve all these major conurbations as far north as Lancashire and Yorkshire, and will allow through trains extending beyond HS2 to go on to Newcastle in the north-east, to go on to Preston in Lancashire and to go on to Scotland.
What are the alternatives? We are told by some of the opponents that we can upgrade the east and west coast main lines—but we have been there before. We know that the disruption that it would cause is enormous, and my noble friend Lord Bradshaw may talk further about that. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, has an upcoming Oral Question asking the Government what their estimate is of the cost of upgrading those two routes. We might get an answer today or next week; I do not know. However, we do know that the previous west coast main line upgrade, which was partial, inadequate and incredibly disruptive, cost over £9 billion.
If we decided to look at a serious upgrade of the east and west coast main lines throughout England, perhaps even to Scotland—a sort of what in my part of the world might be called a “rack o’th’eye” estimate; I will translate that for Hansard later—it might come out at about £25 billion for the two. It is certainly not going to be less than that, and that is getting on for the present estimated costs of HS2.
Of course there have been lots of estimates for the cost of HS2. We have even had some thoroughly discredited and fairly disreputable estimates which have got a lot of publicity from a partisan press. The Institute of Economic Affairs suggested that it would cost £70 billion by including a lot of schemes that are already going to take place and some which, at the moment, are not on the drawing board at all. The government estimate of the cost at the moment is a little over £30 billion, plus £10 billion to £12 billion which has been added on at the Treasury’s insistence for contingencies. That might be a very sensible thing to do, but at the moment those are just contingencies. The estimated cost at the moment is £30 billion to £32 billion.
Then, we are told that we will have to add the cost of trains. Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, seems to have discovered that if you build a new railway line you have to have trains to run on it. That is an amazing revelation from his committee. However, if we are not just going to build HS2 but going to try and upgrade the two main lines to increase their capacity substantially, we will need more trains for those as well. So, on the point about adding on the cost of new trains, we are going to need the trains either way.
We can compare the estimated cost of HS2 with the cost of some schemes where we know the cost. Thameslink and Crossrail together have cost over £20 billion. The London Assembly transport committee has been looking at the proposals for Crossrail 2, and its proposals for Crossrail 2 would cost £12 billion. The Mayor of London wants a new Thames estuary airport in Kent. I suppose that it is a “rack o’th’eye” estimate at this moment but, nevertheless, it is suggested that that might cost £50 billion—the same as people say HS2 might cost with all its trains. It seems that these kinds of admittedly eye-watering sums are okay if they are about London and the immediate south-east, but if it is about the rest of the country—if it is about the north of the country and the East Midlands and the West Midlands—then we are told that it is unacceptable. I suggest that some of those who have what the Secretary of State, Patrick McLoughlin, describes as a London-centric view of these matters, should get out a bit more and come to the north of England and the Midlands and just find out why we need as much investment as comes in London and the south-east. We are not asking for as much as there is in London and the south-east in every other English region; we are saying, “Let’s share it all out, but at least let’s have it on the same basis as London”.
Then we are told that we cannot afford this new railway line in a time of austerity. This is often said by the people who are complaining that the whole process will take far too long. If we are still in a state of austerity in 10, 15 or 20 years’ time, “God help this country” is all I can say. Surely we are planning now for the sunlit uplands ahead. Maybe the Opposition do not agree that we are going to have sunlit uplands with the present Government, but perhaps they think that they will get in and we will have sunlit uplands of a different colour. That is fine, but surely we are not in austerity for the next 20 years.
Who are the opponents? They are people who are directly affected, and I do not blame them at all for campaigning about the effect it might have on their village or their property or where they live. That is fair enough. Then, we have the road lobby. They are not very prominent in the campaigns but they are behind it all, and they are behind a lot of the pressure groups that are campaigning. They do not want to spend less money. They just want it spent on roads instead of railways.
We have the right-wing economic pressure groups: the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Institute of Directors. Then we have the London-based vested interests. The IEA added on the cost of Crossrail 2 as part of the HS2 project—that is how it got to £70 billion. But then the Mayor of London says, “Don’t spend it on HS2, spend it on Crossrail 2 instead”. You can take either of those points of view but it seems to me that the two projects are quite separate.
We have the London-based media, which seem to have swallowed a lot of this nonsense which is talked, and we have what I consider to be the disgracefully partisan activities of the BBC on this particular issue. I say to the Conservative Party: many of the bodies that are campaigning against this are part of the conservative base of this country. I congratulate the Government, the Conservative Party, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State on resisting this lobbying from people who would normally be much of their base, and long may they continue to do so.
Then we are told by people all over the country who are enviously eyeing what is a huge sum of money, “Let’s spend it instead on my pet little local scheme”. I even have one or two people in my part of the world saying, “Why can’t we build the Colne-Skipton railway line with a bit of it?”, and we have people in Skelmersdale saying, “We want a railway line and a station please. Why can’t we have a bit of it?”.
More significantly, there are people in places like the south-west who have to suffer a six-hour rail journey from London to Penzance, for example, and I think that they have a very serious point—that they are being missed out in rail investment in this country. I say to them, “If you think that scrapping HS2 will suddenly result in a transfer of all the money to that scheme and to all the other schemes, you are living in cloud cuckoo land”. We are talking here about national infrastructure between the major conurbations of this country and about a very important rebalancing of regional investment and regional economies.
The Independent Transport Commission has taken quite a balanced view of the proposals. It says that HS2 will act as a catalyst for regional development if it is accompanied by smaller schemes to improve local transport links. Those smaller schemes are needed anyway. Anybody who travels by train in Lancashire or Yorkshire knows that the amount of underinvestment simply cannot continue. The ITC also says that there is a need for the Government to explain these things, and to define what it calls the,
“spatial problems it is supposed to address”.
It is quite clear that so long as HS2 is seen as a comprehensive scheme for improving the transport infrastructure of this country, it can do the job.
We also have the KPMG report—I do not have the time to go into it in detail at all—which suggests that there is a £15 billion bonus for the economy. I never know how they work these things out. I have looked at the report and I still do not know how they have worked that out. I think there is a lot of voodoo when people make forecasts like this. However, it says that Cambridge will suffer because we are building HS2. I do not believe it. Even more, it says that Lancaster will suffer. Lancaster is going to get a better, faster rail service to the south and an hour off its journeys to London. How on earth can Lancaster suffer because of that?
Then we are told that the UK is too tiny for high-speed rail—and yet the distance between Paris and Brussels, which I think is the most heavily used high-speed line in Europe, is the same as the distance from London to Manchester and to Leeds. The distances between Paris and Strasbourg, and Madrid and Barcelona, are the same as the distances between London and Edinburgh and Glasgow. People will say that they are not going that far. I would say that the Government have got to be a bit bolder and start to say that HS2 has to be seen as the start. Perhaps it is past the lifetime of many of us here, but it has to be a vision for the future of a high-speed network throughout England and this island. Let the Government keep their nerve. Let us promote the vision, and let the Government accept my personal challenge that in my lifetime I can travel on a high-speed train from London to Leeds or to Manchester—and preferably in that direction.
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for giving us the opportunity to debate this really important issue. I congratulate him on the way that he successfully corrected some of the more absurd misconceptions about High Speed 2 which its opponents are attempting to put about.
First, though, I should like to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, to the Dispatch Box for her first debate in the Chamber. Hers is a promotion much deserved and we look forward to her speech greatly.
The case for High Speed 2 is not primarily about the length of time that it takes to travel from London to Birmingham, although it is obvious that if we build a new railway, it should be built to 21st-century standards using technology that is tried and tested throughout Europe and Asia, rather than that of the Victorian age, and that means high speeds and shorter journey times. No, this debate is about something much more important: it is about what sort of transport infrastructure we are to bequeath to our children and grandchildren. We could go back to the thinking of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, when it was assumed that private motoring and heavy lorries would reign supreme. The transport imperative then was to build motorways on a predict-and-provide basis to serve them. The railways at that time were expected to decline gracefully, with many more lines being closed and services replaced by buses, passengers being discouraged by ever higher fares, and the rail freight business being largely abolished except for heavy-haul bulk loads and some container traffic.
However, the British public were not prepared to see their railways decline and die, and by July 2001 the distinguished City correspondent Christopher Fildes was able to write in the Spectator:
“Railways are a growth industry. Their most sustained attempts to drive away their customers have not succeeded”.
Let us look at what has happened since then. In July this year, Network Rail published a report, Better Connections—Options for the Integration of High Speed. Let me quote one or two of its findings. First, it says:
“Over the last decade the number of journeys made by rail has increased by almost 50% … But demand is still increasing. By 2020 another 400 million rail journeys will be made every year”.
Indeed, there are a million more trains running each year, while the busiest stations individually handle more passengers than Heathrow Airport. Network Rail makes the point, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, did, that it has done its best to make the best use of its remaining capacity and squeezed every last incremental change out of what it has. To quote again from its report:
“As demand continues to grow, this becomes harder and in some places impossible ... parts of the existing network will be unable to accommodate the forecast demand leading to significant overcrowding; in the peak, passengers may not even be able to board a train on some routes. Further, there will be no opportunity to accommodate the expected levels of increased freight traffic on the network”.
There you have the essential case for building High Speed 2—not as a separate line, physically and operationally away from the current railway, but as a crucial part of a reshaped and improved national network.
Some of those opposed to High Speed 2 argue that the money it will cost would be better spent on upgrading the present network and in trying to add capacity piecemeal to the west coast and east coast main lines. To add to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, let me remind those opponents that the last time we upgraded the west coast main line it was supposed to take six years, cost £2 billion and deliver 140 miles per hour trains. What actually happened was that it took nine years, cost almost £10 billion, and we still have 125 miles per hour trains, with unimaginable disruption of existing services in the process, with endless closures and bus substitutions at weekends, and sometimes longer. Does anyone believe that more than a fraction of the funds allocated to High Speed 2 would ever find their way to funding new investment on the existing network if High Speed 2 were to be abandoned?
Let us be clear: many of those arguing against High Speed 2 have no interest in growing the railway. The author of the Institute of Economic Affairs’ pathetic publication on HS2 makes clear his preference for an investment in roadbuilding—a transport policy which is 20 years out of date—and rubbishes the construction of the Jubilee Line and High Speed 1. It is inconceivable that London could function now without the Jubilee Line and the success of High Speed 1 is also clear. The economics consultancy Volterra produced a report in 2009 showing that the benefit to the UK economy of High Speed 1 over 60 years is estimated at £17.6 billion, plus a series of development, trading, housing and transport benefits.
I have no doubt that the benefits of High Speed 2 will be even greater. Looking just at the jobs which will be created in the life of the project, Albion Economics, working for Greengauge 21, estimates the total job years to be almost 890,000—the equivalent of creating 89,000 full-time jobs. We have to recognise that the future of inland transport in Britain belongs to high-speed rail and in having a world-class transport system that brings Scotland, north England, the Midlands and the south closer together; that drives opportunity and economic growth; and that makes sound environmental sense too. After the success of High Speed 1, it is time for the whole of Britain and for your Lordships to embrace High Speed 2.
My Lords, I strongly welcome this debate and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Like my noble friend who has just spoken, I have been an ardent pro-railway supporter all my adult life but it is precisely for that reason that I do not support HS2, because its sheer cost will suck the very lifeblood out of the rest of the country’s rail system.
Originally in government, I, along with my colleagues, took the default position in favour of anything with an engine at its beginning, a guard’s van at the back and a lot of sleek carriages planned in between. However, I think that the Labour Front Bench is now right to have become more sceptical of the project. I am not going to dwell on how we reached that decision as a government but, frankly, there was too much of the argument that if everyone else has a high-speed train we should have one too—regardless of need, costs or alternatives. As a party, to be frank, we did not feel like being trumped by the zeal of the then Opposition’s support for the high-speed train. If anything, we wanted to upstage them.
Since then, I have had a lot of time to think about this decision and to face the fact that no empirical case has been established for HS2, despite repeated attempts. The so- called business case, when the original justification for HS2 was all about speed, duly collapsed under scrutiny when it was discovered that in real life people actually work on trains, and sometimes even better than when they are in the office. Now the whole justification has shifted to assumptions about increased overall capacity, reduced crowding and the economic benefits to a handful of the nation’s cities—none of which assumptions, I might say, have been authoritatively quantified or verified, academically or otherwise. They all depend on forward projections of passenger loads which are uncertain, famously unreliable and greatly affected by the future price of tickets and elasticity of demand.
What has been forgotten in all this debate is that in 2006 the then Labour Government asked Rod Eddington to undertake one of the most comprehensive studies ever of transport in the UK. That study, after a great deal of very thorough examination, firmly rejected HS2. Eddington concluded that Britain’s transport infrastructure needs would be much better met by a wide range of incremental improvements rather than a few high-profile extravagances. He ended with one very important point of wisdom:
“The risk is that transport policy can become the pursuit of icons”.
I fear that HS2 has become precisely that—a political trophy project, justified, on flimsy evidence, as being about modernity and prosperity, with, I might say, a lot of pressure being put on those conducting the cost-benefit analysis to come up with the answer that Ministers want.
Even so, I would be prepared to put up with a lot of the uncertainties of the case if I thought that HS2 stood a reasonable chance of helping to rebalance the UK economy, lifting regional growth and creating jobs outside London and the south-east, but there is absolutely no conclusive evidence that any such things will happen. It might give some short-term boost to those cities on the line of the route but, equally, the easier you make it to get to London, the more people are likely to end up working and living in London. The readier the access to the facilities provided in the capital, the greater the likelihood that facilities in provincial cities will be undermined.
It is not surprising that KPMG, on a closer examination of its research—as the BBC did last week—found some very patchy results indeed for the benefits of HS2 for the regions. More places stand to lose than gain from HS2. That is hardly surprising. Indeed, £50 billion spent on HS2 is £50 billion—or anything like it, for that matter—that will not be spent on upgrading the east coast main line, which serves Humberside, Teesside and the north-east, and on lines to Bristol and the south-west or to East Anglia. Importantly, it will not be spent on the links between cities outside London. This is something on which we need to focus.
Having represented a constituency in the north, and now having the privilege to serve as the high steward of Kingston upon Hull, I know the difficulties that people have in using public transport not just between conurbations outside London but into and out of any northern city, and in particular in getting to a job within any extended travel-to-work area outside London when depending on public transport. There are literally dozens of rail and public transport projects urgently needed across the country that would make a significant economic and social impact. All these and more could be extracted for the price tag of HS2.
I will say one last word on the capacity arguments that, it is claimed, will be magically solved by HS2. Rail demand may increase substantially or it may not. However, we know that if HS2 goes ahead, the economic case put forward—
My Lords, it is a question of clarification of what the noble Lord has just said. Does he think it a normal part of cost-benefit analysis on a project to say that you count against it? For example, can you say that if it does not go to Cambridge that is a cost to the project? Is that the noble Lord’s view on how cost-benefit analysis is normally done?
Yes, of course it is part of it. However, my point is that the Government’s own economic case, if HS2 goes ahead, has made clear that this will involve nearly £8 billion-worth of cuts to existing intercity services. That means, for example, that Coventry’s services to London will be cut from three to two per hour, Stoke’s from two to one per hour and Stockport’s from three to one per hour. All Wilmslow’s intercity services to London will be axed, and journey times from Oxenholme, Penrith and Carlisle to London will be lengthened. So much for the capacity case for HS2. If it goes ahead, we will see a shrinking of the rail network in this country, and that should be the very last thing that pro-rail supporters in this House should want to see.
My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate, carefully chosen by my noble friend Lord Greaves. There has been too little serious and sustained discussion, pro and anti, in this House of the project launched in the House of Commons by the then Secretary of State for Transport, Geoff Hoon, nearly five years ago. At that time, on 15 January 2009, there was only one modest paragraph about High Speed 2 out of 25 in a Statement on transport policy. Within little more than a year, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, seized the opportunity with enthusiasm to publish the White Paper High Speed Rail Cm 7827. However, I am not convinced about the priority of High Speed 2 within the railway system and I am sceptical about benefits. In this respect, I agree with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson. I am, however, an agnostic, and many agnostics want to believe. I hope that my noble friend will be persuasive this afternoon.
With the initial momentum of the project, it was said—or so it seemed—that the chief merit was to reach Birmingham from London half an hour faster. Not everyone was sure that this was a recommendation, but, by definition, a high-speed train meant going faster and getting somewhere sooner. The relevant paragraph of the January 2009 Statement referred only to faster journeys, but by the publication of the March 2010 White Paper by Gordon Brown and Andrew Adonis, there had been a major shift of emphasis from glamorous speed to workaday capacity within the railway system; this has since become the dominant theme.
It is now approaching 40 years since I became Secretary of State for Transport. The 1970s was the most depressing era for the railways. It was often said that my civil servants were anti-railway, but that was not the case generally. Passenger miles had dropped steadily since 1945 and flattened out for a decade, which was bad for the morale of those who cared about the railways. November 1976 was also the time of the visitation of the IMF, from which followed deep cuts in public spending, including transport. There was no prospect of taking any new initiative. As far as I could, I continued to introduce the HST Intercity 125, which was then a high-speed train, to improve the existing urban network and to encourage light railways. I also saved the Tyneside Metro when the Treasury was about to axe it. Then, rather to my surprise, in the mid-1990s, the passenger miles began to grow, and this growth has continued. I recognise the trend, and it is right to provide additional capacity. I also recognise and welcome faster trains on the existing network—or, as we are now required to call it, the classic network.
In the latest Department for Transport glossy, one of the virtues is connectivity—a word I cannot find in my Oxford Dictionary. The boast is that HS2 will link eight of Britain’s 10 largest cities, as if there has been no such link since the days of the canals and the stagecoach.
I would like to believe—and this is now a central argument in the White Papers—that HS2 will be the engine of economic growth and help the deprived regions, but I cannot find secure evidence for this. It is claimed that HS2 will be a bridge from the north to the south, but the railways have been such a bridge since Victorian times.
An article in the Economist last week said that the worst urban decay is found not in big cities but in small ones. It mentions Hartlepool, which has grown far more slowly, as being typical of Britain’s rust belt. Can we really believe that HS2 will significantly help Hartlepool—or Barrow-in-Furness or Hull? We should not be deceived that it will wave a wand over deprived towns and villages.
Earlier this month, my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market opened a debate on the railways in East Anglia. Unlike the experience of much of the north-east, she said that this was a thriving region. However, she made a strong case for significant new investment, as there had been no modernisation of many parts of the railway network during the past half century. The route of HS2 is 100 miles or more from the heart of East Anglia. Are we to take seriously the fact that we can both finance HS2 and the different needs of East Anglia or, for that matter, the south-west of England or important parts of Wales?
The railway passenger, or the potential passenger, has an interest in several considerations. He or she wants good or better access to the places they wish to go, a reliable service, on time and without cancellations. He wants to travel in comfort and at a reasonable fare with an option at every hour of the day and on every day of the week. Above all there is the importance of safety. It is not axiomatic that travelling fast—faster than ever before—is a priority. It is time to scale down the hyperbole of the vision and to offer a more rigorous and sceptical analysis of the case for HS2.
My Lords, I welcome not only the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has introduced this debate, but also his splendid, comprehensive opening speech, which covered so many of the arguments. Inevitably, a debate such as this will be pretty polarised; you cannot be half way in favour of this, stopping it half way along the tracks somewhere—you are either for or against it, and I am unequivocally, unashamedly, massively for it. I hope that there is no uncertainty about that.
I thought it would be helpful to look at some of the objections—and of course we acknowledge that people who are directly affected by the route will be very concerned indeed. Whether you are for or against this proposition, you will acknowledge and recognise, as with other major developments, that there must be proper compensation and recognition for those who are directly affected.
It is worth taking a little trip down memory lane, because when the original proposal for a London to Birmingham railway was put forward in 1832, the House of Lords threw it out. We know, due to a splendid article by Nick Serpell, that many of the grounds for that were stunningly similar to the objections that are being presented today. The effect on wildlife was mentioned, as well as the demolition of rural communities and the big estates.
I would richly enjoy reading out all these quotes, but here is just one, from one of the contributors to the early part of the debate:
“You are proposing to cut up our estates in all directions … If this sort of thing be permitted to go on, you will in a very few years destroy the nobility”.
That is the kind of objection that was going around at the time. Most of the objections were very similar. Why do we want to go so fast? By the way, the first trains took five and a half hours. I am sure that whether you are in favour of HS2 or not, you will prefer the present service to one that would have taken five and a half hours. Thank heaven—I hope we can all agree on this—that the objections that were originally presented were overcome and that at least we had a railway from London to Birmingham. We did not require the people of the 19th century to get from here to Birmingham by canal or stagecoach; there was a mechanism other than that, which was terrific. So many of the objections proved to be false. The wildlife comes back amazingly soon after the cuttings and the embankments have been built. Of course, the investment has been repaid—I was going to say 100 times over— 1,000 times over. I could not begin to calculate the economic benefit of the original London to Birmingham railway.
I mentioned that it was a Victorian railway. Essentially, we rely, in the 21st century, on a Victorian railway. It is a marvellous railway; wonderful engineers built it, and phenomenal engineers kept it patched up over all the years and made improvements, keeping the trains running, by and large, while they did all that. However, a Victorian railway serves us today. There is one big exception—that it is not even as good as the Victorian railways because large chunks of the system have been closed down. Routes, railways and stations all over the place were closed. One railway in particular that was closed down was a fine north-south route between London, Leicester and Nottingham—the Great Central Railway—that was closed down in 1969. Therefore in proposing a new railway we are not revolutionary in adding to what has historically been available; we are trying to repair some of the damage that was done by the vandalism of the Beeching era, when so much damage was done. Therefore I say, “Thanks very much” to the Victorians, but that will not do for the 21st century.
I now come to the very common argument from the people who are opposed to this new line. I am sorry that there is no easy way. They say, “Let’s improve the existing railway. Let’s make some modifications to it so that trains can run through at greater capacity levels, with bigger trains”. We have been doing this for more than 80 years. We have kept on patching up, making do and mending, and amazingly, we have kept the trains running while we have done that. However, that is saturated. That argument has gone—there is no easy solution to that proposal. Interestingly, people do not ever say that about the motorways. I do not remember people saying, “We should not have built the M1 or the M5. We should have built loads of bypasses, strengthened the bridges and got more traffic running through on the old roads”. There comes a point when that proposal becomes ridiculous, and as far as the railway that we need for the 21st century is concerned, it is a ridiculous proposal.
If people are serious about massive improvements on the north-south routes in this country to be done on the existing system, please do not travel by train while it is being done. You have seen nothing yet of weekend closures, bus substitute services and holiday closures. You cannot rebuild a railway to 21st-century standards while you are trying to run the trains on the existing routes. There would be huge dislocation if that approach was adopted.
This is a visionary proposal. I salute my Government —the previous Labour Government—for introducing the proposal in the first place. I congratulate the coalition Government on sticking to their guns and acknowledging that this essential part of our country’s infrastructure has to come about. I salute the people involved: the former Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the present Secretary of State, Patrick McLoughlin. It is not an easy thing to do, because the opposition is so widespread in so many ways, and so personal. However, I appeal: let us think for a moment of the astonishing vision and engineering skills of the Victorians who built our rail network, which, as I have said, miraculously serves us today. Our railway-engineering expertise was exported all over the world. They had that vision which we massively benefit from today; it is part of our responsibility to have a similar vision to ensure that future generations have a modern, 21st-century rail network.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for securing this debate and I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, to her new responsibilities. I declare an interest since I live in Little Missenden which is directly on the current route and therefore I qualify under a number of people’s acceptance to plead my special case. I will do that a bit, but the interesting thing about being a nimby is that because you spend a lot more time working out why these things are happening to you, you understand the overall picture a lot better than many others. It is for that reason that I want to speak today, not particularly because of the problems in Little Missenden, although there are many, not least the appalling compensation proposals which do not measure up to the rhetoric.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and others, I am a supporter of the case for investing in improving transport services in the UK and in particular of upgrading our rail capacity using the most appropriate technologies. However, as my noble friend Lord Mandelson says, the supporters of HS2 have to do better than rely on dodgy forecasts and puffed-up consultancy reports. This is not an icon; it is a major investment decision for the UK, so it is right that, at a capital cost of £50 billion with ongoing subsidies, everybody should be convinced by the case before it is approved. To achieve that, we must debate and agree a proper economic argument which explains convincingly not only what problem we are trying to solve and why HS2 is the answer but also why other cheaper solutions do not do the trick. The Government have caused a lot of confusion on this point. First it was green and then it was speed, or was it the other way round? Then it was the need to fuel economic growth in the regions, recently clarified as “some regions but not others”. Now it is capacity on the west coast main line and connectivity with HS1, albeit that that constitutes an embarrassingly large gap in the current plans.
This debate is on the economic case for HS2. On the facts so far available to us, there is no doubt that the economic case for HS2 is very weak. A project that costs £50 billion in capital needs a better case and value-for-money justification than we have seen so far. No wonder it has so many critics, ranging from the press to the Institute of Economic Affairs and the TaxPayers’ Alliance, from Alistair Darling to David Davis and many others, including the National Audit Office whose value-for-money report suggests a number of problems with the existing cost-benefit study and the Treasury Select Committee whose report published on the 2013 spending round concludes that only when HM Treasury has decided its own comprehensive economic case for supporting the decision should the Government formally reassess the project before deciding whether to proceed. In other words, there are very substantial blocks to moving forward on this proposal.
So far all we have seen from the Government is the KPMG report, which, as has been said, far from proving the Government’s case, suggests that there will be as many losers as winners in the regions. The problem is that HS2 has been designated solely as a point-to-point railway line, lacking any proper integration with the classic rail network, the UK’s only hub airport or HS1. As such, the project exemplifies the silo approach of UK transport planning where decisions on aviation, classic rail and high-speed rail are taken in isolation, let alone thinking about the implications for things such as high-speed broadband. Current HS2 proposals need to be improved to ensure that the route connects into more of the UK, integrating with other transport networks and co-ordinating with the work of the Airports Commission.
Surely we should not be considering in the early 21st century a transport solution which inflicts serious damage on our natural heritage. These may be old arguments but they are still real. The Woodland Trust has demonstrated that the Government’s preferred routes for both phases of the scheme will cause loss or damage to at least 67 irreplaceable ancient woods. The Chilterns AONB, which is where I live, is now the only AONB along the entire HS2 phase 1 and phase 2 route that would be adversely impacted by the proposed project. Actually, it would be destroyed. The draft environmental statement consultation published on 16 May accepts that a tunnel through the Chilterns AONB would perform better on environmental grounds compared with the current tunnel option. It would also reduce the operational noise impact and, for certain locations, would result in a reduced construction impact. It is feasible in engineering terms and I recommend it to the Minister.
My Lords, as one of the sceptics, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on giving the House the opportunity to have this important debate and for the way in which he introduced it. Since first arriving in Parliament in another place in 1979, I have been a regular user of the west coast main line from both Liverpool and Preston. Virgin provides a superb service and most journeys to London take just over two hours. It is specious to suggest that we need a faster rail link, which is no doubt why Patrick McLoughlin shrewdly sought over the summer to alter the terms of the debate away from the question of journey times to that of capacity.
If the raison d’être for HS2 is a moving target, so are the estimated costs. In 2008, it was estimated that the project would cost £17 billion. By 2010 the figure was £30 billion. By this year it had reached a staggering £42 billion, according to some estimates, and nearer £50 billion once the cost of the rolling stock has been added in. The Financial Times—hardly part of a disreputable conspiracy—reported a private Treasury calculation of £73 billion, and all of this before a single sleeper has been laid. Having said that he has been changing his mind about HS2, the former Chancellor Alistair Darling is right to warn that this is a project that could easily run out of control. He says the business case has been exaggerated and that there are better ways of encouraging growth outside London. That is the main reason why I share his view.
For the avoidance of doubt, I believe in public transport and have always supported the enhancement of our railway network, like the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson. I have supported capital projects that improve infrastructure, provide demonstrable economic benefits and create jobs. It is claimed that the region I live in will be a principal beneficiary of HS2. However, for reasons I will explain, and not simply because of the runaway costs, I have been opposed to this project in its present form from the outset.
For a fraction of the cost of HS2 we could enhance the capacity of our railway system, by upgrading stations and platforms, lengthening carriages, improving railway stock, using new technologies and through timetabling and the reintroduction of services such as overnight sleepers to northern cities and towns. We could make significant improvements to our railways. Think of the opportunity costs at stake. A far higher priority for railway improvements should be commuter services and town-to-town links. Travel times between northern cities and towns are diabolical. To travel from Preston to London takes just over two hours; from Liverpool to Preston takes one hour, and from Leeds to Liverpool takes one hour and 47 minutes. Liverpool to Sheffield takes one hour and 41 minutes, and Liverpool to Hull takes three hours and 13 minutes. Those cross-Pennine, east-west services, not north-south services, are impeding economic development in the north.
If we were really serious about the north of England, we would reopen passenger railway links in north Lancashire and link Manchester and Liverpool airports with express trains. I welcome the news, which the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, whom I welcome to the Front Bench, gave me in a parliamentary written reply on 21 October, that there will be some improvements to those services. Perhaps she will tell us today how much money will be put into those projects compared with the investment in HS2.
Liverpool will be placed at a serious disadvantage by HS2, which is why some of the colleagues of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in that city recently tabled a motion to the city council pointing that out. The CPRE suggests that,
“it could risk Liverpool’s longer term regeneration”.
Why? Because, unlike Manchester, which will have a direct line to the city centre, Liverpool will not, and there will be a requirement to change trains to reach some important destinations. At the very minimum, reconsideration should be given to the decision to build a second HS2 station outside Manchester in the green belt.
I am also certain that, if these proposals go ahead, the magnetic appeal of London, with its fabled streets paved with gold, will suck people and businesses away from the north. KPMG’s report may point to overall benefits but, strikingly, it says that Greater London will be a £2.8 billion winner while 50 places in the UK, such as Aberdeen, Bristol and Cardiff, will be worse off. They estimate that Dundee and Angus could lose as much as 2% of GDP.
Many of us will have heard from some of those already affected by HS2. Tim Ellis, a Staffordshire farmer whose family have farmed there for three generations, wrote to describe how the project, just 145 metres away from his land, has already blighted their property and business. He wryly commented:
“What we really need is super-fast broadband—any broadband would be nice—not super-fast trains”.
I do not live in one of the 70 constituencies through which HS2 will pass. If I did, I would deeply resent being accused of nimbyism for questioning the effects of this project on some of our most beautiful countryside. Alison Munro, chief executive of HS2, is wrong to characterise opponents as “a noisy minority” and imply that anyone who questions this project is an antediluvian luddite. Taken with the Government’s road-building plans, which will impact on five national parks, I am glad that many are in open revolt and demanding protection for our landscapes and the tranquillity of the countryside. We are too obsessed with bigger, faster, better and more. There needs to be further reflection before HS2 is allowed to proceed. The CPRE is right when it says:
“Deliverability is trumping all other considerations”.
Attempts to push through enabling legislation by May 2015, without due process and adequate consultation, would be an abuse of Parliament, and should be fiercely resisted. I hope that today’s debate will serve notice on the Government of your Lordships’ determination to do precisely that.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, on her new appointment and look forward to the wind-up.
If we did not already have the motorways, canals and, I dare say, the railways, we would never be able to build them. We have no aircraft runways under construction, and no high-tech nuclear green power stations under construction—mainly because of a catastrophic energy White Paper in 2003. In the days of the great engineering projects, approved in private Bills by this Parliament, the likes of Brunel and Telford got on with their vision and won through in the end, and thank goodness they did. They would be ashamed and astonished to see us today, a scrimping nation getting by—or, at least, we think that we are. We pollute the overcrowded roads with congestion and cause the inefficient use of today’s very efficient car engines because of that congestion. We pollute the sky with internal flights. It will all come to a stop; there is not enough capacity on rail, so even more freight gets on to the roads. Then they clog—and it will end up as national gridlock.
Is HS2 the complete answer? Of course it is not. Is the planned route the best? I cannot say—although it appears fairly straight, which I assume is a key factor for high speed. Should it be built? Most certainly. However, success will require better leadership of the project and I am not clear who is in charge. Major infrastructure projects by definition reach across the Parliaments and, while I would not insist on 100% agreement, there has to be a degree of operating outside the tribe on these projects. I do not see that at present. It is a pity that one of the first acts of the coalition was to abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission before it had a chance to get going.
In the recent HS2 publications, I am at a loss to understand why freight effects have not been considered. Is it because freight will not be on HS2 but, because of HS2, more of it will use the extra capacity on existing lines? That seems to me a major failure of communication on behalf of the project. I have been informed that HS2 could take 500,000 lorries off the roads.
I much look forward to seeing Sir David Higgins as the chair of HS2 in the new year. I declare that I briefly worked with him when I was Regeneration Minister a decade ago and he was the chief executive of English Partnerships. He is impressive and he delivers, as his record shows. I hope that he will review all aspects of HS2—and that has to include the board. The Opposition had better give him full support. The Labour Government started this project, and it would be inconceivable to withdraw support. I am getting cheesed off listening to ex-Ministers swanning around the political salons pouring cold water on the project. I agreed with every word of the Secretary of State’s 11 September speech at the Institution of Civil Engineers. As such, I urge the shadow Cabinet not to quit on the project but to fight for it, and I urge HS2 to make its communications and operations a bit more transparent. I also have some news for the BBC: I do not expect Land’s End, Great Yarmouth, Anglesey or John o’ Groats to benefit as much as the great city regions. I thought the way the BBC treated the KPMG material on last week’s “Newsnight” was a journalistic disgrace, but it should not have had to use an FoI request to get the figures explaining the map in the report.
HS2 is not about minutes off journey times. It is about capacity and not relying on lines laid over 100 years ago. It is about serving one in five of the UK’s population. It is about, not serving, but creating city regions on a par with our EU partners, because we have not got any at present. That is why there is a constant drift to London. According to Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council, the West Midlands could see a minimum of 20,000 extra jobs and 50,000 with the package of local transport connectivity. Phase two could deliver up to 70,000 jobs according to Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council. Some 70% of the extra jobs will be outside London.
As for the line, it must end in Glasgow and Edinburgh. There is no question about that: there has to be a phase three. I hope we can then stop the environmentally wasteful, polluting internal aircraft flights. I would be happier if the Bill included the line to Manchester and Leeds. I would hope and expect construction to start in more than one location. England is not the wild west frontier that the great railways opened up in America. We should be able to start in London, Manchester and Birmingham and meet in the middle, as we did with the Channel Tunnel.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on his firm speech. I am speaking because I was responsible, at some time in my career, for the management of all the four main lines which go out of London to the north. They are now at least 85% full. When a system—a railway, water pipes, gas or anything—is at 85% capacity it is full, because just a small incident can spill over and cause havoc with punctuality or supply of service. So the capacity enhancement is urgently needed, but I am sorry that this thing ever got called High Speed 2 because it is not a high speed railway in international terms: they are not talking about going at about 250 mph.
The upgrading of existing routes is a hopeless proposition. I have just read that next year the west coast main line will be shut for 36 days for urgent engineering work at the London end, running through Watford. That will bring back the horrors but this time it will affect more people because more people are now using the railway. The London end of this project needs rethinking because the way it has been drawn up is wrong. I do not believe there is any need, at least in phase one, to demolish houses in the Camden area. I must cast doubt on the quality of leadership of the project because it has not gone for the most sensible option. We do not need to demolish lots of houses for phase one: we can do that quite easily by other means.
I was also responsible for the first stage of the HS1 extension. At the time people talked—in this House, I am sure, although I was not here—about the rape of the garden of England: it would never be the same again. However, a week or two ago I met a Labour MP from one of the constituencies affected. I asked him if he was getting a lot of trouble from HS1. He said, “No, none at all, but if you ask me about gay marriage I will bring you a few bags of letters”. That is the way in which the ill effects of this project have been grossly exaggerated by various opponents. There will be disruption while it is built but, as someone remarked, the wildlife and the birds come back. The railway does not have lots of service stations, garages and posters. It fits into the countryside and I am sure that noble Lords who travel around by train know many places where the significant Victorian railway buildings are not a blot on the landscape but blend beautifully into it.
The new line will free up a lot of existing capacity and the talk about Coventry, Rugby and Milton Keynes not having as good a service is just not true. This month the Desiro company, which has built many of the excellent suburban trains used between London and Birmingham, has been given permission to increase the line speed of these trains to 115 mph. They are more comfortable and will be nearly as fast as the Pendolinos, and I am sure that customers will like them better. I am certain that all the places affected will have a far better service than they have now.
I have a few requests for the Minister. Will she please facilitate the ongoing discussions about the London end? The Secretary of State knows about them and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and I have been to see him. We believe that we can save a lot of money, not the odd million but the odd billion, by these proposals. Look again at the appraisal methodology that these people used. They used the old-fashioned cost-benefit analysis that was invented by the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment in the 1960s and 1970s that compared the value of road schemes to see which was best. The process was never intended to value a project such as this. A recent publication by High Speed 1 has shown that the value of HS1 over 60 years is £17.6 billion. Will the Minister look again at the external benefits? This has been done by HS1, which looked at the effect on the value of property. Recently at Ealing Broadway it found that property prices are increasing sharply in anticipation of Crossrail. None of that value gets into the public purse but there is no doubt that it is of value, and it is time that the department looked at this issue to find a way to ensure that some of that value gets into public hands.
Finally, I ask the Minister to reiterate the commitment to the continuing expenditure on the rest of the network, such as the ongoing improvements at Reading and Birmingham New Street. They are a compliment to what our engineers can do but there is a limit to what can be done within the confines of the existing railway.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I must declare that I live in the Chilterns but not in an area affected by the proposed route. However, for most of my life I have known that stretch of countryside from where the line drops off the escarpment and cuts a swathe through Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire. It is not picture-book pretty. Unlike the Chilterns, it is not an area in which walkers such as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to whom we are indebted, come out in numbers at weekends or visit for its views. It is old England, big blackthorn hedges, pasture, beef cattle, hidden woods and coppices, and small villages and farms in which people have been born and lived all their lives. Through that countryside the route goes past Grendon Wood, in which Shakespeare is said to have been inspired to write “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and—this is for my noble friend Lord Grocott—Doddershall, a remote moated house built in 1520. The route also goes through 24 sites of special scientific interest and 67 irreplaceable ancient woodlands. It is proposed to drive HS2 through that, and for what? I will come to that.
The project was agreed by the Government in 2010 without any strategic environmental assessment having been carried out, probably quite deliberately because this is an act of sheer environmental vandalism. A judge has already described that as “an egregious breach” of the guidelines. Litigation is going on at the moment and there will, no doubt, be a Supreme Court judgment next month. For that tract of our countryside and its people the impact is quite devastating.
However, that was not the only flaw in the original decision-taking process. The business case was flawed, as is now generally accepted. The cost-benefit analysis, whether it should have been used or not, never supported the proposal. The budget was hopelessly understated, as has now become clear. I am aware that the lack of any proper consultation and the weakness of the economic case concerned a number of those at the heart of government at the time. I would like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, and to Mr Alistair Darling in another place for having the courage to speak out about this. I am quite sure that others will follow.
The decision to support this project in the first place by both main parties was a political one, not an economic one. I do not for a moment dismiss the genuine passion for the project of some, including the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for whom I have the greatest admiration, but it is a passion which I believe led to a very expensive mistake. Nor do I underestimate the pressure that was put on politicians of both sides to go ahead from others who stand to profit: mainly the rail and engineering firms and also from a number of local authorities on the direct route who stand to benefit. They make up a rich and powerful lobby, but they are not succeeding with the public and nor must they. To misallocate transport investment to a high-risk, low-return scheme such as this instead of putting the money to low-risk, high-return infrastructure investment with far greater economic benefits in the long run is sheer madness.
In the mean time, before the plug is pulled, the resources of the Department for Transport are being drained by efforts to try to create a new and better case and generate public support, while also delaying decisions on other necessary investment in our transport system. As we know, the original argument was speed—we will get you there quicker—but that failed, so the department is now trying the capacity argument in a desperate appeal to those standing in the corridors of our creaking infrastructure, where investment really is needed.
It will not work; nor will the unconvincing assurances about future cost, because the public simply do not believe it. They have seen the figure going up and up. I think the public will be astonished to know that the figure which we are currently being given, £42.6 billion, does not include trains, without which the railway cannot operate, nor, as I understand it, does it include the essential infrastructure to create links to the city centres where the station is on the outside. Estimates that I have seen go higher and higher. Even in the north, last year’s polling showed that only 32% of the public thought it was a good use of money. If the people who have to pay for it do not want it, do not do it.
This debate is about the expected impact of HS2. There will be some who benefit: the big rail and engineering companies and their employees and the towns and cities with stations on the direct route. But there are rather more places that believe they will lose out, and badly. The biggest losers of all are the poor souls who have to pay for it, who are the British public. What is more, HS2 is unlikely ever to generate enough income to cover its running costs. Construction has to be taxpayer funded, because it is unlikely ever to make a profit and no private money would touch it. The Public Accounts Committee in another place—its report is in the Printed Paper Office today—is utterly damning.
I would like to hope that the impact of this whole saga is that no major infrastructure project will be handled like this ever again, determined by political expediency and not sound economics. HS2 is not yet the dead duck that it ought to be, but it is looking terminally ill. A huge amount of money and energy, much of it paid for by the public, is being devoted to try to breathe some life into it again. It has been called a vanity project, a white elephant on wheels, and a high-speed gravy train. Will someone with political courage please come forward and put it out of its misery?
My Lords, this debate produces a most unfortunate degree of polarisation among people who are normally much more sober in their analysis. I am on the same track as my noble friend Lord Rooker. When we talk about £8 billion being a lot of money, we are not talking about a project that will last for only 10 or 20 years; HS2 is going to be there for 100 years. Does anyone think that the Channel Tunnel will not be around then? The Victorian railways are still in place and HS2 will still be there. It would be interesting if a few leading Victorians were around today to look at what has happened over the past 200 years.
Let us put this into some sort of context. First, what is our national income and how does it grow? At the moment, our national income is £1.5 trillion per annum, or £1,500 billion—so in 10 years’ time it will be £15 trillion and in 100 years it will obviously be £150 trillion; that is without any underlying rate of economic growth. Secondly, can the rate of return capture all the benefits? Of course it cannot. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer—I, too, very much welcome her appointment—will take on board the comparison with Crossrail on this. We do not expect Transport for London to capture all the benefits that accrue at Farringdon or Tottenham Court Road. It would be nice if it could, but it cannot. The benefits for everybody in London are huge.
In my first job with the World Bank in Africa I was involved in transport infrastructure investment. I know that there are rules—cost-benefit analysis is just one of the ways of describing what is done—but there are private benefits and externality benefits. As Alastair Morton, the first co-chairman of Eurotunnel said, economies are created through transport infrastructure. Therefore, you cannot capture all this with just one figure, and I am not surprised if people come up with very different numbers. It is easier to demolish the figures than to be absolutely dogmatic about how the arithmetic should be done.
Although I am an economist, I do not have any difficulty in having an act of faith and saying that this project is a good idea. I know that capacity cannot be increased by building more motorways any more easily than it can by building more railways—it is far more difficult—but I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, to think about the alternatives. She may be a zero-growth person but I do not think that the rest of us are. We are 2% growth people around here, as you should be if you do not want unemployment and if you want to keep up the growth in technology and productivity. We are running out of capacity on the motorway system at a devastating speed. As well as road closures, we as a nation are facing a crisis from pollution on the motorways. A bit like Heathrow Airport, the railways need some new capacity.
All the points have been made about trying to further improve the west coast main line and so on, but why should you want the trains to go at 100 miles an hour when they can go at 200 miles an hour? That is absurd. It is said that this is a densely populated island. However, it is no more so than Belgium, and Belgium has four high-speed train services. It is precisely because we are a densely populated island that we need HS2, and it is not counterintuitive to say that. Many speakers for whom I have the most enormous respect, including the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, talks as if we will not be improving journey times from Birmingham to Sheffield, but actually we will be.
No one is challenging the fact that the cluster of Midlands and northern cities—I come from Manchester originally and have lived in Nottingham—will be the area receiving the most remarkable improvements. As any transport economist would tell you, the most dramatic changes are in the 3-4 hour zone. If you halve travel times in the 3-4 hour zone, you can have a mega economic success story for the whole of the Midlands and the north, which is not possible with the motorway and railway systems that we have now. We shall see what happens in the next 30 years—only time will tell.
I hope that we can have something like an infrastructure commission where people can give evidence and make sure that the cost-benefit analysis is done in the correct way. However, it is difficult to argue that there is only one way to capture the externality benefits.
My Lords, I have long been an enthusiast for high-speed rail and therefore I will be reinforcing some of the arguments that other enthusiasts of this House have already made. I am concerned that the growing opposition to it, some of which we have seen here, from a number of powerful pressure groups and some prominent politicians on both sides of the House may cause the Government to lose their nerve and fall back on a compromise.
The truth is that HS2 has been sold to the public very poorly. To begin with, much too much emphasis has been put on the high-speed element of the project. The faster speeds are one, but one of the less important, of the advantages of HS2. Why, ask our opponents, are we spending so much money merely to take 20 minutes off a journey time from Birmingham to London? Besides, they say, we need that extra time to work on the train. We then get into this argument about what people actually do on trains: work, read, look out of the window or go to sleep. Personally, whatever my original intention, I usually end up going to sleep.
However, the high-speed element only really becomes significant when the line gets as far north as Carlisle and Scotland. Regrettably, that will still be some considerable time in the future. What is significant is that we are planning to build a brand new railway line, the first major new line since Victorian times. The main reason it is needed is to relieve pressure on the existing network and to increase capacity. Our opponents ask how we can justify spending so much money on a brand new railway line. As many noble Lords have asked today, would it not be better spent on upgrading the existing network? However, this is not an either/or situation. The Government promise to spend money on upgrading the existing network at the same time. It is all part of the same process, the same overall plan.
The Government need to get across to the doubters and waverers that rail is the only practical, and potentially civilised, mode of transport in Britain for distances of more than 100 miles. More and more people are travelling by train now, and with the anticipated rise in population, there could be 20% more passengers by 2025. The fact is that there has been precious little capital investment in the railways for more than 100 years. With the regrettable exception of Beeching’s ruthless scrapping of so many of our branch lines in the 1950s, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, mentioned, Britain’s railway network is much the same as it was in 1910. At certain times of day, in many parts of Britain, it is already inadequate to accommodate the existing number of passengers. One can only imagine what it will be like in 15 years’ time if nothing is done.
Now, at last, something is happening; something is being done. The Government, with Labour Party support, have recognised the future importance of rail and that in order to free up capacity on our existing railway lines we need to build a brand new one, linking London with major cities in the Midlands and the north. As we need a new line, it surely makes sense to build the most advanced and up-to-date model available, which has been tried and tested on the continent. That model is high-speed rail.
Therefore HS2 is not a one-off, speculative gamble out on its own, as some of our opponents seem to suggest. It is an integral part of a long-term plan to modernise our whole railway network. That is the message that the Government have to get across to the public and to some of their Tory sceptics. Of course, there will be people, like some of the citizens of Camden Town, whose lives and outlooks will be considerably disturbed and disrupted by the construction of high-speed rail. It is right and essential that they should be generously compensated. However, I believe that fears of long-term damage to our countryside and wildlife are greatly exaggerated. Within 10 years, the scars will have healed, and the disturbed woods and farmland will have been reshaped and relandscaped.
The advantages of high-speed rail greatly outnumber the disadvantages of temporary disruption. Although HS2 is not exactly squeaky clean environmentally, it is considerably less polluting than the hundreds of aircraft from Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted which fly overhead and whose internal flights, I hope, will eventually be made redundant by high-speed rail. Britain’s major cities will feel much closer together and Britain in general will feel less dependent on London. Of course, the construction of the line will provide much-needed employment in times of austerity.
I need assurance from the Government and the Minister that they will not get cold feet over high-speed rail and will not be tempted to compromise through fear of rising costs. The cost seems almost irrelevant when compared with the value and importance of the whole enterprise. We need a modern and efficient railway network. It is no longer an option; it is an essential. This is the most important and far-sighted transport project for more than a century. By the time it is completed most of us here will be dead but it will provide a greatly enhanced quality of life for our grandchildren. That is what we should be considering. Surely, the Government can better get that message across.
My Lords, I am a long-time supporter of rail travel and hold to the belief that trains are so important that they should be seen as a public service. They are an essential part of any country’s infrastructure and, as such, should be run as a service and not for profit. If that requires nationalisation and/or government subsidy, so be it. Surely it ought to be seen as a wise investment in economic terms.
Is it not ironic that although none of the main political parties favours renationalisation of our railway infrastructure, none is opposed to our trains being owned and run by the state, just as long as it is not this state? The state-owned railway companies of France, Germany and the Netherlands regularly bid for our rail franchises, sometimes with success. I did not know this until I did some research, but the royal train is now operated by EWS, which is owned by Deutsche Bahn.
My support for railways is often sorely tested. There are 28 different train operators and too often, it seems, they do not speak to each other, at least not in the same language. Perhaps that harks back to the point that I have just made. For years I used commuter services between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and it was rarely a pleasant experience. I do not do that now and I rarely use the commuter trains that serve London. However, I feel that it is a failure of the service when I am forced to stand and cannot get a seat that I have paid for. Just last weekend that happened in Scotland on a journey that I made between Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
High-speed rail exists in all major EU countries—France, Germany, Italy, Spain and, of course, here—as has been referred to by many noble Lords today, so I am naturally inclined to support the concept of HS2. Yet there are two basic reasons why I have doubt in my mind. One is the spiralling cost. The figures I have seen suggest that when the project was first announced in 2008, the projected cost was £17 billion. By 2010, that had gone up to £30 billion. This year, it is at £42 billion plus £7.5 billion for rolling stock. The Financial Times has estimated that the final cost could be as much as £70 billion. I do not know the veracity of those figures but it seems that the projected costs are spiralling out of control.
I certainly agree with my noble friends Lord Faulkner and Lord Grocott that transferring some of the cash—certainly not all of the cash—to upgrade existing infrastructure is not the answer. But surely some form of guarantee has to be given to control costs, otherwise support will gradually wither and die.
In opening this debate the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, talked of the need to close the regional divide. I certainly support him in that. Anyone who looked at today’s Guardian will have seen figures on the front page showing that during the boom from 1997 to 2006, London and the south-east were responsible for 37% of the UK’s growth in output, and since the economic crash of 2007-08, London and the south-east were responsible for 48% of that growth. Every other region except Scotland has suffered relative decline over that period, which highlights the need to ensure that economic benefits are not concentrated, as they have all too often been, in London and the south-east. Regional benefits are the second reason I have doubts about HS2.
I thoroughly agree with my noble friend Lord Rooker on the need for HS2 to be extended eventually to Glasgow and Edinburgh, but I think it highly unlikely that that will happen, certainly in the lifetime of most noble Lords, because the numbers that would use it would be held not to justify the cost. It is for the same reason that the motorway network stopped at Carlisle for 20 years before it was extended to Glasgow. I wonder how many noble Lords are aware that not only is there no motorway between Newcastle and Edinburgh, two major cities in the UK, but that there is not even a dual carriageway for a considerable part of that journey, which is a disgrace.
The recent figures prised from the Government—and I use the term advisedly—through an FoI request on the question of the benefit of HS2 show that the coalition had attempted to withhold the bad news: the information in the KPMG report that, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, rightly said, demonstrated that Aberdeen and Dundee would lose heavily when HS2 is in place, as, indeed, would other places such as Norfolk, Cambridge, Bristol and Essex, among others. That seems to stand to reason because there cannot be winners all the way. Not everybody can win from HS2. It is quite clear that there will be displacement of business and of travel, so to say that everything will be better with HS2 just does not stack up. I am prepared to accept that there will be considerable benefits, but certain parts of the country will undoubtedly lose as a result and that has to be faced by those who are particularly enthusiastic about HS2.
I am not as yet prepared to call for HS2 to be abandoned, but I do believe that we need much greater certainty on costs and detailed proposals as to how those areas likely to suffer financially would be compensated in other ways.
My Lords, like other noble Lords I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for allowing us the opportunity for this debate, and I congratulate him on what he said in opening the debate. It is the first time in the decade or so that I have been here—I do not know whether he will be pleased about this or not—that I have agreed with every word that he said. Perhaps he will not be, but it happens to be true.
There was one thing he did not say that he might have done. He talked about the west coast main line being full, as have other noble Lords on both sides. We ought to recognise that the west coast main line, particularly the southern section, is not just full, it is in a pretty poor condition too, despite all the money that has been spent on it. The recent £9 billion overhaul has held off some of the decay on that route, but the last stretch in particular, from Watford to Euston is in a pretty poor state, as was revealed earlier this year. A report was published in the railway industry’s in-house magazine, Rail News, about an inquiry led by Virgin Trains’ chief operating officer, Chris Gibb, who had been seconded to Network Rail, about the state of the track, particularly that stretch from Watford to London. Chris Gibb reported to a joint board chaired by Sir David Higgins, then chairman of Network Rail, about whom many complimentary comments have been made during the course of the debate. Mr Gibb’s report says that,
“trying to gain access to maintain and repair a railway built 175 years ago, largely through open countryside then but which now passes through many developed and densely-populated areas”,
is extremely difficult. Yet opponents of HS2 appear to believe that by declassifying a couple of coaches on Pendolino trains and adding a few more trains, a junction here and a flyover there, we can somehow cope with the projected increase in traffic which will take place on the west coast main line if HS2 is not built.
I fear that life is not like that. Chris Gibb’s final recommendation is that the line from Bushey, just south of Watford, into Euston should be closed every Saturday and Sunday night for between five and 10 years in order that all the infrastructure can be renewed. That is a pretty unlikely prospect, but I have to say to those who oppose the building of HS2 that we cannot go on, in David Higgins’s words, pounding the west coast main line. He said that by the time the first stage of HS2 is due to open in 2026 the route will be—his exact word—“trashed”.
We cannot go on pretending that we can increase the number of trains out of London to some of our major cities on the existing infrastructure network. I listened carefully to what my noble friend Lord Stevenson had to say. I must say that I was not too impressed by some of the people whom he prayed in aid in support of his opposition. I do not regard the Institute of Economic Affairs as a particularly credible organisation, nor, although I will be careful out of deference to some of my near neighbours, could I bring myself to be too complimentary about the Countryside Alliance. Both my noble friends might like to read a document produced by Centro, the passenger transport authority in the West Midlands, explaining why the West Midlands needs HS2. I will leave it on the board for both of them if they like; whether they find that any more credible than the two organisations they cited remains to be seen. The fact remains that Centro believes that 50,000 more jobs could be created in our part of the world and a £4 billion economic boost would be given to the West Midlands if the project goes ahead.
If HS2 does not go ahead, what happens to the growth in traffic forecast by all sectors to occur on our railway system? Presumably, it will go by road. My noble friend spoke emotively about the Chilterns. We are not talking about the four horsemen of the apocalypse going through the Chilterns, we are talking about a two-track railway. What happens to the M40 motorway? Do we extend and widen that to cater for the extra traffic which we all know will come? If the traffic does not travel by train, it travels by road.
Earlier in my undistinguished career, I served on no less than three committees on the Channel Tunnel: the first abortive Select Committee in the 1970s, the Select Committee that gave the go-ahead in the 1980s and the Standing Committee that prepared the legislation. All the arguments that we are hearing today about HS2 were used then about HS1. The garden of England was going to be destroyed. The phrase “cutting a swathe” was one I heard from many a high-paid lawyer as I sat on the committee when they were talking about what was likely to happen in Kent. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, Kent has not been destroyed. Indeed, many of the previously peripheral towns in Kent have been enormously boosted economically by HS1, and there is no reason to suppose that the same effect would not happen when HS2 is completed.
Fifty years ago, I was a signalman on the west coast main line, so I have some experience of what happened when trying to run trains when the line is being modernised. At least we had many alternatives in the 1960s. For example, Manchester trains ran from St Pancras to Manchester Central. The line from Matlock to Manchester Central was closed in their wisdom—by, I suspect, a Labour Government, I must say—in the 1960s. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about trains to Liverpool. They went up the great western line from Paddington to Birkenhead. That is not available to us any more. As my noble friend Lord Grocott said, there was always the great central line, which ran to Leicester, Nottingham and on to Manchester, which could also be used as a diversion. None of those lines are available to us today. There are neither locomotives nor rolling stock. It must come as a surprise to my noble friend Lord Mandelson to find that loco hauled trains are very rare in most parts of the country and guards vans do not exist at all. He must have missed that during his sojourn in Brussels, but the railway has changed somewhat. Pendolino trains will not run anywhere else. If there is no 25 kilovolt overhead wire, they will not get out of the depot, so they are no alternative. It is not often that I pray in aid the late Baroness Thatcher, but there really is no alternative.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for initiating this debate. It is high time that this House had a full and lengthy debate on this very important but, in my view, flawed project. During the debate last February in your Lordships’ House, I said that I feared 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. Sadly, nothing I have heard or read over the subsequent months and nothing that has been said in today’s debate has changed my mind. In fact, it has hardened my opinion.
The noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Grocott, mentioned compensation. I can only guess the anguish of those affected by this scheme faced with the offer of wholly inadequate compensation or no compensation at all.
This debate is really about the supposed benefits or otherwise of HS2. We have a project that has split views more or less down the middle; it has its supporters and detractors. The ranks of the latter, however, are swelling while the cohorts of the former are visibly shrinking. Here we have a scheme whose costs seem to go ever upwards. As a number of noble Lords, have said, the Secretary of State for Transport has already increased the cost of HS2 from £33 billion to £42.6 billion, excluding the £7.5 billion for the rolling stock which has been mentioned. The Treasury predicts that this will rise to £73 billion. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, has told us that some of the people criticising HS2 are not credible. He mentioned the Institute of Economic Affairs giving a figure of £80 billion or above. I hope that the noble Lord thinks that the Treasury is a capable source, otherwise we are all in trouble. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, earlier mixed up his millions and billions, but we are talking here about tens of billions. These are indeed serious matters. On the face of it, HS2 looks like heading the way of Blue Streak and the TSR 2 programmes, both abandoned by the Ministry of Defence in the 1960s because of their spiralling costs over a number of years.
Quite apart from the fact that cross-party support faces collapse if the costs rise above £50 billion—either now or around the time of the next general election—we have to ask whether this scheme provides value for money. The Department for Transport now seems to be moving away from the benefit-to-cost ratio analysis. Now we are told to look at the bigger picture. No wonder, as the BCR is currently one pound for every one pound spent on phase 1, and the latest figures will bring it below that.
The public subsidy currently required is £33 billion. In congratulating the Minister on her appointment, I pose a question. Do the Government have a limit to how much public subsidy they are prepared to allow for HS2?
Apart from the bogus arguments about increasing passenger capacity and claiming that no one works on the trains, only 2% of rail passengers travel on the west coast main line intercity trains—the only route to benefit from phase 1 of HS2. The rest of the national network will be largely ignored. That is the reality.
The other issue rarely mentioned, but raised by my noble friend Lord Mandelson, was that HS2 will require £7.7 billion in cuts to existing rail services. The reality will be that a number of towns will experience worse services, not improved ones.
KPMG, as mentioned, reported on behalf of HS2 Limited that the country would benefit to the tune of £15 billion. What HS2 suppressed, however, was the fact that KPMG’s report also showed that many areas of the UK, such as Aberdeen, Bristol and Cardiff, would significantly lose out to HS2. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned Liverpool missing out as well. It is obvious when you think about it.
In short, we have a scheme that, if built, will primarily benefit the capital city, not the north. My noble friend Lord Mandelson, outlined that point. This has been the experience of all other high-speed trains in Europe, if we look at the lines to the capital cities Paris or Madrid. The scheme will devastate parts of our irreplaceable environment—I emphasise the word “irreplaceable”—including 67 ancient woodlands, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. The scheme will not even be the best use of the money to upgrade our rail infrastructure. Targeted, more widespread, upgrades would be more effective, and I say that as a regular rail user. Worse, it will make such upgrades unaffordable in the future.
Finally, can this country afford such monumental financial recklessness when there are other, greater national priorities, not only in terms of the rail network infrastructure but also such as developing airport capacity in the south-east?
I understand from the Minister—I thank her for her Answers to some of my Written Questions—that the forecast spend for HS2 for 2013-14 is already £378 million. For 2014-15, it will be another £442 million. These are huge levels of expenditure very early on in a programme whose costs are only going up and up. In conclusion, the Government need to think again before a penny more is wasted on this mother of all follies.
My Lords, I very much welcome this debate and I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, to her new position. I am sure that we will have some interesting debates now and in the future. I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group.
I shall start by discussing the issue of capacity. My noble friend Lord Rooker mentioned freight. I shall quote from a paper from the HS2 Action Alliance. With a name like that, I would have thought that they would have been supporting HS2, wanting to make it go faster, but, surprisingly, they do not. It says:
“Improving the existing West Coast Mainline is a more cost effective and risk-free way to meet future rail capacity needs”.
Where are they living? Many noble Lords have spoken about the problems on that line, and I will not repeat what they have said. One of the problems is that if you improve a line, you either dig it up and close it or you extend it sideways into people’s properties. That will have just as much opposition as building a new line—in fact, probably more—because people will want compensation, as they do. Yes, the line is going past their property and has been there a long time, but their property is very valuable. That idea just does not work.
The real problem that I want to mention with regard to capacity, though, is freight. Freight is different from passengers because it runs only if the customers and the train operators want it to and therefore, hopefully, it will make a bit of money. There is no subsidy. The industry has forecast a doubling of demand for rail freight on the west coast main line in 20 years. That is because the type of traffic that goes up that line is mainly containers from retailers. That is what retailers like—noble Lords will have seen some of the supermarkets giving green credentials on a packet of cheese, or whatever they are selling—so they have asked for this. Freight is growing by leaps and bounds; it might treble, for all I know. However, if you want a doubling of traffic in 20 years, that is the equivalent of an extra two trains an hour on the west coast main line. It is full already, as other noble Lords have said, and we are having discussions with Network Rail about how this can be accommodated, particularly when phase one is built and it stops near Tamworth. Still, it is a wonderful challenge to have.
What is the alternative? There are two options. One is that it could go by road. Let us have a motorway through Little Missenden; I am sure that my noble friend Lord Stevenson would not like that. I was brought up in Great Missenden, and I would not like to see a motorway go through there; there is a railway there already, and a horrible road. If freight is not going to go by rail, therefore, it will go by road—or, the other option, it does not go at all. Do we want it not to go at all? What would be the consequences for the economy if it did not?
I reflect that the latest route through the Chilterns is going to affect about 100 properties, whereas in Camden it will affect 2,700. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and I have come up with our alternative route through Camden that will, we hope, significantly reduce the demand for demolition, perhaps down to nothing at all. I look at HS2 as adding two more tracks to the west coast main line, for reasons of capacity. It is pity that it did not start off being sold that way, but it is indeed for capacity. We need HS2, otherwise the traffic will not go, or we go by road.
I conclude by commenting a little more on my noble friend Lord Snape’s comments about HS1, which I was also involved in. There is a study by Volterra consultants about the economic benefits of HS1, which could therefore apply to HS2. Apart from generating extra rail and car park revenues of £3.4 billion, which we may or may not want, the transport benefits include more than £100 million of congestion relief, an increase in rail revenue of £3.4 billion, while earnings per annum across the study area—Kent—have increased by between £62 million and £360 million due to the commuting facilities. You may not want to commute but perhaps you do. Overall this is estimated at a very significant benefit to the UK of HS1 over 60 years—it is a long-term project—of £17.6 billion. I think this is worth having.
I support the way that this project is going forward. I welcomed it when it was launched by my noble friend Lord Adonis. I welcomed this Government taking it up, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Rooker that it would be unthinkable to cancel it. I would like to see it go to Scotland in some shape or form.
I shall support this project. I want to see the costs come down and I shall work towards that. I think there should be better leadership and communication and I welcome Sir David Higgins to that role. I see no alternative to creating the necessary additional capacity if we want our economy to grow.
My Lords, I was not planning on speaking in this debate, which is why my name is not on the list; this is not really my issue. I crave your Lordships’ indulgence for just one minute to lob a single point into the gap which, to my knowledge, has not featured in the public discussion and certainly has not featured in the debate today. I feel that it needs to be addressed, if not by the Minister today then in due course by the department and the promoters of the HS2 project. I am referring to the question of the kind of technology to be used.
I have tended to lean towards being in favour of HS2 on the sort of grounds that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, was instancing: keeping up with, or catching up with, or limping rather lamely along behind our European equivalents who have had high-speed lines for 20, 30 or 40 years in some cases. It seemed to me that to turn our back on that kind of development was to hammer yet one more nail into the mounting number of nails in the coffin of UK plc. If we are to turn our back on that it is simply to unashamedly acquiesce even further to the long-term decline of Britain.
I had this discussion with my son recently. I asked him what his view of HS2 was. He said that he was against it. I said “Oh dear,” and advanced the argument to which I have just referred. He said, “Yes, but if you want to base your support for HS2 on embracing the latest word in modern railway engineering and technology, why on earth are you thinking of doing it on the basis of 50-year-old technology that has been adopted by old Europe? You should be looking to the East, to the way in which they are building their high-speed lines now—in China, for example, between Shanghai and Beijing. It is the maglev technology to which you ought to be looking to represent the future, if it is the future you want to embrace”. I have not heard that point raised in public debate and I genuinely think that the proponents of HS2 need to address it.
My Lords, I express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and congratulate him on his opening speech. As my noble friend Lord Snape indicated, we have not always been in agreement with the noble Lord, but his opening remarks today set this debate off in a most constructive and interesting fashion.
The Opposition support HS2. We believe that a new north-south line is needed. The issue of speed or whether it is a trophy has nothing to do with it. We need the speed because it increases the capacity. It is not a trophy because we did not ask and are not asking the nation to embark on this major construction because we wanted some kind of trophy like the French or Germans had with their high-speed lines. That is not so: it is because there is a real need. The need, which is quite clear, is one of a dramatic requirement for additional rail capacity in this country. This is one clear, strategic way— in fact, it is the only clear, strategic way—in which we can increase that capacity.
Various figures have been cited in this debate. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Faulkner who, in his usual hard-headed manner, indicated some crucial figures. The growth of rail has been double that of gross domestic product in the past 30 years. As the country has expanded over that time, rail has expanded much faster. Even in this past decade, when we all recognise the difficulties there have been in the economy, there has been a growth of 4% per year in the demand for rail services in terms of passenger numbers. This is not a passing fancy; it is a real need, to which we need to address the resources of the nation.
My noble friend Lord Faulkner, expressing it in his usual cool manner, and my noble friend Lord Grocott, in his rather more expansive way, compared to this project with the 19th century. It is the case that the Victorians faced great challenges to their infrastructure projects as well but we have to face up to that challenge, too. People might say that the Victorians had a head start and all sorts of obvious advantages. Even the Great Exhibition, which was one of their triumphs—although the Crystal Palace did not survive too long afterwards—has been surpassed by the success of the structure and organisation of the Olympic Games in 2012, so we can do it too.
The Games were an infrastructure project that was delivered on time and on budget. It had a contingency element in it, of course, as indeed this project has. What people often talk about as the enormous expansion of costs is a contingency of £14 billion, which may not be called upon. Of course, the pessimists will say, “Oh, but it will be”. They said that about the Olympic Games but the Games were delivered on budget. They were a much smaller project than this but we should not underestimate our capacity as a nation to rise to this challenge.
Nor should we underestimate the need, which is often expressed in terms of the enormous pressure of commuting. For the London conurbation, it is always expressed in these terms because we know about the vast numbers of people who commute into London. Anybody would think that Birmingham is a speck on the map, yet the West Midlands have a commuting problem as acute for the people involved in it as at London Euston and the other great terminals of London. The West Midlands have had massive growth in commuter traffic. The demands of rail passenger numbers have increased by 105% in the past five years. Let us not pretend that this is an issue solely for London and the south of England; the pressure is exerted elsewhere, too. That is why we need to address those issues, and this is the most obvious way to do it.
I also agree in every way with what my noble friend Lord Rooker indicated. On major infrastructure projects, which are bound to extend way beyond the lifetime of any one Parliament, there is no hope for this country unless we have a commitment across the parties and across Parliaments to deliver. Otherwise, we are trapped within a four or five-year perspective for the great needs of this nation. We will be selling everybody short if we fail on that.
We can deliver. Crossrail has been an infrastructure project for more than a decade. It is still some way off completion, but it has survived elections and changes of Government because the commitment is there to meet an obvious and clearly expressed need. Some doubting Thomases in the House may say that is because that expressed need is among the London and south-east community with their greater leverage. The important thing about High Speed 2 is that it recognises the leverage that is being exerted from the regions and the cities of the north. That is why, when my right honourable friend Ed Balls, with his usual judiciousness, examined the figures of this enormous and significant increase in the projected costs, settled down and said that he wanted to look at the figures very closely and intended to scrutinise them in the future, he was doing what we would expect any responsible shadow Chancellor to do, let alone a Chancellor.
Examining the figures and making sure that budgets are adhered to and that Governments are meeting the requirements of the projections is different from suggesting that there was any reneging on commitment to the project—far from it. From this Dispatch Box today—and I know that this will be done in a debate very shortly in the other place, too—we will reassert our commitment to HS2.
However, I have words of warning for the Government because, my goodness, they are skilled in the arts of delay. We saw this exercised with regard to the problems of airports in south-east England. We have delay built into that until after the next election, even for any definitive stance on the matter. I am concerned about the delay on the HS2 project. Do the Government realise that HS1 was in Committee for two years and one month on the hybrid Bill? Anyone who has been anywhere near a hybrid Bill, either at this end or at the other end with regard to issues, knows how difficult hybrid Bills are. On HS1, it took more than two years to get the Bill through. On Crossrail, it took more than three years—in fact, nearly three and a half years—to get the hybrid Bill through; and we have not seen the hybrid Bill yet because we have not even got the paving Bill through Parliament. Therefore, as this construction was meant to start in 2017, the Government are already taking great risks on the timetable. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some reassurance that he and the department appreciate this point.
This has been an absolutely fascinating debate, one of many that we are destined to undertake over the next few months and years. I very much welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, to the Dispatch Box, for the first time on an occasion where I have addressed these issues, and we all look forward to her response.
My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Greaves for obtaining this important and timely debate. However, before I begin, I pay particular tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who is suddenly in his place—he did not know that I would say this. He managed transport business in this House with great knowledge and skill and I know that your Lordships will wish me to express our respect and our thanks.
I feel rather redundant. The case for HS2 has been made so powerfully by the noble Lords, Lord Greaves, Lord Faulkner—whose book, Holding the Line, which he modestly did not advertise, sits on my desk as a bible—Lord Bradshaw, Lord Grocott, Lord Rooker, Lord Lea of Crondall, Lord Snape, Lord Berkeley, the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow—what a list. Every one of them is an expert, respected by this House, and I know that this House will listen to them. I welcome the words of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, who reaffirmed from the opposition Front Bench his party’s commitment to this project. He is right that this issue must stretch across the politics of these Houses—it concerns the long-term infrastructure of this country—and I thank him for his words. I will touch on three key issues and will then respond to some of the remaining challenges raised in this debate.
When I joined the board of Transport for London in 2000, London was running out of transport capacity. “Make do and mend” was no longer sufficient, and we had to commit to Crossrail. As I came to the department, therefore, it was with a sense of déjà vu that I saw that we face the same problem but on a national scale. Without HS2, key rail routes connecting London, the Midlands and the north will soon be overwhelmed. Demand for long-distance rail travel has doubled in the past 15 years to 125 million journeys a year. By the mid-2020s the west coast main line will be full. As any user of the line knows, the pressures are obvious now, as they are on the east coast main line.
We cannot simply run more trains. Each new service has to be planned around what runs already. It is nearly impossible to find new train paths, and there simply is not scope for future demand, even if we use the very modest forecast of 2.2% growth in demand every year. Already, in my first two weeks in the department I have had to take note of two turn-downs by the Office of the Rail Regulator, for routes from Shrewsbury to London and Blackpool to London, because it is simply not possible to find an adequate train path for those services. However, HS2 gives us the capacity we need. It doubles the number of seats between London and Birmingham; it is capable of carrying a number of passengers equivalent to the population of Nottingham every day; and it will run 18 trains an hour when we finish phase 2, each of which carries 1,100 passengers.
I will leave your Lordships with one set of numbers to remember. If we look at all the proposals for enhancing the existing rail network as an alternative to HS2, the most we can squeeze out of those enhancements is 53% new capacity from London to Birmingham—and as the noble Lord, Lord Snape, and other noble Lords have said, that is despite years of disruption to the routes on which that work will have to be done. We would gain 53% that way, but if we build HS2 we will add 143% more capacity, and that is the transformation we have to achieve.
Transferring long-distance passengers to HS2 frees up the west coast and east coast main lines to develop significant additional regional and commuter rail services. We very much need those for the future, but we could even use many of them now. Very importantly, as the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Rooker, have underscored, it leaves room to move far more freight onto rail. The west coast main line is especially crucial as we anticipate growing freight demand as the economy expands. Frankly, the road network simply cannot cope so rail has to take its share and only with that transfer of long-distance passengers and the ability to use those main lines can we achieve it.
HS2 will be an engine for economic growth and jobs. The current estimates are that HS2 will contribute £60 billion to the economy. That is actually quite a narrow calculation and the wider effect could be much greater as we link key northern cities to each other and to the south. Incidentally, those who referred to the KPMG report must have misread some of the lines. It shows benefits to far more areas than those which suffer a relative disadvantage. It will help to rebuild our economy. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, used that key phrase, “closing the regional divide”, because although London gains, the big winners are the northern cities like Sheffield, Wigan, York and Wakefield. I understand the demands to look at the case of Scotland. Scotland will benefit from phase 1 of HS2 and even more from phase 2, but there are ongoing discussions and we have all undertaken to examine this area.
HS2 will also be a catalyst for city-centre regeneration. We have seen that with Crossrail and Kings Cross. The HS2 growth taskforce led by the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, who I know is so widely respected in this House, is now working to make sure that we maximise all of those opportunities. Frankly, if the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, doubts that the north is going to benefit, I recommend that he have a conversation with the leaders of Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds. They want this line sooner because they recognise the benefits that are coming. Of course the line does not serve every city and region and the boost is naturally greatest in the places it serves directly. That is the character of infrastructure. We were right to build Crossrail even though the main winner was London and not elsewhere.
HS2 is only one part of a much bigger investment programme which includes the electrification of the East Midlands, the west of England and Wales. There will be a £1 billion electrification of the Great Western main line to Cardiff and Swansea with intercity express trains from 2017. There will be a dualling of major road links in Cornwall and East Anglia. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked about the north. I have such a long list, I will read only some of it. We are electrifying the line between Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Blackpool. We are also electrifying the trans-Pennine route from Manchester to York via Leeds. We are introducing electric trains between Manchester airport and Scotland. It is crucial that this House understands that the overall investment in transport infrastructure in the next Parliament is £73 billion and that of that, HS2 is only £17 billion. I can confirm that in response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw.
Lastly, let me make a couple of comments on actual delivery. The upper limit of the cost is £42.6 billion. As others have said, that includes a very considerable contingency of £14.4 billion, so we have genuine scope to bear down on that number. The cost of £7.5 billion for rolling stock also includes a contingency. Let me assure the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Truscott, that we are much better today at understanding how to work out cost and how to manage and build, which is essential to the HS2 project.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, raised the question of using property uplift values as part of the way to pay for that. That is very interesting and we will look at that going forward. There is going to be a significant private-sector contribution because the stations, other than the operating part of the stations, undoubtedly can be provided by the private sector. We have seen the capacity to do that in places like Kings Cross. And after HS1 was completed, although it is a 100-year railway, a 30-year concession for that line was sold which paid for at least a third of the actual cost of construction. We have mechanisms in place to make sure that the cost is controlled and that we can turn to the private sector for significant parts of the financing. I intend to become very much more involved and look intensively at that issue.
The Government are also committed to fair compensation for those along the route who are impacted. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, that the consultation is under way now and that they should contribute to it, as it is crucially important that they do. The package—and the Government are committed to this—will go above and beyond what is required by law. This will be a fair and generous package. We are looking at issues, and part of that consultation includes things such as property bonds, voluntary purchase and rural support zones. I recommend that the noble Lord encourage his neighbours and others interested to participate, because we need that dialogue.
HS2 will also be built to the highest environmental standards, with, for example, some 70% of the surface lines between London and the West Midlands insulated by cuttings, landscaping and fencing. I say that again partly in response to questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. I accept that when one builds a piece of infrastructure, there is an impact. It is impossible to do it without an impact, and it is difficult if it impacts on an area that you either live in or know and love. This project has made a real effort to minimise the impacts, but it must pay attention to costs, and the balance that we have struck is, frankly, the right one.
The noble Lord, Lord Low, brought up the issue of Maglev technology. In China, Maglev goes between Shanghai airport and the city of Shanghai. For the kind of long-distance services that we are looking at with HS2, the Chinese are using very similar technology to that which we are proposing. We are choosing it because it is safe and proven. I think that we would all think that that was an appropriate approach to take for that size of infrastructure project.
There are opportunities to build British capacity for business and to build jobs around this project. It is by far the largest infrastructure project in Europe. One focus that I and others in this Government will have is to look at how we can build the British supply chain to make sure that we reap benefits in gathering expertise and experience in business and then put those businesses in a position where we can export that kind of expertise to other projects across the globe. With all that come jobs for young people and highly skilled jobs; this is a fantastic job opportunity. To look back over the kinds of numbers that we have seen, the Core Cities Group alone predicts that HS2 will underpin the delivery of 400,000 jobs. Construction jobs, at their peak, will be in their thousands—50,000 at peak and probably 19,000 over the average of the project.
HS2 is simply the most significant transformation of our infrastructure in a generation. It will link eight of the 10 largest British cities, serving one in five of the UK population; two-thirds of the population of northern England will be within two hours of London. As others have said, there will be interconnectedness between those communities as an additional base for stimulus within the north itself. This is a time for ambition; make do and mend will not serve this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, may have viewed the decision on HS2 as a vanity project, but he does not do justice to his colleagues when he says that. We have heard discussed again and again the requirement for capacity, and it is simply incontrovertible. We have to be able to move people in the modern era, and to move freight. To have a project that focuses on bringing prosperity to the north of England, so often forgotten in previous schemes, is critical and important. So although it is all right that the debate should continue, this Government remain—and I assure those who have asked—committed to this transformational project. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and others for having this debate today.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Kramer for her excellent response to the debate and wish her every success in her new job. Not all government reshuffles are regarded by everybody in every party with great glee and joy but when my noble friend became the Transport Minister we were proud that she had taken the job and have complete confidence in her ability to do it really well in the remaining year and a half of this Government.
I also want to thank everybody who has taken part in this smashing debate. I congratulate everybody on both sides. “Both sides” tends to be a description of the Labour Party in this debate but I will not press that too far. I thank the two noble Lords who—for once—found themselves able to agree fully with my opening speech for their compliments. I particularly thank my noble friend Lord Bradshaw and the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Lord Berkeley, for saying exactly what I thought they would say and fulfilling my forecast.
I cannot respond to the whole debate in the one or two minutes I have left. However, the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, whose contribution I very much welcomed because it gave us a real debate, provoked me a little—not for the first time in my life—with one or two of his comments. He said that, “Its sheer cost will suck the lifeblood out of the rest of the country”. In my opening speech I mentioned a few of the infrastructure projects in London and the south-east where people do not come along to your Lordships’ House, or anywhere else, and complain they are sucking the lifeblood out the rest of the country. Crossrail, Crossrail 2, new railway lines—London seems to get a new railway line every few years—nobody says these are sucking the lifeblood out of the rest of the country.
We all agree that, as the capital city of the country, London has to have a brilliant public transport system and by and large it has got one—I am green with envy every time I come here—but that is no reason for not continuing to do a good job. I do not know how much London’s new runways or new airport—or whatever it will ultimately be—will cost, but it will be the same kind of eye-watering amounts that HS2 is costing. However, the proponents of it, the corporate interests and the right-wing pressure groups who are trying to get rid of HS2 will not be coming here and saying they do not want it because they are leading the calls for more airport capacity in London. So there is hypocrisy here.
The noble Lord then went on to refer to “a handful of the nation’s cities”. Are Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Derby and Nottingham a handful of the nation’s cities? They are the great regional powerhouse capitals in the West Midlands, the East Midlands and the north of England. I am sorry, it does not wash. These cities do not need to be served by HS2: they are the centres, the capitals, the hubs of the economy, commerce, finance and transport for those regions. That is why they are getting HS2.
As I said, I accept that the south-west and East Anglia need better links. However, I do not accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, that Liverpool will miss out. In due course, Liverpool may get a spur off High Speed 2. This may be after our time, though who knows, some of us may live for ever. That is unlikely but we can try. Bordeaux, in France, is not on the TGV lines but you can get a TGV train from Paris to Bordeaux. It travels on TGV high-speed tracks as far as Poitou—or somewhere in the intermediate region on the edge of the Paris basin—and then on ordinary express lines as far as Bordeaux. Some of them go as far as Tarbes and end up on little trundly branch lines. That is exactly what will happen for Liverpool and Newcastle: there is absolutely no problem about this.
There is a lot of hot air being talked. I welcome all the people who spoke against HS2 because it exposes the paucity of their arguments and I have great pleasure in moving the Motion to note the impact of HS2. I do so because I believe it is very substantially positive.