Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current options for (1) the route, (2) the speed, and (3) the station locations of HS2.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has put their name down to speak in this debate and everyone who has rearranged their schedule to be here at this surprisingly early hour.
The request for this debate was lodged several months ago, when the Government were reviewing their entire plan for HS2. In the meantime, of course, they have announced their intention to go ahead. Subsequently, plans have been announced by the broadcaster and campaigner, Chris Packham, to seek a judicial review of the decision in the light of the climate and wildlife impacts of the plan. That came after the High Court ruled that the Government’s decision to go ahead with the proposed Heathrow third runway had failed to take into account commitments they had made under the Paris Agreement on climate change. The Government have said they will not appeal that decision. Legal commentators have said that other challenges may well be launched to HS2, and this comes as North Somerset Council made the historic decision, after a great deal of work by campaigners, not to allow the expansion of Bristol Airport on the basis of the climate emergency.
I would not presume to offer a detailed legal commentary in your Lordships’ House, with our many distinguished legal experts. However, you do not have to be an expert to see that the legal ground has shifted as the physical climate and the state of the natural world have grossly deteriorated. We are in a climate emergency, and plans made a decade ago on highly dubious grounds then are clearly outdated and quite possibly illegal. In this age of clear and understood climate emergency—which is acknowledged by the Government and Parliament—to rely on a phase 1 environmental statement completed in 2013 is farcical. That was before the Paris Agreement was even concluded, the agreement which this Government have signed up to and which they have taken on the great responsibility of delivering at COP 26.
That a court has ruled out the Heathrow third runway on the grounds of insufficient environmental consideration, but the Government are be ploughing ahead with HS2—celebrated by the administration of Birmingham Airport as a great boost to its business—cannot be squared up. As Extinction Rebellion has said, HS2 is “an aviation shuttle service”. The climate emergency is not the only pressing critical issue; we are also in a nature crisis. The UK is one of the most nature-deprived countries in the world, a fact that has led civil society groups representing some 10 million Britons, from the National Trust to Buglife, and from the RSPB to the Woodland Trust, to demand that the current HS2 plans do not go ahead.
My understanding is that in the legal case the Government claim that the decision they made on 11 February to go ahead with HS2 is merely a political one, but the atmosphere does not respond to political arguments or reduce its temperature as a result of rhetoric. The ancient trees, birds, wetland plants and mammals on the HS2 route will not see their lives saved and their environments protected by government words. The bulldozers and the chainsaws, as well as the intended notice to proceed, which we expect to see within weeks, loom over them unless the court comes to their rescue as it came to the rescue of the climate regarding Heathrow.
There are two potential approaches to the way forward from here, and I expect this debate to cover both. The first, and definitely my and the Green Party’s preferred option, is to stop the whole project and stop throwing good money after bad. Yes, £8 billion has already been spent on HS2, but that is dwarfed by the potential £106 billion—and counting—cost of going ahead. That money is not only threatening to produce a white elephant; it has an opportunity cost. It is money that is not being spent on walking and cycling facilities, local buses and regional trains that would slash our carbon emissions, helping us to meet our legally binding agreements under COP, cause vastly less damage to biodiversity and bioabundance and help local economies, rather than boost the Great Wen of London further. The Government say that HS2 is part of the much-vaunted levelling up for the north and the Midlands, but with 40% of the economic benefit going to London, that does not add up. HS2 is pumping even more money, resources and people into a capital that is already suffering from the economic weakness of its hinterland.
There is also an opportunity cost in skills, machinery and worker capacity. We know that we have a massive skills shortage in the UK. The construction industry is gravely concerned about the impact of Brexit on its labour supply and about the ageing of its workforce. Workers are a valuable, scarce resource. They should be working for the best benefit of the people of the UK and its desperately damaged natural world.
There is also the climate impact, of course. According to HS2’s own forecasts, even over 120 years, its overall construction and operation will cause carbon emissions of 1.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. In the next crucial 10 years, before it even gets to Birmingham, the impact will be heavy and damaging. In a period when we need to slash our emissions, we will instead create massive quantities of them, with all that concrete, all that steel and all those bulldozers. So, my number one question to the Government today is will they stop HS2, as 10 million members of NGOs are asking them to do?
Alternatively, and because this is a debate, a secondary way of proceeding is to reduce the damage caused by the initial and second stages. Indeed, we might reverse the order altogether. Sometimes, and I understand this entirely, campaigners feel that we need to be absolutist—to say that we are only interested in stopping something dreadful—but I see nothing wrong with trying to stop something and understanding that any political or legal effort might fail and working at the same time to limit or reduce the damage.
Indeed, many years ago, when I lived in Somers Town in Camden, I had talks with HS2 about reducing the dreadful impact on residents of social housing there. Although I claim no personal credit, because I am sure that many others were making the same representations, plans to “double decant” residents—to make them move twice—were changed. That is why I am asking in this debate that potential changes to the route, the speed and the station locations should be considered. I hope that those who are to speak later will pick up on these points and amplify in more time than I have available.
I ask the Government to consider the strong and clear position of the Wildlife Trust. It is concerned about wildlife so it does not have a particular position on HS2 as an overall project. Its concern has always been the impact of the current design on wildlife. In response to the Government’s 11 February announcement, the trust pleaded that it is more critical than ever for the whole HS2 project to be redesigned before it creates a scar that will never heal. I should say to noble Lords that that comes not from me, but from the Wildlife Trust.
The heart of this problem is speed that demands a straight line that will affect in total some 350 wildlife sites: nature reserves, ancient forests and woodlands which are home to some of the UK’s rarest species, but which are also home to huge numbers of starlings and sparrows, frogs and toads. These animals may not be rare, but we have seen their numbers collapse over recent decades. We need to preserve them all, and we cannot afford this destruction.
Then of course there is the human disruption. Life in too many communities has already been blighted by the prospect of HS2, and that blight is threatening to become permanent, even though it could be changed. HS2 has argued that speed is crucial, but that argument, based on the curious assumption that businesspeople do not work on trains, fell apart. HS2 shifted its argument to one about capacity. Capacity does not need super high speeds far exceeding those of continental trains which travel far greater distances; speed that consumes massive amounts of energy. Less speed means more chance to avoid ploughing through ancient, irreparable woodlands and wetlands and communities. On the idea that the damage can be offset by diversity offsetting, an ancient woodland has taken hundreds of years to create, and sticking in a few saplings does not replace it. There is also the question of the parkway stations, to which we all know it is highly likely that passengers will drive.
At its conference in Cardiff in February 2011, the Green Party decided to oppose HS2, and I sometimes I that I have talked about little else since, but the arguments essentially have not changed, it is just that the nature crisis and the climate emergency have become far more pressing. I shall conclude with the words of transport and sustainability expert, Professor John Whitelegg, who said in 2011:
“Everyone knows the Greens are passionately committed to social justice and to the environment. The current HS2 proposals would serve neither.”
I ask noble Lords today to consider that on many issues, from the climate emergency to air pollution, and borrowing to invest to agro-ecology, the Green Party has led and others have followed. Please join us in opposing HS2, stopping HS2 or, at the very least, significantly changing the plan.
My Lords, the House may be pleased to know that the time limit for this debate has been extended to 90 minutes. The limit for Back-Bench speeches has increased to 10 minutes, but no more.
My Lords, I notice that does not apply to the mover of the Motion.
I remind the House of my railway interests which I have declared on the register. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on securing the debate. The questions she has asked about the route, the speed and the station locations of HS2 are very interesting ones and are, I suggest, comprehensively answered in the report Oakervee Review, to which she made not a single reference in her speech.
Paragraphs 6.9 and 6.10 of the Oakervee Review say:
“If starting from a blank sheet of paper, the cost impacts from reducing the speed and frequency of the design could have the potential to be quite wide-ranging: different alignments could be found, stations could need fewer platforms, junctions like the approach at Euston station could be de-scoped, and structures could be cheaper … However, to achieve these cost reductions would require revising the route alignment and designs. For Phase One, this would require changing the Phase One Act which, depending on the amount and scale of changes required, would require new environmental impact assessments, consulting with newly impacted communities and enacting new legislation. This could significantly delay the forecast opening date of Phase One, causing further uncertainty and blight to local communities on the route.”
This is my final quote from Oakervee:
“The key question is whether to build HS2 now with the maximum capability for 18tph at 360kph, or reduce requirements now and risk in the future wanting to add in this capability, which would be much more expensive to do.”
The answer is self-evident. While it may make sense to start with a more cautious level of service, with fewer trains per hour perhaps operating at slightly lower speed, we have to build in the capacity to run trains faster and more frequently in future. Can noble Lords imagine any of the great Victorian railway builders such as Brunel imagining that they would build a railway geared just for the speed of the 1840s and 1850s? No, they built for the future. That is why we have a railway network as it is. We have to show the same imagination with High Speed 2.
The noble Baroness also asked about the location of stations. I express my strong support for the Government’s decision to accept the Oakervee recommendation to make Euston the London terminus. While Old Oak Common could temporarily be the terminus for trains from the north while the line to Euston is being completed, it cannot be a long-term solution.
As far as Birmingham is concerned, I am delighted that Curzon Street remains the city’s terminus. Railway historians in the House will know that not only was Curzon Street the station serving both the London and Birmingham Railway and the Grand Junction Railway when the line opened in 1838, but happily it survives today as a grade 1 listed building. The Curzon Street area has already attracted £724 million of investment as a direct result of High Speed 2 and the overall effect on Birmingham as a whole has been immense, with both HSBC and PwC locating major parts of their business there in anticipation of the coming of the new railway. Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, has said:
“This is more than just a new railway, this is a game-changing project that is driving huge economic growth to the West Midlands, with thousands of jobs already created. A project of this significance cannot be allowed to be derailed by spiralling costs.”
Similarly, numerous other towns and cities—not just the initial 25 that will receive direct HS2 trains, but many more up and down the country—will get better rail services. Local growth plans show that almost 500,000 jobs and 90,000 new homes will be the result of the better connectivity that HS2 services will bring. It already supports 9,000 jobs across the country, including 320 apprentices, and 70% of the 2,000 businesses that have already worked on the project are small and medium-sized enterprises.
There is one other potential station considered by Oakervee, which I support and on which I would welcome the Minister’s comments in due course. Conclusion 14 of the report reads:
“The DfT should consider making passive provision for a future HS2 station near to Calvert.”
The Oxford to Cambridge line is currently being rebuilt in stages. It was not in the Beeching report for closure and should never have closed in the 1960s, but it is being rebuilt and the route will cross HS2 near the village of Calvert. There will be a phase 1 infrastructure maintenance depot for HS2 there, and there is a lot of residential and commercial development planned for the area. While it does not make sense to delay HS2’s construction to build the station now, it would be sensible to make provision for it.
It is worth remembering that other countries that have successfully built and are operating high-speed railways have added stations as demand has increased. Taiwan for example, which I know well as the Government’s trade envoy, opened its high-speed line between Taipei and Zuoying in 2007, and added four additional stations in 2014 and 2015, as well as extending the line. They worked to the principle of “build the capacity and the people will come”. Your Lordships may be impressed to learn that last year that railway carried 67.5 million passengers and 99.88% of its trains ran on time. That is the sort of service we can look forward to with HS2.
Contrary to what the noble Baroness said, HS2 will be a green and environmentally friendly railway. There is a commitment to creating a green corridor along its tracks, with 7 million new trees and shrubs already being planted along the phase 1 route, and the establishment of a woodland fund to restore existing ancient woodlands and create new ones. There will be 650 hectares of new woodland. That contrasts with the 29 hectares of woodland that will be lost over the 140 miles of HS2; that is out of 3.19 million hectares of woodland in the UK, of which around 1 million is described as ancient woodland. By contrast, the Independent reported that when contractors widened just 2.5 miles of the A21 in Kent they took out 9 hectares, almost a third of the HS2 total.
Above all, HS2 will be crucial in achieving the transition to carbon net zero by 2050 and create a long-term carbon alternative to domestic flights or driving. I hope the Minister will be able to give a commitment that her department will look again at HS2’s potential for modal shift, as that would significantly enhance its business case. As the Prime Minister said in his Statement on 11 February:
“Passengers arriving at Birmingham Airport will be able to get to central London by train in 38 minutes, which compares favourably with the time it takes to get from Heathrow by taxi”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/2/20; col. 712]
There is an inescapable logic in that statement, because the greatest environmental gain which HS2 will make possible is the abandonment of the third runway at Heathrow. I hope the Green Party might be able to agree with me on that at least.
My Lords, I wrote a pretty good speech, but then discovered that the debate was starting in about two minutes and did not have time to go and get it, so this will have to be off the top of my head, I am afraid. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on securing this debate. When I first became a Peer, people said to me, “You’re a Lord? Do you have to have a castle?” I congratulate the noble Baroness on having both a manor and a castle, but I am sorry to say that I do not agree with what she said. I agree that even now, the climate emergency is more serious than most people recognise. It must be taken very seriously. COP 26, which the Government are organising with Italy—when they both have some spare time away from coronavirus—will be an important event. If it does not fundamentally change what we all do, we may well be doomed, but I do not agree with the Green Party that HS2 is somehow at the heart of everything that is going wrong with the planet.
If HS2 was abandoned, what would be the consequence? I am afraid to say that, given the forces that exist in this country, it might well be more motorways. That would be utterly and totally disastrous. Chris Davies, one of our former MEPs for the north-west, told me that HS2 is equivalent to two whole new four-lane motorways. I do not know where that comes from, but it is clear that the west coast main line is just about full. Whenever anything happens, there is chaos—as there was yesterday, when I tried to get down here. If you stand at a station on the east coast main line such as Retford or Newark, and watch the trains whizzing past, you think, “My goodness, they really are coming every other minute.” That may be a slight exaggeration, but both those main lines are essentially full, so something has to be done.
One thing that could be done is to significantly reduce travel and the amount of goods being moved around the country, but I do not see any policies from the Green Party suggesting how on earth this could be achieved. Yes, there will be bulldozers and chainsaws, and they are ugly machinery, but what are the alternatives —walking, cycling, local buses? Even the Government think these are important now, but I am not sure that they are putting enough money and resources into them. However, I cannot get from where I live in Lancashire to Euston or Westminster by walking. I cannot even do it by cycling nowadays—I could have done it once, although it would have taken some time—and certainly not by local bus.
I have looked at the information the Wildlife Trusts have provided about the number of sites they say will be affected or destroyed. There are all these figures being bandied about, some of which were given by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—the latter from a different point of a view—so it would be helpful if someone sorted them out and worked out exactly what the truth is. As much as I support the Wildlife Trusts in all sorts of ways—particularly their planting loads of trees in places such as the new Northern Forest—they are probably overstating their case substantially. Yes, starlings, frogs and sparrows are important, but what they want is woodland; the frogs want nice places where they can breed and splash about. If that can be provided in greater quantity, we do not need to preserve every single existing sparrow, starling and frog; otherwise, there is no development of any sort, anywhere. The Green Party has to come clean on this and say if that is what it wants. If so, okay, but it should tell us.
It looks as though, initially—cross fingers—we will now get the HS2 from London to Birmingham. There is a Bill going through for extension 2a to Crewe, taking trains to what the Minister called the “gateway to the North”, which is the north-west’s version of Balham: the gateway to the south. Noble Lords of my age will understand the joke. I see the Minister is laughing, so she must understand it—that is good—despite being about 100 years younger than me. Extension 2a to Crewe and beyond will allow compatible trains to travel on to Manchester, up the west coast main line to Preston and beyond to Scotland. One hopes that that is still firmly in the plan. It will also allow some to go to Liverpool and north Wales—we will see how that comes about—but that in itself will not sort out the north of England.
We now have a new specific HS2 Minister, who has been given the job of sorting all this out. He happens to be the Member of Parliament for the constituency where I live, Pendle. I wish him the best of luck. It will make his career or destroy it—we shall see—but it is time that HS2 made careers because it is so important.
At the moment, there is a proposal for an extension to Manchester. There is also a proposal for the other leg of phase 2a—or is it 2b or 2z, I do not know—to Yorkshire via the east Midlands. We need to be banging the table and saying that the leg from Birmingham to the east Midlands and Yorkshire is fundamentally important. Loose talk is going around in some circles suggesting that that will be put to one side and the leg to Manchester will be built and continued over the Pennines to Leeds as part of the thing that has various names, one of them being Northern Powerhouse Rail. That would be a fundamental mistake because it would miss out south Yorkshire and the east Midlands, two important urbanised industrial regions that the line really needs to serve.
My noble friend Lord Shutt of Greetland will give some detail on the proposed line in Yorkshire east of the Pennines, and I pretty well agree with what he will say about that. However, it is vital that the way in which HS2 conceived is changed. So far, it has mainly been seen as a way of connecting places in the north of England and Birmingham with London: it has all been about connections and routes to London. Well, we are going to get the route to London. But in the future, we should look at the Birmingham to London section as a branch line, or at least as a line off, with the main spine of a high-speed line in England extending from Newcastle to Exeter. Trains can then run from the far south-west—a region that needs as much infrastructure investment as the north of England—right through to the north-east, and then through to Scotland. We can run trains via the north-west by Carlisle, but the north-east is the major industrial region north of Lancashire and Yorkshire. That new concept ought to be looked at.
On that basis, I ask the Minister to go back to her department and talk about this. Meanwhile, just get on with the first part of this, please.
My Lords, yesterday was the 10th anniversary of my announcement of HS2 to the House. Taking account of what has happened in that period, Parliament and the country should be reasonably proud of the progress. This is the biggest infrastructure project that the country has engaged in since the Victorians. My noble friend Lord Faulkner mentioned the excavation that is taking place at Curzon Street at the moment. There are wonderful pictures on Twitter of the discovery of the original turntable for the steam trains that has just been excavated as part of that.
The work is proceeding. Parliament has given its consent to the first phase. It is the single biggest infrastructure project that the country has authorised since the completion of the Great Central Railway in 1899. It continues as a consensus project between the major political parties. It was begun by the Labour Government, continued by a coalition of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, and has continued under two different Conservative Governments since.
Being always an optimist and looking forward, to those who say we cannot do big infrastructure projects in this country and we certainly cannot build railways in straight lines because that involves too many concessions to protesters and so forth, I say: that is not true. Where Government, Parliament and the major political parties are aligned and put the national interest first, we are able to move on these projects and HS2 is an outstanding example.
The problem is that the Government at the moment are only half behind HS2. In the Statement the Prime Minister made on 11 February, he gave what I should call the fourth green light to the project, or a continuing green light, like those trains going 125 miles per hour down the Great Western Railway, about which my noble friend is such a great expert. For as long as the green light continues, you can keep up the progress, but as soon as you see the amber one, you start to slow down. We have had a continuing green light for the first phase, but the Government have now put the amber light on all of the subsequent developments north of Birmingham.
A great Liberal Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, famously said, “When traversing a chasm, it is advisable to do so in one leap”. We were supposed to be moving on the development of the line north of Birmingham, which is absolutely integral to the project. The idea of building a high-speed line which is supposed to link London, the Midlands and the north, and stopping it at Birmingham, is of course absurd. The line obviously needs to go through to Manchester and Leeds. Just at the point when we were able to put before Parliament and develop this scheme as an integrated project, the Government have tried to split the difference with the critics, which is always a huge a huge mistake in my experience of government. We need only listen to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, to know that we cannot meet her half way. She is not capable of meeting half way; what she wants is to stop the thing. She does not want to see compromises on the way. Having a review of what happens north of Birmingham is not going to propitiate the noble Baroness. It is going to whet her appetite into thinking that once she gets going in the courts and with her protesters she will stop the whole scheme.
The right thing to do in this situation, where it is manifestly in the public interest—we need this rail capacity and we need the connectvity between our major cities—is to get on with it. The plan has been developed, was published, was agreed in principle by Parliament, and has stood the test of successive reviews. The right thing is to go ahead with all deliberate speed. The Prime Minister’s Statement on 11 February gave the green light for the continuation of the development of the scheme from London to Birmingham, which is already being built. Your Lordships need only go to Euston to see that the whole place is a massive construction site. HS2 Ltd is based in Birmingham, there are thousands of people based there too, and the excavation work is already beginning at Curzon Street station. So the Government gave the green light to continuation of that scheme, and they revived what is called the phase 2a Bill, the extension from Birmingham through to Crewe, although that had already started in Parliament in the middle of last year and was subject to a significant delay by last year’s political turbulence. What was supposed to happen this year was the introduction of the phase 2b Bill—the extension of the line from Crewe to Manchester, and from Birmingham through the junction station of Toton between Nottingham and Derby, and then up to Sheffield and through to Leeds.
In the timeframe set out by the Government when they gave the go-ahead in 2013 to the revised HS2 timetable—it was much slower than I would have taken it forward in 2010 but would at least have kept it moving—the plan was for the phase 2b legislation to be published this year. We already know the route, unless the Government are going to pull the whole scheme up by the roots and start again. The issue now is getting a political decision to proceed with the legislation for phase 2b, which means taking the clear decisions on routes, publishing the Bill, and putting it through the hybrid Bill process which is already starting with 2a. If this was being done properly, what would have happened was a direct continuation from the phase 2a Bill to the phase 2b Bill, and we could have treated this as a single project, have a single construction timeframe, and even try something really radical. This Government say they believe in the north—why could we not start constructing the line from the north southwards, as well as from London going northwards? It could be done in a much shorter timescale, it could give a much bigger impetus to development in the north, and it could also save a great deal of money. Extending this timeframe will add significantly to the costs of the overall project.
What always happens when a Government are in limbo, as they are on phase 2b, is a cascade of waffle. The telltale sign of a cascade of waffle is a Government Statement that comes out on a Friday afternoon. On 11 February, the Prime Minister said that there would be a further review of HS2 going north. We asked when the review would be announced and what the terms of reference would be, and the information was then smuggled out on a Friday afternoon with no press statement and no fanfare whatever. The reason it was smuggled out on a Friday afternoon was that between 11 February, when the first announcement of the Government’s policy on HS2 was made by the Prime Minister, and the declaration of the terms of reference and review of the northern phase of HS2, a huge delay had already been introduced.
The Prime Minister said that there would be a six-month review, and perhaps I may deal with that. We have just had a seven-month review of HS2 that was originally billed by the Prime Minister last July as a six-week review. Let us follow this through. The six-week review became a seven-month review. That seven-month review, the conclusions of which my noble friend Lord Faulkner read, recommended that phase 2b of HS2 should proceed. It did not set out qualifications or recommend a further review; it said that it should proceed now.
Instead, the Government announced a six-month review. However—this is the reason the Statement came out on a Friday afternoon—that six-month review has already become a nine-month review, and that is before it has even started. In the review’s terms of reference, which were smuggled out on a Friday afternoon, we are told that the review will now conclude by the end of the year. Perhaps I may let noble Lords into another trick of government: when a statement includes words as vague as “the end of the year”, that almost certainly means well into next year. In my estimation, in terms of taking HS2 forward north of Birmingham, the effect of the Government trying to traverse this chasm in two leaps will be at least a two-year delay and probably a much longer delay because of the discontinuity involved in the phasing.
When you read the statement that was smuggled out on the Friday afternoon, you see that there is even more waffle. Perhaps I may read the key paragraph and deconstruct it for the House:
“The Oakervee review concluded that for Phase 2b of HS2 … a Y-shaped network was the right strategic answer for the country.”
That is completely right—that is what it says. However, it goes on to say that
“Phase 2b needs to be considered as part of an Integrated Rail Plan for the north and Midlands which also includes Northern Powerhouse Rail, Midlands Rail Hub, and other major Network Rail schemes to ensure these are scoped, designed, delivered, and can be operated as an integrated network.”
That may all be true but none of it is any reason for delaying the development of phase 2b north of Birmingham. Phase 2b would not have been due to open until 2032 if we had introduced the legislation this year, but delaying it means that it will be much closer to 2040. There is plenty of time to work out how the development of HS2 will integrate with other developments in the north. The key question is: are the Government going to stick to the Y-shaped route? If they are, they have to serve Manchester Airport, Manchester, Toton, Sheffield and Leeds. Once you have taken those key strategic decisions, the question of integration is how that line relates to the other lines. That is not a reason for delaying the construction and planning of HS2 north of Birmingham unless the aim is to change that route.
I can see that the noble Viscount is encouraging me to wind up. I assume that the Government are not seeking to change that route, so the right thing for them to do now is to scrap this further review. That would simply reaffirm the decision to proceed with phase 2b now, to publish the Bill later this year, and to do those things which in my day in government we used to think was our job, which was to take big decisions, make big investments and just get on with it.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this debate and note that she has drawn attention to the changed circumstances. She also used the words “white elephant”. The reason I am speaking is that I want to prevent HS2 being a white elephant, in that I am concerned about integration and connectivity.
I have been a long-term supporter of HS2 on the basis that more capacity is needed. Incidentally, the noble Baroness should be aware that HS2 is nothing more than a replacement for a railway that we used to have called the Great Central. That is all it is, quite frankly. It is another line from the north to south that was taken away by Beeching; HS2 is a replacement. I am concerned that HS2 should be part of the whole railway system, with connectivity—indeed, integration—between HS2 and the traditional railway.
I have never been happy about the hammerhead terminal in Leeds, where the line came up and was ended—as it were—as the shaft of the hammer, even though the shaft of the hammer has now been moved nearer the mainline terminus in Leeds. It was my belief that it had already been agreed that there would be a link between the HS2 phase 2b northern link in the direction of York—for a junction to be provided so that HS2 trains could reach the north, west or, indeed, south of Leeds by reaching Leeds from the east.
It is important that people understand the railway geography of Leeds. In effect, if Leeds city station is the centre, there are eight points. Only one of the those is to the east. Everything else goes to the west, to the other seven points. So, whether west means going to Harrogate, Bradford, Ilkley, Skipton, Carnforth and Carlisle, to Bradford, Halifax, Calder Valley and Manchester, to Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Manchester Airport, Liverpool, back down to Wakefield, Doncaster and Sheffield, to Normanton, Barnsley, Sheffield and Nottingham, or to Castleford, Pontefract and Goole, it is all from the west side of the city of Leeds. If you are to have any connectivity and integration, with trains coming from the HS2 network and continuing somewhere else—Leeds is a very important place, but it is not the only place in Yorkshire—it is very important that we serve other places in the old West Riding, in West Yorkshire, as well as Leeds.
Presently, under our traditional railway system, we have trains from King’s Cross. Within the last year, we now have trains every two hours to Harrogate rather than one a day, as well as a train to Bradford Forster Square and a train to Skipton; that is three different directions. We are also promised a train to Huddersfield every two hours, although goodness knows when it will happen. I do not know what the plans will be regarding what will be served by HS2 through extending, or whether these places are to be served only by a traditional railway. I do not know whether anybody knows. But there has to be at least the possibility and opportunity that other places in Yorkshire can be served by HS2—not only Leeds.
It may be that the Minister will tell us about Northern Powerhouse Rail. I want to be certain that the whole business of connectivity in Yorkshire does not fall between two stalls—that it is picked up in either in the HS2 programme, which it should be, or the northern powerhouse programme, which I think is somewhat vague. I hope the Minister will be able to say that we are sticking to the position that has been recommended. Oakervee says to stick to the full Y-shaped network. I hope that Y-shaped network will embrace the opportunity of proper integration within Yorkshire.
My Lords, of course HS2 should be built, but it must be HS2 as a whole—the full route—and it must continue through to Scotland, which we hope will still be part of the United Kingdom by the time that gets done.
There is a three-pronged argument for HS2. The first argument is that of levelling up the prosperity of the north. Secondly, there is the environmental argument. In 2018, the transport sector accounted for 33% of all CO2 emissions in our country, and most of that came from road transport. Electrified rail is significantly cleaner than road, air or sea traffic. Research by Greenguage 21 on behalf of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Campaign for Better Transport and the RSPB showed that HS2 emissions per journey will be 73% lower than for those by road or air.
Thirdly, of course, there is the capacity argument: existing routes are full and getting fuller. As far back as 2014, 26% of morning peak trains on this route arriving in London were over capacity. We need a new long-distance, high-speed line to free up existing lines for commuters on shorter routes.
HS2 has been under sustained attack, and despite the positive response of the Oakervee review, the project is still subject to scrutiny, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, set out. The aim is largely to reduce costs—that is scrutiny—but there is environmental criticism as well. However, any attempt to reduce costs is likely to involve changes to the features specified in this debate: the route, the speed or the station locations. Critics of HS2 have often concentrated on the apparently poor cost-benefit ratio showing a poor business case for HS2. My noble friend Lady Kramer, in the debate we had following the publication of the Oakervee review, exposed how narrow that cost-benefit analysis actually is. There have been criticisms for years of the way in which we do our transport cost-benefit analysis. The analyses of rail schemes do not take into account the regeneration potential of such schemes. It is time for the Government to move on and adopt a new means of analysis so that we take account of potential regeneration. Other countries do so when planning their infrastructure, and we should be doing this on a firmer basis.
The danger is that any attempt to reduce the costs of HS2 will take the easy solution and simply curtail the route, but Northern Powerhouse Rail’s plans are designed to integrate with HS2. One is dependent on the other, so that is not an option. Only by building the full route will we maximise the potential of HS2 to, for example, replace internal flights. Not only will emissions be 76% lower than those of an internal flight but it will also be able to compete on journey time and cost. There are examples on the continent of rail replacing flights very effectively where high-speed lines have been built.
We can find plenty of European examples of high-speed rail regenerating cities and creating jobs, such as Lille, Lyon and Zaragoza. In the UK, our one high-speed line—the short stretch of HS1—has had a catalytic role in enabling regeneration around its stations. It has been an all-round success, with reduced journey times, increased capacity, reduced overcrowding, improved punctuality and reliability and the encouragement of a modal shift from car to rail.
I want to address the specific issues set out in the title of this debate: the speed, the stations and the route. First, speed costs money. HS2 is designed to travel at 400 kilometres per hour, but this costs a lot of money. Compare that with, for example, the speed of 325 kilometres per hour achieved on the TGV. Evidence to the Economic Affairs Committee suggested that reducing the speed would reduce the costs by £1.25 billion and the benefits by £6 billion. I do not know whether that is 100% accurate, but even if it is generally in the right ballpark, it is difficult to justify much reduction in speed unless you can be absolutely sure that there will be a significant reduction in cost.
There are some really controversial issues to do with the stations. It is worth pointing out that most high-speed lines in other countries do not link into the centre of the capital city. I have always believed that using Old Oak Common as a terminus is a reasonable approach, certainly in the early years. It would reduce the amount of disruption in the Euston area and the cost of regenerating that station. Some £2 billion of the increased cost of HS2 is due to the increased cost allocated for Euston station alone. Of course, the capacity of Old Oak Common would have to be increased beyond what is planned at the moment. The original reason for the Euston link was to link with HS1, but that direct link has already been abandoned, so that is one argument down for continuing the concept of building the Euston station interchange immediately.
I would like to put in a quick word for the Crewe link. On behalf of the people of north and mid Wales, I am very keen indeed that that link is maintained. It is important that every nation of Great Britain benefits from HS2. That link to Crewe is essential for railway efficiency in north and mid Wales.
I am very pleased to hear that support from the Chamber. Can the Minister tell us whether final decisions have been made about the Sheffield station? I remember there was a huge debate about its location, and I have not heard the resolution on that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to the importance of being prepared to change the route. It is important to bear in mind that significant changes have already been made, with many miles of tunnelling having been introduced as a result of the work of environmental campaigners. That is an extremely good success story. However, the costs of tunnelling are much greater than those of building on the surface.
In conclusion, I believe we need to get on with this. We lag badly behind other countries on high-speed rail. I suggest that the Government take the advice of the Institution of Civil Engineers to work closely with rail industries in France, Spain and Germany, where there have been hugely successful high-speed lines. I fundamentally disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. We has to take the umbrella approach to the environment and take the view that we have to preserve the integrity of the environment as a whole. Only by building an environmentally efficient, modern railway line will we get people out of their cars, off planes and on to the trains.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for introducing this debate. It would have been slightly more helpful if the title had indicated that it was to be about whether to build HS2 or not. Fortunately, her case for not building it was well countered by my noble friend Lord Faulkner.
The key question was posed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, at the beginning of his speech: what would you do if it is not built? I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Adonis mentioned that HS2 has consensus support from the Front Benches, and I am content to reaffirm that.
The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, hit the nail on the head at the beginning of his speech when he said that this is about integration and connectivity. Sadly, my mental map of the north made it difficult for me to follow much of the rest of his speech.
I would also like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for bringing up the limitations of the cost-benefit ratio process. It is not very good at extrapolative conclusions, but it is quite good at interpretive ones. The Jubilee line extension reduced below unity before we started work on it, but it has changed the city. In a post-facto evaluation it came out at 2.5; over the 120 years that it will exist, I am sure it will be almost infinite.
The Government’s decision to proceed with HS2 has been confirmed, despite the escalation in construction costs that resulted from dramatic mismanagement. A high-speed route connecting London to the north of England and up to Scotland is a necessary step to deal with the capacity issues on our railways, but the Government must take decisive action on several fronts as the project proceeds.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, framed the debate by considering the route, speed and station location. Although these are important factors that could determine the success of the project, there are a number of other issues I wish to raise. First, we must consider how HS2 can be built as part of a wider network to connect towns and cities across Britain, using railways as a means of creating opportunities and lessening regional inequality. To this end, the Government must commit to integrating HS2 with Crossrail for the North, to extending the line to Scotland, and to the extensive reopening of branch lines to enable communities to reach HS2 by rail. This would reflect the initial intention behind HS2: that it would be a means to engineer growth for the area, which has not felt the same growth as London and the south-east.
In view of the investment potential of the UK economy, it is vital that the Government also commit to running HS2 services under public ownership. That way, it is the UK public, not private or overseas state companies, which will see a return.
Turning to the issues that the noble Baroness has detailed in her debate title, I will address route and speed together, as the central question here is whether it remains desirable to construct the line at the intended speed, despite the route constraints that this necessitates. If the Government chose to reduce the speed, there could be greater flexibility regarding the path the line follows. This would allow more thought to be given to the impact on the natural environment. However, this must be considered in addition to the economic and capacity benefits of the faster routes.
Can the Minister say whether the Government think it is more desirable to have a faster line with less route flexibility, or a slower one with greater route flexibility? Can she also indicate—this touches on my noble friend Lord Faulkner’s point—the cost implications of a change to the route alignment at this stage of the project?
Turning to the location of stations, there is little debate to be had about the cities along the route at which the service will stop, but serious questions have to be raised about whether the specific station locations within those cities are appropriate. There is also the issue, which I mentioned earlier, of the links from HS2 stations to others across the network, and the need to reopen stations and lines to connect communities to the network. When will the Government consider the proposals received relating to the £500 million fund for reopening railway lines?
A high-speed route is imperative to deal with the issue of our railways and the wider problems of regional inequality. However, such mismanagement, which has already led to such a dramatic increase in cost, is not inevitable. Can the Minister set out in more detail what structural changes to the management are planned? As spenders of large amounts of public money, can we be assured that HS2 will be instructed to adopt a culture of openness? I, more than most people, understand that things can go wrong with big projects. Cover-up and secrecy are the least positive reactions in those circumstances.
I hope the Minister can answer the questions that I and other noble Lords have asked, in order to assure the House that the Government have taken note of the mistakes so far and will change course to ensure that the project is delivered in the appropriate way to gain public support.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for enabling us, once again, to get the HS2 horse out of the stable for a quick canter round the track. I will focus my response on the route, the speed and the stations and will cover as many other topics as I can as time allows. I will of course write to cover any omissions or to provide more detail.
With the right reforms in place, HS2 will become the spine of the country’s transport network, bringing our biggest cities closer together, boosting productivity and rebalancing opportunity fairly across the country. This Government’s decision to proceed follows careful consideration of Douglas Oakervee’s independent review into HS2 and wider evidence, including the phase 1 full business case, which is imminent. The Oakervee report has now been published and sets out what the Prime Minister described as the
“clinching case for high-speed rail”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/2/20; col. 712]
Each of the issues being debate today—the route, speed and stations—have been carefully considered by the Government following not only the Oakervee Review but years of planning, development, public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, taking a full range of views into account in making their decisions.
As noted by many noble Lords, HS2 has been a long time in the making—and there is still a little way to go—but the reasoning behind the design of HS2 began long before the Oakervee Review. As the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, pointed out, this has been supported by successive Governments and, since the publication in 2006 of the Eddington Transport Study, they have affirmed their goal to invest in transport infrastructure to meet growing demand for north-south movement and to strategically rebalance the economy. Between 2009 and 2012, domestic aviation and new motorways were appraised as modal alternatives to rail to meet these requirements, but rail was preferred on the basis of capacity, journey time and environmental impacts. A new conventional speed railway and upgrades to existing railways were also considered. The conclusion was that a new high-speed railway is the best option to meet the stated policy goals of improving transport capacity and connectivity between the UK’s largest cities and facilitating long-term economic growth.
Following the conclusion to progress a new high-speed railway, various scheme designs were considered for HS2. The current Y scheme was selected ahead of alternative designs on the basis of its relative affordability, journey times and environmental impact. For phase 1, the route was then refined by the passage of the phase 1 Bill through the Select Committee process, with some significant amendments being made. As such, the Government are confident in HS2’s design, specification and strategic objectives, which the Oakervee Review confirmed.
The route for HS2 has been designed to provide much needed rail capacity, primarily along one of the UK’s busiest rail corridors—the west coast main line. This route is currently the main route for passengers between London and major cities in the Midlands and the north-west, including Birmingham and Manchester. Since HS2 uses brand-new, dedicated lines, it will also free up space for services on the existing network. Network Rail estimates that more than 100 other towns and cities could benefit from this released capacity, and this Government are looking beyond that and looking to connect more towns and smaller places to the rail network, with funding to reopen some Beeching closures. Unfortunately, I have to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, because I have no further information on that, but I will write to him if there is any available.
Some 25 towns and cities will be directly served by HS2. The Government have consulted extensively on its route, through public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, and taken into account reviews such as the one most recently led by Douglas Oakervee. Clearly, the Government are conscious that, even with extensive consultation, communities along the route will continue to have concerns about the route chosen for the railway. It is impossible to construct a project of the size and scale of HS2 without affecting some people’s private properties. Where that is the case, we want to make sure that property owners are fairly compensated and that their cases are dealt with sensitively and with dignity and respect.
The phase 1 route was intended to minimise impacts on the natural environment. In this respect, the Chilterns tunnel was extended during the Bill’s parliamentary passage and many ancient woodland sites have been avoided. I note the comparison that was made—I forget by which noble Lord—between this and the construction of the A21. I thought that was extremely interesting. Certainly, the designers of HS2 have done their best to avoid as many ancient woodland sites as possible. It is true to say that HS2 Ltd has on occasion fallen short in its response to communities and property owners, which is why, in responding to the Oakervee Review, the Government have committed to looking at strengthening the role of the HS2 residents’ commissioner.
The speed of HS2 was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and many others. I have said before and I will say again that it is not all about speed. It is about capacity. The focus on how fast the trains will run has detracted from the wider intended benefits of the project. We know that the west coast main line is full, and that we will get new capacity and connectivity from HS2. HS2 is procuring trains capable of speeds of up to 360 kph. As the noble Lord pointed out, why would it not if such trains are available? However, the timetable assumes an operating speed of 330 kph. The extra 30 kph will allow the system to catch up should any delays occur.
Both the Oakervee Review and its former deputy chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, separately agreed that a reduction in speed could cut costs. However, as both also pointed out, major savings could be achieved only through significant changes to the route design and alignment, which would require a completely new Act of Parliament for HS2 phase 1. Not only would this delay the start of construction by several years, causing uncertainty to people and blight to communities along the route, but any savings would be offset by the additional costs of a new hybrid Bill and environmental statement. The debate on reducing speed is not new; it has been considered many times and this Government believe that the right balance has been struck.
As with the route, the location of HS2 stations have been thoroughly tested, not only through public consultation but through parliamentary scrutiny and debate and reviews. The choice and location of the four phase 1 stations, at Euston, Old Oak Common, Birmingham Interchange and Birmingham Curzon Street, were tested by the Select Committee process for the HS2 phase 1 Bill, which received Royal Assent back in 2017. Of course, it is no secret that taking a new high-speed train line into the centre of London will be complex, and we have had the debate as to whether Old Oak Common would be a good permanent terminus. I believe that, having considered all the evidence, most noble Lords who took part in that debate agreed that it would be good to get the train going all the way to Euston.
On Calvert, specifically raised by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, some of the key conclusions from Doug Oakervee’s review remain outstanding. The Government will respond to the Oakervee conclusion on passive provision for a station at Calvert in due course.
I was pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, bang the drum for Crewe, which turns out not to be the gateway to the north after all, but the gateway to Wales.
North of Crewe, there are plans for four further new stations: at Manchester Airport, Manchester Piccadilly, Toton and Leeds, which are all part of the plans for phase 2b, which have already been subject to public consultation. To repeat an old joke, the Prime Minister has been clear that
“we are not asking whether it is phase 2b or not 2b. That is not the question.”—[Official Report, Commons, 11/2/20; col. 713.]
There is no amber light, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, stated. The question is how it will proceed when it comes to integration with all the other major rail projects that the Government are financing in the north. That is why we are working with the National Infrastructure Commission and regional leaders to develop an integrated rail plan for the north and Midlands. It is not a review but a plan. Tens of billions of pounds are at stake in a number of rail schemes across the north and the Midlands, and we must get it absolutely right.
My Lords, the noble Baroness is doing a good job of reading out the brief from the department. However, could she help us by telling us when she expects phase 2b will therefore be open?
I wrote some of this brief, so I feel a little offended. I do not have that particular piece of data to hand, which I am disappointed about, but I will certainly write to the noble Lord when I can get it from my officials at the department.
My Lords, there is one little update on the question of Crewe, which the Minister mentioned. It is worth reflecting on the fact that at the moment, the Wye and the Severn being flooded means that people trying to get to London from Wales probably cannot get there via Shrewsbury and Hereford, which means that they are forced to go to Crewe. That is quite a significant point.
I agree with the noble Lord: that is a significant point. This new train line is also about adding resilience. Now, if the west coast main line goes down, as I believe it did yesterday—for which my apologies—there is no plan B. Therefore, it would certainly give the people of Wales a plan B to get them either from London to Wales or vice versa.
The integrated rail plan terms of reference were published in late February—they may have been published on a Friday, but this Government work on Fridays. The Secretary of State aims to publish the plan by the end of the year. We want to get this right. It is important that we get it done, but it must be right. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, made a couple of references to the Oakervee Review and various conclusions therein. Conclusion 11 recommended that we undertake a circa six-month study of the 2b scope in the context of the Midlands Engine Rail and Northern Powerhouse Rail proposals, so it is one of Oakervee’s conclusions. Conclusion 12 recommends that the Government consider smaller Bill phases
“to allow easier scrutiny of proposals in Parliament and faster construction”
so we may look at that. To do the phase 2b Bill in one go will be a challenge, but I am sure it is doable and that we have the stamina to do so. However, if it would be helpful, it might be a good idea to have smaller Bills. The Government’s next steps are therefore consistent with what Oakervee suggested.
On the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on the route, the Secretary of State has committed to delivering HS2 to Leeds via the east Midlands; we have no plans to route HS2 trains from London to Leeds by Manchester.
On the specific issue of Leeds station, the HS2 station design for Leeds aims to integrate an HS2 station with the existing conventional station to allow for easy access and interchange between HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and local services across West Yorkshire and the north.
There was an original plan in Leeds to locate the HS2 station towards the south, but work to review the options further in 2014-15 recognised that priority should be given to greater interchange.
There is a difference between having an interchange at the hammerhead and a junction at the east so that trains from the south can go to all other places.
I suspected that I would not keep the noble Lord 100% happy. I will certainly write to him.
I have various elements on the environment but that was not in the topic of the debate so I will have to write to the noble Baroness because I am out of time, which is incredibly disappointing.
Will the Minister be kind enough to consult Hansard and cover, by letter, any issues that she has not dealt with, then copy those letters to all noble Lords who have participated?
I will certainly do that; I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for mentioning it. I am aware that he asked some questions about governance and management, which are incredibly important. I will certainly go into detail on them and other things. I also note the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and others about BCR and the analysis of transport schemes in general. As a Transport Minister, I am deeply aware of those issues; we will work on them over the forthcoming period.
I thank all noble Lords for their participation in today’s debate. HS2 debates are always very interesting; I am sure there are many more to come.
House adjourned at 7.21 pm.