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Volume 765: debated on Thursday 22 October 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effect of the construction of HS2 on the running of existing rail services.

My Lords, as part of the hybrid Bill and subsequent additional provisions, HS2 Ltd is required to assess the impact of the construction works on the operational railway. These assessments have been undertaken and are documented in the environmental statement and supplementary environmental statements. Our assessment also includes close working with the relevant train operators, and we will continue to work with them to minimise disruption throughout the development of the overall project.

My Lords, on Monday of this week I travelled by train from Banbury to London and was dismayed to see that some people were unable to get a seat and stood for the whole of the journey, which is around 60 minutes. HS2 will cost tens of billions of pounds and the cost is obviously still rising. Surely it would be better, and provide greater benefit to the comfort and well-being of thousands of people, if the money were spent instead on other lines up and down the country and, indeed, across the country. That would mean that we could have longer trains, longer carriages and, if necessary, longer platforms, but the important thing is that people should travel in comfort.

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that, as I am sure she is aware, HS2 will be getting underway, and we look forward to it beginning in 2017. I give her the added assurance that HS2 will also give the potential to deliver much better train services to large numbers of towns and cities. I am acutely aware of the challenges she has raised about there not being enough capacity for people, but part of what HS2 will do is deliver extra capacity to places such as Coventry, Rugby and Milton Keynes.

My Lords, I have read AP3—the latest additional provision from HS2, which he mentioned to the noble Baroness—and I can see nothing in it about the effects of construction, particularly the disruption which will be caused, around Euston and many other sites up the line, by construction lorries. I understand that, for three years during construction, there will be about 720 trucks a day leaving the Camden area with spoil. I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group, but surely HS2 should look at moving as many materials as possible by rail.

The noble Lord raises a quite valid point. We are looking at the issue of disruption from HS2. Again, there are lessons to be learned from places such as London Bridge, Blackfriars, Reading and Birmingham and they are being applied in the development of Euston to ensure that we mitigate whatever disruption there may be, not just to the rail and Tube networks, but to the surrounding local communities as well.

My Lords, could my noble friend confirm that the economic case for HS2, as published by HS2 Ltd in 2013, includes £8.3 billion of benefits that are actually cuts to existing services, under the phrase “released capacity”?

My Lords, undoubtedly the work on Euston station will be disruptive for existing passengers and, in my view, unnecessarily expensive. Will the Minister agree at least to investigate the alternative proposals put forward by the Euston Express group and to look at a more intensive use of Old Oak Common, which would act as a useful route into London, on a large scale, once Crossrail has links with it?

The noble Baroness raises the issue of Old Oak Common, which has been part of the consideration for HS2. Let me assure her, and indeed the whole House, that once we have completed the works for HS2 at Euston its capacity, as I am sure she is aware, will go from 18 platforms to 22. These enhancements will help not only with access into London but also across London.

Can the Minister confirm the uncanny resemblance of the objections to HS2 being voiced in this House now to the objections voiced in the 1830s to the building of the original London to Birmingham railway? Does he rejoice, as I do, that the objectors lost that battle eventually? I commend the Government for their persistence in building what is a hugely important infrastructure project for Britain today. Will the Minister also confirm that, should it not be built, the effect on the existing west coast main line of continued and growing overcapacity would be endless delays, weekend occupation of the line and all the problems associated with the construction of a railway while it is still attempting to run?

I do agree with the noble Lord, although I am a bit perturbed by his suggestion that I was around in the 1830s—perhaps he is suggesting I have aged at the Dispatch Box. Nevertheless, there is a valid case to be made here. The primary case for HS2 is establishing links throughout the whole country but it is also important, as the noble Lord said, to address the capacity challenges we currently face on our rail network.

Does the Minister agree that the real economic case for HS2 depends on its extension to Edinburgh and Glasgow? Since there are no objections to it in the north of England and Scotland, would it not be sensible to start building now, as quickly as possible, in the north of England and Scotland? That would also provide a market for British steel.

I commend the noble Lord—he is a great champion for Scotland and for the United Kingdom. The investment we are making in our rail network across the board, not just in HS2, underlines our commitment to ensuring that the whole country is connected. As the noble Lord will be aware, we have laid plans: we are moving forward with the first stage of HS2 in 2017, and great investment is being made in transport for the north and connectivity across Scotland. He makes a very valid point about connectivity across the country, and it is certainly a principle that I support.

My Lords, my noble friend just talked about enhancing HS2 links across the country—links which are much needed, and the sooner the better. Can he tell your Lordships’ House how he intends to strengthen the links between HS2 and HS1?

Across the network, with HS1 and HS2 and, as my noble friend will be aware, the plans we have for transport for the north, overall we are investing more than £38 billion in the rail network, which will strengthen links not only with the existing network but with HS2, HS1 and, through Transport for the North, HS3.