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HS2: Wales

Volume 825: debated on Tuesday 8 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact, if any, of the HS2 rail project in Wales.

My Lords, HS2 will free up capacity on the existing west coast main line and enable faster journey times from the rest of Great Britain to both north and south Wales via new interchange opportunities. Journey times from many places in north Wales to London could be reduced to around two and a quarter hours, changing at the refurbished Crewe station.

The continued categorisation of HS2 as an England and Wales project by the UK Treasury scuppers the Welsh Government’s ability to invest in rail in Wales. In July 2021, the Welsh Affairs Committee concluded that HS2 should be reclassified as an England-only scheme. Will the Minister review this profoundly unfair situation?

My Lords, it is the case that Wales does not receive Barnett funding from HS2, as the UK Government remain responsible for heavy rail infrastructure in England and Wales, but the use of departmental comparability factors in the Barnett formula at spending reviews means that the Welsh Government have received a significant uplift in Barnett-based funding.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former member of the HS2 Select Committee, which sat every day, mostly all day, for two years—a bit of an exile to the eastern front, if there ever was one. There is now a lot of uncertainty over the northern sections of HS2. Does she agree that it is incredibly important that this uncertainty is cleared up as soon as possible—not least because of the number of properties that have been blighted and the amount of compensation that will have to be paid if these two links go ahead?

I am grateful to my noble friend for his service on the Select Committee—I know that these Bills can sometimes be very large indeed. That for phase 2b, the western leg, is in the other place at the moment, and a Select Committee is being put in place. The Government remain committed to delivering HS2, as the Secretary of State set out in his update to Parliament last month.

My Lords, in her answer to the noble Baroness, the Minister had an interesting new interpretation of the way in which the Barnett formula works. In the past, it has always been possible to track through how much Barnett money would come, and why. It has not been possible in this case to detect Barnett formula money as a result of HS2. Can the Minister explain to us exactly how much Wales has received in Barnett consequentials as a result of this project, and when that money was received and why?

As I tried to explain, the Government take an overarching approach, as heavy rail infrastructure is the responsibility of the Government in England and Wales. But if one looks at rail investment in Wales, one can see that we are investing record amounts already. In CP6, we have invested £2 billion in Wales alone, which includes £1.2 billion in renewals and upgrading infrastructure and £373 million for rail enhancements.

My Lords, Ministers have said that all trains from south Wales to Paddington will stop at Old Oak Common, the station of HS2 in London. That will add 10 minutes to the journey. How much will that station cost and how many years of delay will there be while it is constructed on the Great Western main line?

The noble Lord and I have had many conversations about Old Oak Common in the past. The Government remain committed to the construction of Old Oak Common; we believe that having trains stopping there will mean that the station becomes a vital integrated transport link in west London, which would lead into many other parts of London and beyond.

My Lords, is it not the case that the taxpayer is being ripped off by contractors because there is a lack of oversight of this scheme? What are the Government going to do to bring it back into budget?

If the noble Lord is talking about HS2, I do not recognise his comments about the Government being ripped off, but I certainly recognise that the Government must make sure that the scheme is adequately scrutinised. Indeed, that is the case. As he will have seen from the most recent update to Parliament, HS2 remains within its funding envelope.

My Lords, the Minister is absolutely right to say that north Wales will benefit from the construction of HS2, with shorter journey times and relief of overcrowding on the west coast main line. Would it not be even more sensible, rather than expecting passengers to change at Crewe, if the north Wales coast line were electrified before High Speed 2 got to Crewe, so they could run through trains along the north Wales coast which are all High Speed 2 trains?

The noble Lord is trying to get me to make commitments from the Dispatch Box which I am not able to make, unfortunately. However, I think it is worth understanding that the Crewe interchange as it is now planned was substantially revamped following significant concerns from stakeholders in north Wales and beyond. We have altered the Crewe northern connection so that it could allow for five to seven trains per hour to call at Crewe and then to be able to go down the high-speed line or, indeed, the conventional track.

My Lords, my noble friend referred to the uncertainty over the northern part of HS2. Will she commit to rail improvements for the northern rail project to make sure that we have a new line to open up the railway between Teesside and Liverpool?

As my noble friend will know, the Government set out in the integrated rail plan tens of billions of pounds of investment across the north and the Midlands. We want to take that forward in line with the 2019 manifesto. She will also be aware that an Autumn Statement is coming up on 17 November, and I cannot say anything further at this time.

My Lords, in the discussions which the noble Baroness has undoubtedly had with the Treasury on the benefits of continuing with HS2 north of Birmingham, has she pointed out that the city of Birmingham has already seen massive inward investment by companies moving there in advance of HS2 coming? Does she not agree that the same would happen in the north if HS2 were to continue up there?

I agree with the noble Lord that Birmingham and the surrounding areas have seen huge investment following the confirmation that HS2 would go there. Indeed, the same could well happen for the western leg. It is in the strategic case, and the case for HS2 going north from Birmingham is strengthened by the fact that we believe businesses will flock to Manchester and other areas.

As a north Walian, I support all the concerns that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and others have mentioned already. What I and a lot of north Walians are concerned about is that we have no through trains on the Holyhead to Euston line—although I think there is just one through train a day. I came here this morning, and I had to change on the way; often, we have to change at Crewe and at Chester. Why is this promise of a through train from north Wales to Euston not being kept? What is the cause of that?

I understand the noble Lord’s concern, and the Government are looking very carefully at train timetables at the moment. Noble Lords will have heard me discuss in the House before the challenges at Avanti. We are working very closely with Avanti to make sure that it can offer as full a service as possible. The next upgrade is on 11 December.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Berkeley asked some specific questions about costs and delays which I do not think the Minister answered. Could she do so now, please?

I think the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked me about the cost of Old Oak Common station. I do not have that figure to hand, but I will be happy to write.

I welcome the Minister’s clear assertion on behalf of the Government that they remain fully committed to the construction of HS2. There can be barely a capital expenditure programme that has been examined so repeatedly, not only nationwide but here in the House of Lords. Can I remind her that opposition to HS2 is in the finest traditions of the House of Lords, which in the 1830s threw out the London to Birmingham railway proposal? Fortunately, that was later reversed, but if it had been thrown out and the Lords had succeeded in their opposition, we would be in an infinitely worse position than we are today.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reminder. I will ensure that the relevant people in my department are aware of it.