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HS2: Phase 2B

Volume 810: debated on Monday 8 February 2021

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on (1) the East Midlands, and (2) Yorkshire, of not delivering the eastern leg of HS2 Phase 2B in full.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare my interests as co-chair of the Midlands Engine All-Party Parliamentary Group.

My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that the Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east realise the benefits of high-speed services. The integrated rail plan will set out the best way of delivering the eastern leg of HS2 phase 2b and will consider how to sequence its delivery to ensure that benefits are realised sooner and that it is integrated with other major schemes such as Northern Powerhouse Rail and Midlands Engine Rail.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Only the full HS2 eastern leg and Midlands Engine Rail—including the developments from regeneration around the HS2 East Midlands hub at Toton—would deliver the connectivity and ambition needed to revive the Midlands economy post Covid. Does the Minister agree that the HS2 East Midlands hub should remain at Toton? The scale of development at Toton, creating 84,000 jobs and adding £4.8 billion to the value of the regional economy, will be key to levelling up the Midlands region after years of underinvestment.

My Lords, we have been very impressed by the scale of the regeneration plans for the proposed HS2 station at Toton. In the IRP it is very important that we consider regeneration and economic impacts on local areas, as well as how to create the right kind of rail network.

The Government were right, following the review by Doug Oakervee, to continue with HS2, which is now happening and taking place to Birmingham and Manchester. Does the Minister agree that it is absolutely essential that the eastern leg of the project, which takes in the cities of Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds, also gets the benefits from what is a major engineering project for this country?

My noble friend might have seen a letter published today by Connecting Britain, which is made up of 120 leaders from the places that he mentions and beyond. It says:

“The Integrated Rail Plan is your chance to move on from Covid to what the future of the UK should look like. Levelling up parts of the country that have seen traditional and considerable underinvestment, and that would benefit from a plan for growth.”

That is exactly what we intend to do.

My Lords, the UK has underinvested in rail and road infrastructure under all Governments for over 50 years. As a consequence, we have the worst transport infrastructure of any major country. Does the Minister agree that the payback to the economy of major infrastructure investment—think of the M1, for instance—comes not only over decades but, more likely, over the best part of a century?

My Lords, this Government completely agree with the noble Lord, and that is why transport infrastructure and building back better is our priority for Britain over the coming years.

My Lords, I join the general trend of support and welcome for the Government’s continued commitment to the entire HS2 project. Could the Minister take the opportunity to reinforce the point that this is not a zero-sum game, with one part of the country gaining at the expense of another? We all gain from the introduction of the project, not least those of us who live in London; we gain because the north gains. Would the Minister confirm that?

The noble Lord is completely right—this project is about connectivity and capacity, and the connectivity strand is about connectivity throughout the country. HS2 provides a wonderful opportunity to create a high-speed rail spine down the centre of the country which will benefit both the cities it connects and the local communities beyond them.

My Lords, this Government made manifesto promises on levelling up the north-east and produced a prospectus called HS2: Getting the Best out of Yorkshire. I have listened carefully to the Minister’s words today; can she tell us the timescale for legislation to allow the HS2 eastern leg to go forward? Can she unequivocally confirm that that will be happening?

The noble Baroness has been in this House long enough to know that I cannot possibly confirm that, because of course to have legislation, particularly a very complicated hybrid Bill, there are a number of steps that we have go through beforehand. One of those steps will be the publication of the integrated rail plan. It will be published in early 2021—so, very shortly—and in it we will set out exactly what we will do for the eastern leg and how we will integrate it with plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail and Midlands Engine Rail.

The National Infrastructure Commission’s report is clearly a further blow to the east Midlands and Yorkshire economies, the Government having already pulled back on the full electrification of the east Midlands main line. Reference has already been made to the 120 business leaders from across the north and the Midlands who wrote to the Prime Minister calling for the full delivery of the eastern leg of HS2. Is the Minister giving us a commitment that the Prime Minister will be restating his commitment to the eastern leg of HS2 in the integrated rail plan, within the existing timescale for the completion of that eastern leg?

I am not sure precisely what commitment the noble Lord would like me to give, but the Prime Minister recently spoke about

“the power of great infrastructure projects to deliver jobs, which is why we are getting on with both the eastern leg of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.”—[Official Report, Commons, 9/12/21; col. 839.]

My Lords, on 31 January 2017, I tabled an amendment to the HS2 Bill which would have stopped this ridiculous vanity project in its tracks. I lost, but 26 Members of your Lordships’ House who really understood HS2 supported me. A petition demanding a Commons debate on its continuation has so far received approximately 150,000 signatures and will have to be granted. Rather than tinkering with the existing scheme, I urge the Minister to scrap it, and to urgently and carefully look at all the available proposals to spend money on worthwhile railway schemes across every region in the country. This would be of great benefit to passengers and commuters nationwide, do less harm to the environment and people’s lives, utilise all the expertise acquired by HS2, and, in the light of the effect of the Covid pandemic, which has changed working practices forever, allow us to extricate ourselves from a doomed project which cannot possibly succeed.

My Lords, why did the Government press ahead with London to Birmingham and allow costs to rise so that the much more useful eastern leg looks as though it will now become unaffordable?

A couple of things are conflated in that question. Regarding the pressing ahead, the London to Birmingham section was far more developed than any other section, and therefore it could be taken forward more quickly. Regarding allowing costs to rise, the Government have a laser-like focus on the cost of HS2. I am sure that my honourable friend in the other place, Minister Stephenson, will continue to ensure that they are as low as possible.

My Lords, given the recent delays, is it not now the case that the north-east—Durham, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear—will not now benefit from HS2 until after 2040? If the Government want to level up, are there not other schemes in the north-east far worthier of immediate support, such as the full reopening of the Leamside line, which MPs, local authorities of all parties and business leaders are very keen to support?

My Lords, it is not an either/or when it comes to railways in the north or anywhere else. That is why we have the Restoring Your Railway Fund, which is looking at reopening certain lines. I assure the House that the integrated rail plan is about not only ensuring that all these projects are integrated but delivering them as quickly as we can.

Do the Government still agree with the economic justification for HS2, which shows that in Sheffield, Leeds, Chesterfield, Nottingham and the east Midlands, HS2 will create over 136,000 new jobs, including many highly skilled positions, and that the full multibillion pound increase in GVA will come to fruition only if the eastern leg goes ahead all the way to Leeds?

We are in frequent discussions with stakeholders across the north and the Midlands to fully understand the economic benefits of HS2 to their areas. It is absolutely clear to us that the benefits are very significant. We will set out the exact way forward in the integrated rail plan.