My Lords, the Government have asked Sir David Higgins to produce an ambitious proposal 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, timescales and cost, by the time of the Autumn Statement later this year.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if combined with high-speed broadband across the region and increased capacity at Manchester Airport, High Speed 3 has the capacity to once again enable the northern cities to be economic powerhouses—a 21st-century Cottonopolis?
My Lords, we need to unlock the economic potential of our northern cities. The cities of the north are individually strong, but collectively not strong enough. Therefore, the floating idea of the Chancellor to have an HS3 was welcomed, but we have a lot of work to do on that.
My Lords, last week in this House my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester stated that it was,
“generally understood that the Chancellor’s announcement about HS3 came as a complete surprise to the Department for Transport”.—[Official Report, 21/7/14; col. 926.]
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, did not deny that, and today is a second opportunity for a government Minister to do so. Is the commitment from the Government a commitment to build HS3? Is it, 10 months from an election, simply an announcement to look at the case for HS3, from a Chancellor from a northern constituency who was speaking at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and worried about whether the Conservatives would hold on to such seats as Calder Valley and Colne Valley? If it is a commitment to build HS3, what benefits were revealed by the cost-benefit analysis, and who did it?
My Lords, that was a long question—in fact, many questions. The Chancellor has set out a vision for how to unlock economic potential in northern cities. Something remarkable has happened to our northern cities in the last 30 years. They have done very well. It is time that we take them to another level. One way to do so is to have the infrastructure investment. We are having HS2, which has been widely discussed in this House. HS3 is a floating idea. We wait for a further report from David Higgins to justify a business case for HS3. But we need to rebalance the economy, we need to support our northern cities and HS3 will probably become a welcome idea.
My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister will reflect on the fact that whenever HS3 is built it will be a long time, and there is a very urgent need to improve east-west connections right across the country—from Norwich to Liverpool, Lincoln to Birmingham and so on. Is it not much more important to concentrate on getting these schemes working and, at the same time, to make provision for a through facility at Leeds which will link Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull and completely revolutionise the situation?
My Lords, the Government have invested more than £600 million for the Northern Hub. I agree with the noble Lord that we need to speed up the works that are going on in the Northern Hub to make sure that we have the right connectivity between our major cities and towns. I agree with him that the work is in progress but there is more to be done.
My Lords, the Minister confused me a little by referring to a floating idea. In the north, we like straight yes or no. Are the Government—the Department for Transport, the Chancellor and the whole Government—committed to meeting the needs of the north, or could this idea float away again after the general election?
My Lords, the government policy is to rebalance the economy. The announcement by the Chancellor was to see how we could unlock the economic potential of the northern cities and make them into a hub for economic growth. HS3 is an idea that has come from the Chancellor, and we are quite categorically saying that this will depend on the report that we will have from David Higgins before the Autumn Statement.