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Railways: High Speed 3

Volume 755: debated on Monday 21 July 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 23 June of a possible HS3 rail link between Manchester and Leeds, what assessment they have made of the potential benefits to northern cities of such a link, and particularly to those in West Yorkshire.

My Lords, the Government have asked Sir David Higgins to produce ambitious proposals for connecting the great northern cities. This work will look at how to bring the benefits of high speed rail to the north more quickly, as well as initial proposals for faster east-west connections—including options on route, timescale and cost—by the time of the Autumn Statement later this year. This will include an assessment of the potential benefits of the proposals.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for her reply. Should HS3 be built it would be some considerable time before the benefits of it were felt in Manchester and Leeds. Can my noble friend tell the House what transport improvement options have been considered to bring much-needed stimulus to the towns between Manchester and Leeds in the Calder Valley?

My Lords, I know my noble friend’s interest in the Calder Valley so I can say generically that we have been investing very heavily in transport schemes in the north. Some £554 million for schemes outside London was announced in the 2012 Autumn Statement, of which £378 million—more than half—was for the north. As for the Calder Valley, the northern electrification task force has been set up to recommend lines for electrification, in which I know the noble Baroness is interested. We would expect it to consider this line alongside other scheme proposals. The task force expects to submit its interim report in February 2015.

My Lords, while it is generally understood that the Chancellor’s announcement about HS3 came as a complete surprise to the Department for Transport, is the noble Baroness aware that the Government’s commitment to the extension of high speed rail is very welcome and can she confirm that no country in the world that has embarked on a programme of high speed rail construction has regretted it?

I can certainly confirm the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, that high speed rail is a very effective form of transport. It is one of the reasons we have chosen it. However, we have never thought of High Speed 2 as being the limit of our ambition. We have studies under way to look at taking the benefits of high speed rail to Scotland, including what we now call HS Scotland, and we are obviously looking at HS3 and at many more programmes to provide connectivity beyond that.

My Lords, the word “connectivity” is very appealing. It will be even more appealing if we get more connections that work. Does the noble Baroness agree that if we are to have an east-west HS3 it is even more important that HS2’s arrival in Leeds is not at a hammerhead terminal but at a terminal that really connects with everywhere else in Yorkshire?

I fully understand the interest of the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, in connectivity. We consider it to be vital. All the options for the route for phase 2 of HS2 are now being studied, including exactly how stations will work. Connectivity has been built into that discussion with intensive engagement with local authorities and various other stakeholders in the area.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the train currently called the TransPennine Express is one of the worst offenders against the Trade Descriptions Act in modern Britain? Can she tell us why the Government still do not have a firm plan to get HS2 to the north, let alone HS3? The current HS2 hybrid Bill stops at Birmingham and the Government still have not even confirmed the route for HS2 north of Birmingham to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, let alone the legislation. When do the Government expect to introduce legislation to take HS2 north of Birmingham? Will this be before or after work starts on HS3?

My Lords, I am sorry to hear the cynicism from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, because he has heard the commitment from this side of the House many times. We are moving ahead at a pace with determining the route for HS2. However, we are doing it with very intense engagement with local communities, including connectivity, because it is vital. If the noble Lord goes and talks with the many mayors of the great cities of the north, he will discover the intensity of that discussion and engagement. He will also understand that they recognise that we should have the route narrowed down, I hope, by the end of this year and will be moving forward with legislation. There is no question about the timetable. If anything, Sir David Higgins is looking to get into the north earlier.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, and I are members of a family that has had its centre of gravity in west Yorkshire for at least the last four centuries, and will she take particular trouble to make sure that we are kept informed?

My Lords, I am delighted to keep all interested Members of this House informed. It would indeed be a pleasure.

Can the noble Baroness reassure us that the Government understand that there are great northern cities that lie north of Leeds? The north-east is never mentioned, yet the country depends on the north-east for manufacturing output. We have the only mainline railway on which running times have become slower over the past 10 years, not faster. It looks like the Government are trying to cut us off from the rest.

My Lords, I absolutely have to counter such suggestions. First, the cities further north than the actual reach of HS2 will benefit from much higher speeds on the lines in that direction, many of them seeing 30 minutes to an hour shaved off journey times. The released capacity on the east coast main line, the west coast main line and the Midlands main lines will mean new services for many cities in the north. The work on connectivity with Rail North and others who represent local communities and other stakeholders is extensive in order to make sure that that connectivity is built in. It is a very exciting opportunity and I am sure that if the noble Baroness talks to the relevant communities, she will discover how excited and engaged they are.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that, when looked at from the north of England, HS2 is the top priority, linking as it could Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham into Birmingham? It is potentially a very important route. Does the Minister further recognise that a lot of work is being done already by local authorities across the north of England, and in August they will produce their initial report on rail improvements and better connectivity between Liverpool and Leeds? Will the Minister ensure that the new investigation co-operates carefully and closely with the consultants who are working with the local authorities to make sure that effort is not duplicated and that returns to investigations are maximised?

That is an absolutely pertinent point because, particularly when looking at connectivity in designing east-west routes, it is crucial to ensure that we maximise the benefits of HS2 and we are engaged with the communities that will be the most impacted. They know the situation best and we are all engaged in the same pursuit: that of expanding and rebuilding the economies of the Midlands and the north.