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HS2: North of England and Scotland

Volume 779: debated on Thursday 23 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that HS2 will maximise links between cities in the north of England and with Scotland.

My Lords, HS2 will have a transformational effect on journey times between cities in the north of England and with Scotland. To build on the opportunities HS2 provides, northern powerhouse rail is being planned to spread connectivity across the north of England. In addition, the Department for Transport is working closely with Transport Scotland to study all options with strong business cases to further improve capacity, reliability, resilience and journey times between Scotland and northern England.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and acknowledge the good work being done by various organisations, not least Transport for the North. But I should like to address a specific issue about HS2 and the eastern leg, which as currently planned fails to link Newcastle with Leeds. In addition, Newcastle is the terminus for the HS2 rolling stock on the eastern leg and, as it is the terminus, all passengers on it will have to change trains to travel further north towards Scotland. Would it not be better to have HS2 on the eastern leg linking our cities properly in an integrated fashion that links rail with our cities?

The noble Lord raises an important point about connectivity. In my initial Answer I referred to the important work that was being done by northern powerhouse rail. In that regard, let me assure him that a single strategy is being worked out with northern powerhouse rail, the DfT, Network Rail and HS2 to produce a single strategy—not shortly, but by the end of 2017. That will include all major cities in the north, including Liverpool, Manchester, Hull, Newcastle, Leeds and Sheffield to ensure greater connectivity in that regard.

On what basis is the Minister saying that services from Scotland and the real north of England—shall we say Carlisle?—will actually be speedier? Is it not true that the HS2 rolling stock cannot run on conventional rails, and that the service after HS2 north of Manchester and Leeds to London will actually be slower than it is now?

On faster services from London to Scotland—and that includes to the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh—once the second phase of HS2 is complete, we are talking of journey times of three hours and 40 minutes. The noble Lord is right to raise the issue of infrastructure, particularly in terms of the tracks themselves running in the northern part to Scotland. We are working with northern powerhouse rail, to which I alluded earlier, and indeed Transport Scotland to see what further work can be done to reduce journey times. The aspiration, of course, is to reduce the journey time to below three hours.

I do not think that this is about delays. I am sure that the noble Lord heard the Lord Speaker announce the fact that today we received Royal Assent for the first part of HS2. It is important that work gets under way in that regard and we will bring forward legislation on phases 2A and 2B of Network Rail later this year, I hope.

My Lords, currently there is an excellent two-hour direct service at 125 miles an hour between London and the city of Chester. Will being able to get to Manchester—wherever Manchester is—in an hour call into question the current excellent direct service between London and Chester?

I believe that Manchester will stay where it is. I look to my noble friend Lady Williams on my right, who knows Manchester very well. This is about being quicker and about improving capacity and connectivity. The building of HS2, along with the plans that are under way with northern powerhouse rail, will address both issues, which is extremely important for people not just in the south and the Midlands, but to the north and indeed for Scotland as well.

My Lords, further to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in what year will HS2 or its extension reach Newcastle, and how old will my noble friend be?

Crystal ball gazing is not my expertise, but it is important that this is a phased project. It is right to look at building the first phase of this project. I am being advised by certain noble friends that I should say “shortly”. Perhaps I will not go to that extent, but I have already indicated that northern powerhouse rail, together with DfT, Network Rail and HS2 are already undertaking work, and we will produce a report towards the end of 2017 that will underline the importance of this connectivity.

My Lords, can I ask when the final route plans for HS3 will be published, and when the hybrid Bill for the next stages of HS2 to Crewe, Manchester and Leeds will be published? I hope that the Minister will be able to answer that question, but of course if he cannot he could always say “shortly”.

I will be the first to say that perhaps we are overusing the word “shortly” in this regard. On the first part of the noble Lord’s question, about links between the great cities of the north, I have already indicated that a report on a single integrated strategy will be produced by the end of 2017. We hope that the Bill for the next phase of HS2 will be introduced later this year, as I have also already indicated. Once I have a specific date, I will of course share it with your Lordships’ House.