Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on the economy and environment of HS2.
My Lords, I am grateful to have this debate, which is an opportunity to examine further the vexed question of HS2. I am grateful also to the Minister, who kindly arranged a meeting with me to discuss the issue.
Your Lordships may wonder what purpose this debate serves, given how far this ridiculous scheme has got. First, it is never too late to correct mistakes. Although considerable sums of money have already been spent, they pale into insignificance when compared with the eye-watering sums to come. We should not throw good money after bad. Although many lives, homes and businesses have already been damaged, many have not, and the environment is still as yet relatively unharmed. My first reason is to ask the Secretary of State, even at this stage, to undertake an urgent review of the scheme, its costs and benefits.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I firmly believe that this is going to be the infrastructure horror of the 21st century and, along with others, have sought in vain to explain clearly why this is the case to those responsible, from the Prime Minister downward. I am determined that those who sanction HS2 should confirm that they understand all its ramifications, put their names to it and bear the responsibility as the horror unfolds.
I am sorry to burden the new Minister with this enormous responsibility, but I want to task her with one thing above any other. I do not expect her today to commit to a review or, better still, to halt the project. Quite simply, I ask her to read carefully the package of papers that I have given her and to make sure that her civil servants read it too, then to satisfy herself that both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State understand the position as she will then understand it. If she will undertake to do that, I can for the moment do no more. I believe that from the very beginning a scheme as nonsensical and deeply damaging, economically and environmentally, as HS2, could not possibly have got off the ground if those responsible for giving it the go-ahead had taken the trouble—as all the experts opposed to it have done—to understand fully how little benefit it will bring, how much it will cost and how much damage it will do.
This is the biggest infrastructure project ever in this country. There is widespread awareness of it and almost total opposition, combined with a sad acceptance and a resignation that it will happen anyway. It is topical today to think about the gap—the dislocation between government and the people. Nothing could better reinforce the people’s view that government is completely out of step with reality than HS2. Last January, I gave your Lordships’ House the opportunity to stop HS2 by tabling what was described as a fatal amendment at Third Reading of the HS2 Bill. The majority of your Lordships failed to support my amendment, many telling me privately that they agreed with it, but 25 brave souls supported me and will go down in history as having done so. Significantly, two of them are ex-Permanent Secretaries to the Treasury. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, under Gordon Brown and the noble Lord, Lord Macpherson, under David Cameron, saw at first hand and in the closest possible detail the shortcomings of HS2. Both voted to put a stop to it just a few months ago and have spoken against it since.
The crucial point here—this is the most important point I want the Minister to take away from the debate—is that anyone who takes the time and trouble really to understand this project and see all its shortcomings simply finds that they cannot support it. I believe the Prime Minister and perhaps even the Secretary of State have been badly advised. For them not to fully understand the ramifications of a scheme as huge as this, if this proved to be the case, is truly frightening.
This mad scheme, the pipe dream of originally just two people, was based on the idea of speed, as seen in France and Japan, cutting the travelling time between London and Birmingham with speeds of 250 mph. The case for speed has been heavily and effectively criticised and is no longer deployed. The fallback position has been capacity, but this too does not hold water since, although some new capacity may be introduced, it creates other problems. In any case, extra capacity is needed much more in other areas. Some 83% of London’s rail passenger traffic comes from the south and east of London, not the north.
Any serious justification for the scheme no longer exists, except perhaps just job creation—we now have two HS2 colleges. I am all for creating more employment, but not for spending £100 billion for so little advantage. The NHS needs only £4 billion to see its way ahead. We need homes and ships. I am told you could rebuild every hospital in the country with this money. It is generally agreed that any money spent on the railway system should be on improving existing lines, trains and stations, along with the links between our northern cities and the east-west links in the north.
When it comes to cost we really do enter Alice in Wonderland territory. At £400 million per mile it will certainly be far and away the most expensive railway in the world. Unbelievably, HS2 has still not produced detailed estimates. The Government say the total scheme will cost £55.7 billion. Mr Michael Bing, the expert who devised the standard method used by Network Rail to cost its projects and who has advised the Government on these matters, says £104 billion. Mr Bing’s costings have never been challenged.
What about the environment? Let us not pretend: the effect of HS2 on the environment was always going to be deeply damaging. Remember, a brand-new high-speed railway line is being driven through the middle of the country, where, incidentally, a functioning railway line already exists. Speed need straightness and straightness means you cannot avoid precious sites. Ten thousand acres of land will be affected. The Woodland Trust says that, as currently mapped, HS2 will destroy or damage 98 irreplaceable woodlands. Ancient woodlands really are irreplaceable; no amount of money will compensate for their loss. There are already reports of some 60 mature London planes being taken down in Camden to make way for a temporary taxi rank. In the Colne valley there are reports of unregulated clearance work taking place already. If that is true, it is very serious. The law and conditions laid down have to be strictly adhered to, otherwise not only does the environment suffer but so does Parliament’s reputation and credibility. Perhaps the Minister will let us know what arrangements are in place for monitoring these works.
This is the gravy train to end all gravy trains. Millions upon millions have already been spent on lawyers, accountants and planners. One firm is reported as having been paid £280,000 to extol the virtues of HS2 to primary schoolchildren along the route. Unauthorised enhanced redundancy payments have been paid to HS2 staff, against the direct instructions of the Secretary of State. The impression given is that HS2 is arrogant and sees itself as bombproof. Perhaps that it is not surprising. The Secretary of State himself, when asked on the “Today” programme what it might cost to complete HS2, replied, “What it takes”. As a separate matter, some concerns have been expressed about the role of members of the board of the National Infrastructure Commission, and its interest in and involvement with companies dealing with HS2. Perhaps the Minister could look into that for us.
The list of those opposed to HS2 is huge. A few days ago, Dame Margaret Hodge MP, former chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee in the House of Commons, said that the PAC could no longer keep a proper check on problems such as HS2, which she called a vanity project unlikely to help the north. Perhaps the most damaging critique of HS2 comes from a group of professional railway experts led by Tony May and Jonathan Tyler. That can be found in the Lords’ Library briefing—I do not have time to spell it out now. Even more damning is that fact that this group, which sought a meeting first with the Secretary of State and then with a junior Minister, were told, quite simply, that both were too busy.
I have with me a sheaf of quotations. I am not going to read them all out but I will read out two. The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, a former Chancellor, says that:
“HS2 is a huge mistake. The fact is, it is a crazy grandiose vanity project which doesn’t stack up economically at all”.
The noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, said, perhaps tellingly, that:
“In 2010, when the then Labour government decided to back HS2 … We were focusing on the coming electoral battle, not on the detailed facts and figures of an investment that did not present us with any immediate spending choices … I now fear HS2 could be an expensive mistake”.
Time is up.
In conclusion, speed has always been important to railways. On 3 July 1938, a beautiful steam engine called the “Mallard” set a world record speed of 126 miles an hour—a triumph of engineering and something for the nation to be proud of. HS2 is not a “Mallard”; it is an albatross that will hang around the necks of the British people until 2033, costing over £100 billion. The Budget is just one week away and the NHS needs just £4 billion. We surely desperately need a review.
My Lords, I do not intend to follow the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, for two reasons. First, I have heard most of the arguments that he marshalled today previously. Secondly, I remind him of the guide to procedure in your Lordships’ House. I object to people reading out every word, particularly when, by and large, those words have been written by somebody else.
The noble Lord mentioned costs and benefits.
I have not finished with him yet. I will give way in a moment.
He mentioned costs and benefits but talked solely about the costs and not about the benefits. If the noble Lord is going to intervene with something impromptu, rather than something he has read somewhere else, I will give way.
My Lords, I am intervening on the noble Lord simply because of the word he used: “impromptu”. Every word I write and speak is my own. The noble Lord needs to understand that. I would be grateful for an apology, or at least an acknowledgement that what he said is not entirely accurate.
Then I acknowledge that and apologise, if the noble Lord wrote it all himself. However, I stick by the words I said. It is surely not necessary, either in Grand Committee or on the Floor of your Lordships’ House, to read every word in the way that he just did.
To go back to what I was saying, the noble Lord talked about costs and benefits but mentioned only the costs and none of the benefits. When it comes to the costs, my noble friend beside me will bring his analytical mind to bear and give the Grand Committee some proper information. I might not always agree with him but I respect the fact that he knows what he is talking about as far as the railway industry is concerned. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham.
The benefits of HS2 are manifold, and I will give one or two examples to your Lordships in a moment. First, let us look at any alternatives to HS2. The noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, skipped merrily past the situation of the existing railway lines because, like most of the opponents of this scheme, he has no alternative. He says that money would be better spent on upgrading existing railway lines but does not tell us how. As a former railway signalman, I can tell him that you cannot run the sort of service that we currently have on the west coast main line while carrying out modernisation of that line. In the 1960s—the last time the line was modernised, when it was electrified—there were numerous alternative routes between, for example, London and Manchester, London and Liverpool and London and Scotland. Because of the short-sighted nature of Governments of both political hues, most of those routes have since been closed. You cannot run 50 trains an hour in and out of Euston on an average day and spend time upgrading that line, It would be impossible.
I repeat: there are currently 50 trains an hour in and out of Euston for much of the day. Those trains are joined at Willesden by freight trains of the North London line and further north at Nuneaton by freight trains from Felixstowe on various cross-country routes. For much of the day, the west coast main line is operating at pretty near capacity. I say to noble Lords who glibly suggest that we can spend a few billion pounds modernising that line to stop HS2 going ahead: that is nonsense.
As far as the benefits are concerned, again, the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, skipped blithely over the fact that about 25,000 new jobs—many of them in the West Midlands and north of England—will be created by this scheme. Representing parts of East Anglia, as he did in the other place, perhaps he is not really interested in such benefits. If we are to create all the skilled jobs that HS2 will bring about, however, the project really must go ahead. Again, he mentioned in passing that two new apprentice colleges—one in Doncaster, one in Birmingham—are opening as a direct result of HS2. Do the future prospects of young people in the Midlands and north of England have no interest for the opponents of HS2—the noble Lord and the other 34 Luddites that joined him in the Lobby against this project a few months ago—a project perhaps uniquely supported by both parties in government? There really is no alternative.
I appreciate that there are problems and difficulties, but having served on committees that eventually gave the go-ahead for the Channel Tunnel and HS1, nobody appreciates more than me the damage suffered and concern felt by people who have to lose their homes because of these projects. They must be properly treated and compensated. It is impossible, however, to build such a vital project without people being adversely affected.
The fact is that we are talking about a two-track railway line. Listening to the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, one would think it was the fifth horseman of the apocalypse descending on middle England, rather than a twin-track railway. Are there no motorways in the parts of England he once represented? Did he not find motorways to be more intrusive on daily life than a railway line? By and large, people living alongside railway lines hear nothing—no matter how intensive the service—for about 45 minutes in every hour, because the train passes quickly, while people living along motorways suffer noise for 24 hours. That obviously does not bother the noble Lord or his supporters. This is a great project. It is needed in the West Midlands and the north of England. It is an attempt, at last, to tilt the economic axis slightly away from London and the south-east towards the rest of the country, which will not easily forgive those who try to block it.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Framlingham on raising this issue. I do not agree with him, but it is important that your Lordships not only debate it again today but on an annual basis—I do not know what the necessary procedure would be—to consider the progress made on the project in terms of controlling costs and analysing the benefits to come, which I will briefly touch on.
The arguments for the project are economic. I will not touch on the environmental issues that my noble friend has raised, because last year’s Select Committee—on which a number of colleagues here participated directly or indirectly—undertook the long process of considering more than 1,000 petitions. I believe, however, that it is important to concentrate on the issue of cost and that there should be a mechanism—which if necessary I will institute—that enables this House to look at the progress of the project and the control of its costs.
This is a long-term project, and it is very difficult to measure and estimate the total costs over a great number of years. As the Rail Minister responsible for HS1, I know that there was considerable concern at the outset about the project cost and about the impact on households affected on the route from central London to the tunnel. But that process worked extremely well. It is a long-term project that has proved outstandingly successful, and it makes one of the key points that I wish to make. The regeneration around that railway line, particularly just outside London, across the river but also right down to the Channel Tunnel, is beyond all estimates that were made about the benefits of HS1. We need to bear in mind—and I shall come on to the benefits to the north of England in this regard—that it is very difficult to make an estimate of what those benefits are, but they have certainly outstripped the early estimates that were made by the Department for Transport.
I have read the report from KPMG, which estimates £15 billion of productivity gains over 20 years. That is to some extent a heroic estimate; it is very difficult for even a distinguished firm like KPMG to make the kinds of estimates that have been bandied around. But for London to Birmingham, there is an overwhelming case for the high-speed line. Not only is the west coast main line pretty much at capacity but, looking forward even 10 years, let alone 50 years, we will need greater capacity, which means faster trains to connect London with the major city of Birmingham. Beyond Birmingham, in the second phase, the same applies. A number of local authorities, particularly in Manchester, Crewe, Wigan, Sheffield and Leeds—as well as with the trans-Pennine connection, HS3—have expressed their views about the future of this project, and they have all been positive, because it will bring a greater and faster connectivity between those great conurbations and the capital. That is an extremely important point. It is very difficult to forecast the actual environmental and economic consequences, but the initial reactions, particularly from Manchester, which I warmly welcome, should be taken into account.
I shall mention one aspect of the proposal that may not have been fully understood. The initial construction of the line is planned to call at Old Oak Common. That is quite important because of its connectivity to Heathrow. I am told and believe that trains will stop for only two minutes for those who wish to get out there before proceeding into Euston. That seems to me to be a real benefit.
Finally, HS1 has turned out to be a tremendous success, and the capacity provided seems to be improving and increasing all the time. It has done a great deal for tourism and business, and I believe that this new project, HS2, and, ultimately, HS3 across the Pennines, will make a tremendous contribution to the productivity and prosperity of this country.
My Lords, I start by making it clear that I am speaking in a personal capacity from the Back Benches and that I am not speaking, as I often can do, from the Front Bench. That is to reassure my noble friend sitting in front of me because he might otherwise be a little concerned. I also need to declare an interest as a soon-to-be former resident of a house very close to the line, which is in a tunnel going past where I live. I am not going to address the main points made by the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, although I agree absolutely with much of what he said. The questions that he put to the Minister are ones that need to be answered. I shall look at a point that was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman.
Given that there are members here of the Lords Select Committee who toiled for a long time over the hot summer, I should say that some of what I am going to say bears on their work, which I salute and acknowledge as being fantastic and a great service to the House. I do this because I know from discussions outside this place that we are about to engage in a revision of the Standing Orders for hybrid Bills, which I think was called for by the chairman at the end of his period as chair of the Select Committee. The revision is to be done jointly with the other place. It is a long and cumbersome process to be done in two stages. The first stage is very much the low-hanging fruit and will result in some good changes that I will allude to, although more things will need to be done. In addition, both Houses need to think carefully about what we are doing when we get involved in this process.
When citizens or external organisations engage with a hybrid Bill, they are engaging with Parliament in a very unusual way. We do not do this very often, and it is important to bear that in mind. We have to make sure that our systems and processes, whether in writing or in person, are not archaic, devised as they were in Victorian times. The jargon and the procedures need to be thoroughly revised. The idea that someone who wishes to raise a point with the hybrid Bill Committee has to do so by praying in a strange way is the sort of thing I am talking about here. It is also important that the two Houses establish without any doubt that they have co-equal powers, as they do on everything else except, apparently, on hybrid Bills, in order that both Houses can act as they see fit in the pursuance of public issues. At the moment it is sort of assumed that the second House has lesser powers. That is unacceptable and we must look at it.
The primary purpose of having a hybrid Bill process has moved on from when it was invented in Victorian times, when largely it seemed to serve the interests and rights of the owners of large plots of land who were being affected by the railway revolution. Nowadays it is effectively a public planning inquiry, so we have to think hard about how we handle it. We should not be doing it as we currently do for all the reasons that everyone understands. I have suggested to the Bill team that is looking at how we deal with these Bills that the fact that this is a planning inquiry means that there is a good case for saying that it should be dealt with as if it were a planning inquiry, with all that means in terms of status, appearance, the right to representation and so on. It is very important that the system allows those who are affected by a project to be heard and that it is more accepting of the various modes of address that individuals who wish to be heard would use. We have to think electronically and digitally as well as people appearing in private.
It is up to the individual to propose how they make their representations. More effort should also be made to ensure there is equality of arms actually in the hearings themselves, should there be the need for public hearings in the form that we have had them in the past. I think that a lot could be done by correspondence and would not involve any public appearance. If there are to be appearances, they have to be grouped, marshalled and conducted in a way that brings out the key points without disadvantaging those who wish to make them in the form they choose. The corollary of that is that where a committee in either House finds that there is an issue that needs redress, the systems under which these redresses are documented, logged and approved must be looked at carefully.
Finally, there is a wider issue here about how we deal with what is called property blight. I do not think there is any doubt that the HS1 Bill team did as much as they could do within the existing law, but I wonder whether that is sufficient. We can all be affected by blight, in whatever form it comes, as can our infrastructure, whether it is gas pipelines, water, a road or a railway. There is merit in a case that was presented to me during the process of the Bill, but I was unable to get any address. I hope the Minister will take this away: if there was a thing called a property blight bond—attached to a property, not a person—it could build up a sort of mutual fund, like national insurance, which could be available to and drawn down by anybody affected by blight. That may sound like a very odd arrangement, but the proposal has come from the insurance industry, which thinks that there is some concern about how one might want to take that forward. I do not expect a positive response to this today from the Minister, although I raised it with her predecessor and did not get a response, so I know that it has been lodged in the department. That applies not only to the Department for Transport but to others as well. I hope that somebody will look at it and take it forward.
My Lords, the points made by my noble friend Lord Stevenson about the hybrid Bill process are very interesting. I will not speak about them today but I think they need further debate, starting from the basis of why building a new railway is so different from building a new road. It needs modernising; we have talked about it before but we will return to it some time, no doubt.
As has been suggested by a few noble Lords, I will talk about the costs of HS2, because my noble friend Lord Snape talked about a lot of the benefits. I support the scheme—I have said it before, on the record, and I still say it—but I worry about the amount of money that has been committed and will be committed, whether it is good value and what can be done about it. It is interesting to reflect that the recent settlement of about £45 billion for Network Rail for the next five-year control period is to keep the whole of the network operational and safe, not including enhancements. Compare that with the cost of HS1 phase 1: £24 billion, which is about half that figure, or £48 billion if you include phases 2A and 2B, once the five-year period is over. In the Government’s figures, the cost of phase 1 is 50% of all the money given to Network Rail to keep the network going. We can debate whether that is a good balance, but the problem is that very few people outside the Government believe that £24 billion is the likely outturn cost of phase 1, as said by the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham.
I have spoken about working on useful alternatives before; I will not repeat them, but there are issues with Wendover, such as the cost of the trains and the speed of the line. The estimate that we came up with, which started off in the appearance of a friend of mine before the House of Lords Select Committee, suggested that the costs, if aggregated for the whole of phase 1, would come out at about double the cost that the Government were estimating for phase 1 of HS2—about £48 billion. Adding phases 2A and 2B would take us up to £100 billion. In the committee, we were never challenged by those at HS2; they said they did not agree, but I asked them where the evidence of their disagreement is and we still do not have it. I am still in discussion with Paul Maynard, the Minister responsible—I will come back to that—and I would like an answer on how the department came up with the cost estimate and where we differ. We must discuss that. It is surprising that the Government have spent £1 billion on consultants for HS2 so far, but cannot come up with a cost that can be looked at.
Compare that with Crossrail and HS1, as the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, said. Crossrail is on time and on budget, as far as I know; it is a very successful project. HS1 was pretty successful too, so there are ways to get the cost right. Since public money is being spent, it is reasonable to suggest that we should get that.
I have suggested to Ministers and officials ways of reducing the costs of HS2 without cancelling it. I do not want to see it cancelled but the costs need looking at. It is a bit of a vanity project. Initially it was said that trains would run at 400 kilometres an hour. They do not run anywhere in Europe at 400 kilometres an hour, and I do not think they do in Japan either. There is an argument for high speed in big countries—such as France, Germany and Italy—but we are not big. The cost increase of the technology needed to go up from the standard 320 kph to 400 is dramatic. Train manufacturers and the people who design and build the track are talking about something like 30% or 40% on costs to achieve that because it takes more power, the tracks have to be straighter and the tunnels have to be bigger, and we must not forget the extra maintenance cost. Once the trains are there and working, the track and train maintenance is much more expensive.
To be fair, the latest HS2 spec has brought the speed down to 360, which is an improvement. However, there are other ways of saving money, such as stopping at Old Oak Common in phase 1. We have all looked at that and agree it would work. Local people have come up with an alternative for the Wendover tunnel which will work very well. It is cheaper and would reduce the environmental impact. There are many other things which I have not got time to go into.
My real worry—I have had discussions with the Minister’s predecessor, the noble Lord , Lord Ahmad, on this—is whether it is acceptable for so many billions to be spent before there is a firm cost estimate. Demolition has started in Camden—people have been moved out and the ball and chains are starting to fly. We know that this is the kind of estimate at which the MoD is very good when it comes to aeroplanes and battleships and so on, but I am a civil engineer and I expect to get a reasonably firm estimate of a cost before there is a go-ahead to spending so much money.
I hope the Minister will be able to give me some comfort that this can be resolved. Perhaps we can have a meeting. I am due to have a meeting with the Minister, Paul Maynard. The cost needs nailing before it gets to the stage when Ministers say—this may well be after Ministers have changed and so they will no longer be responsible—“Well, it has started and it is too late to stop”.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, for initiating this debate on the biggest infrastructure project in the United Kingdom.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, I served on the Select Committee, which sat for many months hearing petitioners who believe they have an issue with the project. In the end, under the extraordinarily patient chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, we did a decent job within the limited powers that we had. I recall one petitioner who was so delighted with our decision that he declared, “It is what I have always said: the Lords do a wonderful job”. My favourite petitioner was an upright, well-dressed gentleman with a magnificent moustache—probably a retired military officer—who told us: “My Lords, my Lady, we do not want these things rattling past our homes”. I asked the sound expert, Rupert Thornely-Taylor, one of the top experts in the world, whether the trains were really going to rattle. He thought for a moment and then replied: “Lord Jones, if they rattle, they are in desperate need of maintenance”. Of course, these trains will go “Whoosh”, and when they are travelling at 330 kilometres an hour they will pass in seconds.
The shortening of journey times is staggering. I will give just three examples: Birmingham to Manchester in just 40 minutes compared to one hour 28 minutes; Leeds to London in one hour 21 minutes, saving 50 minutes; the Manchester-to-London journey time cut almost in half to just over an hour.
One of the greatest problems our country has is lack of productivity. Part of the problem is that businesses, with some notable exceptions, do not invest enough in technology and training. Another part of the problem is our transport system. We spend too much time stuck in traffic jams or travelling on slow-moving, overcrowded and often bumpy trains before we get to our workplace. By making it easier, faster and more reliable for people to move around the country, HS2 will allow individuals to achieve their full potential and give the regions and areas in which they live access to the critical mass of skills, professional services and markets they need to thrive and develop.
HS2 is already acting as a catalyst for change regionally and locally. The West Midlands Combined Authority estimates HS2 could boost the region’s economy by £14 billion and support 100,000 jobs. The east Midlands estimates £4 billion and 74,000 jobs. Manchester believes HS2 could bring 180,000 new jobs and 4,500 new homes are planned for near the station.
The current rail network is nearing capacity. Too many passengers have to stand when travelling by train. Not so long ago I caught a train from Euston to Milton Keynes to attend a Russ Ballard concert at the Stables. It was the Glasgow train, which was absolutely packed, with many passengers forced to stand. When we got to Milton Keynes it felt as though half the passengers got off the train. It took 20 minutes to exit the station.
The same is true in the opposite direction. I travelled from Birmingham to London and could not find a seat until we stopped at Coventry and many passengers alighted. Commuters are using trains aimed at long-distance travellers, resulting in an uncomfortable journey until the commuters get off. HS2 will put an end to that. More commuter trains will use the classic track, meaning all passengers should be able to find a seat. Long-distance passengers will get to their destination much quicker by travelling on the high-speed line.
The environment will benefit too. HS2 will create a new “green corridor” that will connect wildlife habitats through the spine of the country. This network of green spaces, spanning woodland, wetland, ponds, hedgerows, heathland, meadow and farmland, will stretch alongside much of the 345 miles of track from London to the West Midlands, through to the east Midlands, Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds. Some 1,350 hectares—that is 3,340 acres in old money—of wildlife habitats, ranging from woodland and meadow to hedgerows and wetland, will be created. This equates to the size of 4,676 football pitches and is a 33% increase in wildlife habitats along the line route. Some 7 million trees and shrubs will be planted—40 different species covering over 900 hectares. The Select Committee was keen to ensure that there would be no net loss of biodiversity.
Phase 1 of HS2 will emit seven times less carbon than the equivalent intercity car journey and 20 times less than the equivalent domestic flight. In 2030, carbon emissions from the operation of HS2 will form just 0.06% of the projected total of the UK’s transport emissions.
HS2 will create lots of jobs: 25,000 to build the railway, 3,000 to operate and maintain it and over 2,000 apprentices. More than 70% of the jobs will be outside London. Eventually, over 100 million people a year are expected to use HS2 trains when the network is fully completed. I shall follow HS2’s progress with interest.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, for providing us with this opportunity to discuss the progress being made with HS2. I appreciate that the noble Lord has a certain lack of enthusiasm for the project, but our policy, with which I know he does not agree, is to support completion of HS2 from London through Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester, then into Scotland. HS2 was initiated by the last Labour Government and neither the coalition Government in 2010, the Conservative Government in 2015 nor the present Conservative Government cosying up to the DUP have decided to do anything other than continue to make the case for HS2 and proceed with the project. The present Prime Minister may have had her doubts about Hinkley Point when she came into office, but she did not to the best of my knowledge demand a review of the case for HS2. Work on phase 1 of HS2 from Euston to Birmingham has already started, and a year ago the majority of the preferred route for phase 2B of HS2 was confirmed by the Government. Passenger services are planned to commence on phase 1 in 2026 and, subject to approval of the hybrid Bills, on phase 2A between the West Midlands and Crewe in 2027 and on phase 2B in 2033.
The strategic objectives of HS2 are to improve capacity and connectivity and, through that, to stimulate economic growth. A new high-speed network will also provide faster journey times and improved reliability. There is a need to ensure that our rail network has the capacity to meet the long-term demand which will arise not least from economic growth, an increasing population, and the continuing expansion of the UK as a major tourist destination. Our main north-south intercity rail routes are already facing capacity issues, primarily but not solely on the west coast main line. Further incremental improvements will not be sufficient to address those capacity issues, certainly not beyond the mid-2020s. On top of that, there is the reality that significant incremental upgrades result in prolonged and extensive disruption to the quality and speed of services on the parts of the current network being upgraded, which in itself has an economic and social cost.
Alternatives to HS2 have been considered but the conclusion has been reached that building new standard or classic rail lines would not be significantly cheaper than new high-speed lines, nor would their effects on the environment be significantly less than those of high-speed rail. They would also not deliver the same level of benefits as high-speed lines would through improved connectivity, bringing people and businesses together, and enhancing long-term economic growth.
Construction of the line will of course bring significant disruption to the communities affected, including where I live, in just the same way as the construction of our motorway network did or as additional runway capacity in the south-east would, assuming that the Government ever get round to making a final decision on that issue. The disruption from the construction of HS2 is all the worse for communities on the line of route because nearly all of them will get no future direct benefit from HS2 as there will be no stations on the new high-speed route anywhere near them.
The subject of this debate is the impact of HS2 on the economy and the environment. I am not quite clear where the Government now stand on rail improvements and the environment. One argument used by the Secretary of State recently when announcing the largest ever government programme for abandoning or delaying rail electrification schemes, to which that Government had previously been committed or supported, was that the overhead electrification infrastructure was unsightly, unpopular and a blot on the landscape. Will that same consideration, which seems to trouble the mind of the Government in general and the Secretary of State in particular, apply in the case of HS2?
The Chilterns, for example, is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Is the Secretary of State now going to say, consistent with his newly found distaste for overhead electrification infrastructure, that the fleet of new HS2 trains will be bimodal, with no wires or supporting electrification infrastructure, on the new line as it passes through the Chilterns? Is he about to announce that the line will now be in a tunnel right the way from West Ruislip through the Chilterns? That would presumably satisfy those advocating the Wendover short-mined tunnel proposal, as well as addressing the issue of visible, unsightly overhead electrification structures which now appears to be a matter troubling the mind of the Secretary of State.
In our previous debates on HS2, reference has been made to those who have pressed for a link line in west London to enable HS2 services to connect with HS1 via existing south London lines. I am aware that there has been correspondence between advocates of this step and the Department for Transport; there may even have been a meeting. Perhaps the Minister could provide us with an update on what is happening on this issue. There are those who think it rather odd that we have managed to build HS1, running from the south into a terminal on the north side of London, and are about to build HS2, running from the north into an adjacent terminal, but have not managed to provide a connecting link between the two high-speed routes or make any provision for through-running of services.
In reiterating our support for HS2, I hope that the Government will be able to provide some firm assurances today that close attention will be paid throughout the construction process to the need to listen to the communities being adversely affected and to do everything possible to minimise the inevitable negative impacts on them that the construction process will involve. Indeed, along with the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, I would like to hear from the Minister that the Government intend to be actively involved in ensuring that this actually happens and that they do not simply intend to wait for problems to arise before doing anything.
My Lords, I start by thanking noble Lords for their contributions, and in particular my noble friend Lord Framlingham for giving us the opportunity to discuss this most important issue, the largest infrastructure project in Europe.
Your Lordships will know that I am a relative newcomer to this subject. I recognise the extensive knowledge and experience of noble Lords here today. I have listened to the criticisms of the project by many and welcome the expressions of support. I do not expect my response to satisfy my noble friend Lord Framlingham, as I am well aware of his long-standing views, but I hope to set out the Government’s assessment of the impacts of HS2 on the economy and the environment.
HS2 will transform the railways in this country, but of course I recognise its significant cost. The duty of this Government, and indeed this Parliament, is to ensure that we deliver good value for money for the British taxpayer. HS2 is not just about speed; it is about capacity, connectivity and supporting economic growth.
Our trains are becoming increasingly crowded. HS2 will form the new backbone of our national rail network, providing new capacity and better connecting our major cities. Good rail links bring our country closer together, and HS2 will help improve productivity and lead to a stronger, more balanced economy capable of delivering lasting economic growth and prosperity. Furthermore, people will not need to travel on HS2 to feel the benefits. Moving intercity services on to HS2 will free up space on our existing railways for new commuter, regional and freight services. This will create better connections and thousands more seats for passengers, and of course it will allow more goods to be moved by rail, helping to reduce congestion on the roads.
I turn to the impact on the economy of HS2 and will refer, first, to the important issue of jobs, referred to by many noble Lords. Around 25,000 jobs will be created during the construction, as well as 2,000 apprenticeships. Three thousand people will be employed on maintaining and operating the railway, and the investment around HS2 stations is expected to support 100,000 jobs. This is not just about when the new railway opens; jobs and skills are being created now. Several major contracts, worth over £7 billion, have already been awarded for the enabling and civil engineering works required to build phase 1. These contracts alone are expected to support 16,000 jobs and to generate thousands of indirect contract opportunities for the supply chain. HS2 is working with businesses, trade associations and local stakeholders across the UK, including many small and medium-sized firms, to ensure that they are ready to be involved.
HS2 is also about upskilling. A more skilled workforce is vital for the country. The National College for High Speed Rail, based in Doncaster and Birmingham, will open its doors later this year. The college will train young people to build HS2 and to work on other world-leading rail projects.
I now turn to the question of costs, which, understandably, is of concern to your Lordships’ House. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, raised the possibility of alternative schemes. At an earlier stage in the process, a number of strategic options were considered, but the decision was then made that none of the alternatives presented a better outcome—a point that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, acknowledged. They would not deliver the same scale of benefits as HS2. We are already upgrading the existing network, but this alone would never deliver the same level of capacity or journey time savings as HS2. As the noble Lord, Lord Snape, explained, it would be extremely disruptive to rail passengers, effectively closing key parts of the rail network for many years.
The current approach was decided and agreed by Parliament, and we must progress it. The Government’s responsibility is now to ensure that the project is delivered on budget and that it represents good value for money. The 2015 spending review reconfirmed the Government’s commitment to HS2, setting a long-term funding envelope of £55.7 billion. The Government are determined, and are on course, to deliver HS2 within this.
We have set HS2 Ltd ambitious targets which would see the programme delivered below the total funding envelope. For example, the Secretary of State has set target design costs reflecting internationally efficient benchmarks to incentivise HS2 Ltd and its contractors to deliver phase 2 below budget.
Many noble Lords have raised the issue of proper scrutiny. I share their desire to ensure that all our costings are accurate. The cost estimates are determined by industry experts, informed by international standards. We expect public scrutiny and have invited independent assurance and examination of HS2 Ltd’s cost estimates. They are examined periodically by the Commons Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office, and are regularly reviewed by the Secretary of State.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made a number of points on the importance of clarifying the costs. We have recently published the financial costs as part of the HS2 business case, which I believe is an uncommon step. I know that the Rail Minister will come back to the noble Lord on the points that he has raised with him.
My noble friend Lord Framlingham asked about an independent Treasury review, but as he would expect, the project is already subject to an ongoing rigorous programme of external assurance reviews. The terms of reference for each assurance review are developed with the Treasury and the infrastructure and project authority, with reviews conducted by independent project delivery experts. Given this ongoing scrutiny by the Treasury, the Government do not believe that an independent review is necessary.
Many noble Lords have raised the benefits that HS2 will bring to the north. Economic growth in the north has been constrained by poor connectivity between cities. HS2 will help address this, making it easier for businesses to choose to locate in our great northern and Midlands cities. The majority of benefits from HS2 will be enjoyed in these places, outside of London. HS2 improves journey times between London and the north, but also transforms connectivity between many of our largest cities in the Midlands, the north and in Scotland. We are also committed to northern powerhouse rail—our vision for improving even further journey times and service frequencies between major cities in the north of England. Far from competing with it, HS2 is essential to delivering this vision. The Chancellor announced at conference £300 million of funding to future proof HS2 to accommodate northern powerhouse rail junctions. The Government have also provided Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, the east Midlands and Crewe with funding to develop HS2 growth strategies. They should act as a catalyst for growth and aim to maximise opportunities for new homes and employment.
We want HS2 to be more environmentally responsible than any other major infrastructure project in UK history. Despite it being one of the largest construction projects in Europe, we are committed to reducing its effects on the countryside and on communities. HS2 will play a key part in the UK’s future low-carbon transport system and support the Government’s overall carbon objectives. Noble Lords will be aware that in comparison with most other transport modes high-speed rail offers some of the lowest carbon emissions per passenger kilometre, significantly less than cars and planes. Of course, such a major project requires significant works—a point that many of your Lordships have raised today. We are fully aware of the potential detrimental effect this can have on the environment, so are doing all we can to mitigate it.
The route was designed to minimise environmental impacts wherever possible—the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, highlighted the environmental work that we are doing. We will create a network of new wildlife habitats along the HS2 route. This includes around 7 million new trees and shrubs in the first phase of the railway. We expect to plant the first of these trees this winter, with more than 100,000 new trees in the West Midlands area. In phase 1, we are creating nearly three times as much new woodland as the non-ancient woodland affected by HS2. Of course, ancient woodland is irreplaceable. Although we cannot fully compensate all impacts, we have committed to using best-practice measures such as enhancing linkages between woodlands, reusing ancient woodland soils and creating new mixed deciduous woodland. Over time, we will create a green corridor of connected wildlife habitats which will blend the railway into the landscape and support local species. In addition, we are keen to go beyond the immediate boundaries of the railway and take this opportunity to improve the wider natural environment, in partnership with local people. For example, we have introduced the £5 million HS2 woodland fund to help local landowners create new native, broadleaf woodlands and restore existing ancient woodland sites.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, made a number of points on hybrid Bills and the property bond scheme. I will have to read them carefully in Hansard and come back to him.
My noble friend Lord Framlingham asked about monitoring construction activity. HS2 Ltd has an extensive monitoring programme, and a code of construction practice for the scheme will set clear requirements for meeting environmental targets and minimising impacts.
Moving on to the effect this will have on communities, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, we recognise that the construction of HS2 is not always welcome. We have, however, tried to design the route as far as possible to avoid or reduce negative impacts such as the demolition of properties, excessive noise and impacts on our landscape and natural environments. The Government are committed to ensuring that people feel the widest benefits of the new railway and to compensating those directly impacted.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asks whether the Government will be taking a keen interest in having conversations with communities throughout the project, and I can assure him that we will do that. The noble Lord also asked about electrification. As the Secretary of State explained at the time, the decision to cancel the planned electrification schemes, including on the midland main line between Kettering and Sheffield, was made to deliver benefits to passengers sooner than would otherwise be possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, asked about the departmental response to the report from the group of academics. I understand that some of the report’s authors have written to the DfT over the years and Ministers have responded to their queries and concerns, including many of the issues raised in the report.
I have endeavoured to address as many of the points raised as I can, but where I have not been able to do so I will write to noble Lords. More people are travelling on our railways than ever: since privatisation the number of passenger journeys has more than doubled, almost tripling in key intercity corridors. That is why we need HS2. While alternatives have been extensively considered, they do not provide the required capacity and would be too disruptive to the existing rail network.
I am sure that my response has not satisfied my noble friend Lord Framlingham, but the approach to HS2 has been decided and agreed by Parliament. Our job is now to ensure the successful delivery and cost effectiveness of phase 1. Your Lordships will, of course, have an opportunity to scrutinise and debate the phase 2A Bill after its passage through the Commons.
Our plan is to build a stronger, fairer country with an economy that works for everyone—one in which wealth and opportunity are spread across the country. Investment in economic infrastructure, in which HS2 plays an integral role, is a key part of this long-term vision.