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House of Commons Hansard
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High Speed 2: Yorkshire
06 February 2017
Volume 621

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Heather Wheeler.)

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I am grateful, even at this late—or should I say early—hour, to discuss the very important decisions to be made about HS2 and its route through Yorkshire, and particularly South Yorkshire. What this debate loses by the hour at which it occurs, it gains from the quality of the Members who are present.

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On this side.

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On both sides of the House.

I am grateful to all my right hon. and hon. Friends who have supported the debate, and particularly to my right hon. Friends the Members for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron), for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton), my hon. Friends the Members for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) and for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), and indeed all my hon. Friends.

I want to make it clear right at the outset that I have always supported the principle of HS2, and I still do. But the whole reason for it must be to seek to do something about the deep inequalities our country faces, and my colleagues and I fear that that will not be the outcome of the decisions currently being advocated. We have called this debate because HS2, having supported the Sheffield Meadowhall route year after year, has changed its mind and is now recommending what is called the M18 route through my constituency, with a spur to Sheffield Midland. In my remarks, I want to take on the issue of whether that makes sense. I do not believe it does make sense in terms of maximising the economic benefits of HS2 or tackling the deep inequalities in our country, connectivity and value for money. I hope the Minister, and indeed the Secretary of State, will be as fair minded as we have been in listening to the arguments that have been made.

There are five arguments that HS2 is making. The first is around what it calls the conflicting demands of the region. In considering this issue, it is worth remembering why Meadowhall was originally chosen—it was because of its excellent connections to the rest of the region, with a journey time to London of 68 minutes and five trains an hour. This is what Sir David Higgins himself said in October 2014 about the alternative option, which he now recommends. HS2 examined

“a spur terminating at Sheffield Midland station. While this provided limited benefits for the city centre market, it did not provide the connections and journey times necessary to serve the wider Sheffield city region effectively, particularly Rotherham and Barnsley.”

I could not have put it better myself. He went on to say that this approach would not deliver

“an equitable approach across the North or meet the vision of a truly high speed network for the country.”

So HS2 is currently recommending an approach it describes as worse for equity, connectivity, capacity and journey times.

Given all that, Members might think that the M18 option was better for Sheffield city centre. My colleagues from Sheffield will obviously take their own view on that, but I contend that that is not the case. Why do I say that? The so-called city centre option that is now being recommended actually means slower journey times from London to Sheffield city centre than the previous Meadowhall option. The House should not take my word for it; it should listen to HS2’s own figures.

According to HS2, the old Meadowhall route meant a journey time into Sheffield Midland from London of 79 minutes, even with a change of trains. The time on the new route is somewhere between 85 and 87 minutes, and could actually be longer. Not only that, but there would have been five trains an hour—now there will be a maximum of two. The trains will be half the length of HS2 trains, and they will not be on the HS2 track; they will be on what HS2 euphemistically calls “classic” track—I think that means the old track, which is subject to all the delays and problems that exist. I believe that Sheffield and South Yorkshire are being sold a pup on this route. That is true whether we look at the economic benefit or the passenger numbers; on all the issues that matter, the benefits of Sheffield Meadowhall are much greater than those of the Midland option.

The second argument HS2 makes is around city centre connectivity—the need to go from Leeds city centre to Sheffield city centre, for example. When I have asked HS2 about this, it has said, “Well, Transport for the North”—hon. Members will know about that organisation—“has really changed our thinking on this.” So last week I rang up the head of Transport for the North, David Brown, who was bemused, to say the least, to hear that he had driven this change. He told me that he certainly had not expressed a view about which option was better. He actually said that it was disingenuous to claim that he had driven this change. That is not surprising, because the old Meadowhall route meant a journey time from Leeds city centre into Sheffield city centre of 27 minutes, which is under the half an hour that is the ambition that Transport for the North has for this city centre connectivity.

There is an even more serious problem with the Sheffield Midland option that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) has exposed with persistent questioning—whether there is the engineering capacity at Sheffield Midland to meet the ambitions of Transport for the North for up to 20 trains an hour. There are real doubts about this. I would like the Minister to tell us—because I have asked HS2 and it has not given a straight answer—what the engineering constraints are at Sheffield Midland. Currently two trains an hour are being proposed, and there is the potential for two more if other links are built.

The third argument that HS2 makes is about demand. This basically says that there is not the demand in South Yorkshire that justifies the five trains an hour that would have run to Meadowhall, so instead there will be up to two trains an hour, which could of course be one or two—and we have to remember that they are half the size of the old HS2 trains. I think that this is the same as the defeatism that the proponents of HS2 often accuse its critics of. In other words, it is saying, “This kind of economic intervention isn’t going to make a big difference so we are talking about one fifth of the capacity of the original Meadowhall proposal.” That is defeatist and wrong. It is downgrading South Yorkshire, and that is the wrong thing to do.

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My right hon. Friend is right to be concerned about the capacity of Sheffield Midland station, particularly if we want to increase the number of trains to Manchester, for example. There is an additional problem that he might like to mention, which is that the electrification of the midland main line is not going to go ahead in the mainstream programme, and there is no money in anybody’s budget to fund this, as I understand it.

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That is an incredibly important point. I will come on to the vexed question of costs, because that will obviously be a concern of the Minister, and I understand the reasons for that.

HS2’s fourth argument is about what it calls local constraints—that is, the urban industrial density and the environmental challenges of the Meadowhall route. However, HS2 itself admits in its most recent document that what it calls the constructability issues at Meadowhall can be overcome, and, as I have said, the engineering challenges of the city centre are completely unanswered.

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Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the woefully inadequate evidence that HS2 gave to the Transport Committee when it was called to give evidence? It was questioned quite closely in its witness statements on this particular issue and did not give any semblance of a proper answer.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. I noticed the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) nodding from a sedentary position; I know that he raised this issue in the Transport Committee as well. It is also something that my constituents have raised with me.

The other thing I would say about the challenges and constraints is that we are not comparing like with like. We are comparing three or four years of work on the Meadowhall route with, frankly, back-of-a-fag packet calculations in relation to the M18 route. My constituents with houses that are going to need to be demolished have not had letters saying that their houses would need to be demolished. There is a whole range of issues. A whole new housing estate, the Shimmer estate in Mexborough in my constituency, is threatened with demolition. Some of the most distinctive countryside around villages in my constituency such as Hickleton, Barnburgh, Clayton and Hooton Pagnell is under threat. Our argument is not simply about the local effect—it is a wider argument about the benefits to South Yorkshire. However, I do think that that is relevant, and proper work has not been done on the constraints of this route.

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As somebody who has opposed HS2 right from the beginning, I have a great deal of sympathy with the case the right hon. Gentleman is making. Although I do not want to intervene on the merits of the M18 route or Meadowhall, does he agree that there is a serious problem with the governance of HS2 Ltd? It has had five Secretaries of State, four permanent secretaries and three chief executives. Now, even the former permanent secretary to the Treasury, Lord Macpherson, has said that HS2 is not good value for money for the taxpayer and the money could be better spent on other road and rail projects that would benefit Yorkshire and the rest of the country.

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The right hon. Lady has a long track record of campaigning on this issue. Although she and I may differ on the principle around HS2—I support it—the point that she makes about its inconsistency of approach is deeply troubling. It was recommending the Meadowhall route not just in October 2014 but, as we discovered thanks to FOI, in late 2015 and as late as February 2016. I was going to call this debate—partly in order to attract more people to it—“The mystery of HS2 in Yorkshire”, because it is a mystery to me what changed. In February, HS2 was saying that Meadowhall was the right option. By April or May, the previous Secretary of State was walking around my constituency looking at the other route.

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I spoke to David Higgins in July last year when this occurred, and he said that there was no consensus for Sheffield Meadowhall. It is quite clear to me the damage that the M18 route will do to three villages in my constituency. If M18 goes ahead, the sub-regional economy of South Yorkshire will lose out massively on the benefit and the jobs that HS2 said two years ago would result from Meadowhall going ahead. It is inconceivable, in my view, that that should not happen, and it has not been written off.

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My right hon. Friend makes an important point, and I hope that the Minister will be open-minded. Although the Secretary of State has said that he is minded to go ahead with the M18 route, he has kept the Meadowhall option open.

I come now to the issue of cost. HS2 has been careful to say that the claimed £1 billion of savings is not the motivation for the route change, but I totally understand why the Minister and the Secretary of State would care about the cost. Unfortunately, it turns out that the claimed savings are simply illusory. This £1 billion of so-called savings excludes a whole number of costs. It excludes the electrification of the northern loop to Leeds, which will cost £300 million and which is essential for any link to Leeds, because it is not built into the plan. It excludes the cost of a parkway station, which HS2 is suggesting could cost somewhere between £200 million and £300 million; that is not in the plan. It excludes any re-engineering of Sheffield Midland; that is not in the plan. It excludes potential electrification of the Sheffield line; that is not in the plan. It excludes the optimism bias that the National Audit Office called the Government out on. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), in her role on the Public Accounts Committee, has been assiduous in looking at these issues. When we look at the so-called £1 billion of savings, we found that it disappeared. I ask the Minister to come back to me on that if he disagrees.

That is half the problem, but there is another half to the problem. The Government and HS2 have been talking about the capital costs of the project, but when we look at the fine print, we might wonder why they have not been talking about the operating costs. There is a very good reason why they have not done so. The operating costs of the M18 route—this comes from the Government’s own figures—are a staggering £1.7 billion higher than those of the Meadowhall route. Not only do the savings disappear, but the route turns out to be more expensive by £1 billion or more over the lifetime of the project. I hope that one thing that we can establish today is that the Minister and HS2 really should stop saying that the route saves money, because it does not. It does not save money when we look at the capital costs, and it certainly does not save money when we throw in the operating costs as well.

When I go through the arguments about the benefits to South Yorkshire and look at whether we believe this economic intervention will help South Yorkshire and do so properly—there are issues of connectivity, demand, local constraints and costs—I am afraid that I do not believe the M18 route adds up. Some people have said that the problems can be solved by having a parkway station on the M18 route—for example, in a village or town in the Dearne valley—but I do not believe that. An afterthought parkway station will provide a maximum of one or two trains an hour, not five. It would be likely to have all the same connection problems as the city centre option, and it raises the most profound infrastructure challenges.

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HS2 adversely affects my constituency, and I have always voted against it. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that HS2 is now so desperately over budget and so desperate to make savings that we have ended up with a railway that does not connect with HS1 or Heathrow, and goes from nearly London to nearly Birmingham? I am not surprised that it is not delivering what he expected for Doncaster.

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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I understand that Governments will always want to look for savings, but I do not believe there will be any savings.

The final argument I want to address is consensus. The Minister and I have discussed the issue, and I know he is concerned about it. One explanation HS2 has offered is that there was no consensus for the Meadowhall route. That was true because Meadowhall was advocated by Doncaster, Barnsley and Rotherham, while Sheffield advocated the Victoria option. However, I really hope the Minister hears today that if there was no consensus for Meadowhall, there is far less support for the M18 route. I believe that this is now an idea without allies. It is not supported in Doncaster, Barnsley or Rotherham, and many people in Sheffield have growing doubts. Indeed, I think Sheffield has been sold a pup by HS2.

Last of all, I say to the Minister that the Secretary of State has said he is minded to adopt the M18 proposal, but has not closed the door on Meadowhall. Whatever the reasons for this bad recommendation, I want the Minister to listen to what he is hearing—the facts and the evidence—and not sell South Yorkshire down the river. I want HS2 to work for South Yorkshire, but the M18 route does not work. The answer, in my view, should be to return to the original Meadowhall route, by all means with better connections to the centre of Sheffield. If reason and rationality matter, the M18 route cannot go ahead; if making our country more equal matters, the M18 route should not go ahead; and if the views of the people of South Yorkshire matter, it cannot go ahead. I hope and trust that the Minister and his Secretary of State will listen and act when the time comes.

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I congratulate the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) on securing this debate. I think HS2 is a very exciting project, and I am grateful to him for his overall support in principle, but we obviously have issues to resolve in South Yorkshire.

HS2 is long overdue for our national rail system. It will provide the capacity for our congested railways, improve connections between our biggest cities and regions, and generate the jobs, skills and economic growth that will help us to build an economy that works for all. A key part of that is closing the geographical, sector and skills gaps in our country, and not leaving people behind.

By providing new fast lines for inter-city services, HS2 will free up space on our existing railways for more services, including more regional services for commuters and more freight services. It will create better connections and more seats for passengers overall. Even people who never travel by train stand to benefit from fewer lorries on the roads, and from the thousands of local jobs and apprenticeships that will be created by HS2. It will create opportunities for skills and employment, and it will promote UK leadership and expertise in construction and engineering. We are looking at 2,000 new apprenticeships, 25,000 private sector jobs to build the railway and 3,000 jobs to operate it. Over 70% of the new jobs created directly by HS2 are outside London.

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I think we all support the principle, but we want to talk about this particular route. From the perspective of Chesterfield, may I tell the Minister that we were actually quite pleased with the change, because it brings in the whole north Derbyshire area, and up to about 400,000 people? Whatever comes out of this, can we make sure that Chesterfield is served either by the route he is now proposing, or by the route to the east of Chesterfield?

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The hon. Gentleman’s very interesting point highlights the dilemma we are facing in South Yorkshire and the surrounding area, but I think the benefits will be significant.

Let me get into the detail. I am still asked every day whether this scheme will happen. Of course it will happen. The Bill went through on its Third Reading in the House of Lords only last week, with the biggest majority in a Division since this Parliament voted to join the European Community, as it then was, almost 50 years ago. That is quite an interesting point to note. [Interruption.] I think it is very interesting. The point is that the scheme is going to happen. The question now is how we maximise the benefits when it arrives in our communities.

All sorts of problems will clearly arise from part of the proposed phase 2 route through South Yorkshire. I agree with the right hon. Member for Doncaster North that the concerns of residents in South Yorkshire are very important, just like the views of residents along the entire line of route. That is why HS2 has engaged closely and continues to engage with affected residents, including the people of Yorkshire, to understand and address their concerns.

The current phase 2b route refinement and property consultation is addressing the issues raised by residents directly, including the location of depots, where to build tunnels and viaducts, the height of infrastructure, and property impacts. The consultation exercise closes on 9 March, so this is a live, ongoing consultation and I can only talk about the proposals. A significant number of events are being held.

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Will the Minister give way?

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We will run out of time pretty shortly.

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I will be very brief. HS2 has said that there are nine areas where there could be a parkway station, but today I have heard that it could be two areas. Why is that not out for consultation as well?

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HS2 is still working on the proposals. It will provide its recommendations to us when it has done the assessment in April and May of this year, so there is nothing yet to consult upon.

There are 30 information events along the line of route on the current proposals. This is a genuine consultation and we are listening. The right hon. Member for Donaster North asked whether we are listening and we are. The way in which changes have been made in response to previous consultations shows that the process is open and by no means finished.

In response to concerns raised by the local community in Crofton, HS2 Ltd has identified options for alternative locations for the proposed New Crofton depot, some of which the Secretary of State could consider in his response to the route refinement consultation.

The entire HS2 programme has benefited from close engagement with communities, businesses, local authorities and passengers. The engagement events have been extremely well attended, so we are listening. We are working closely with local authorities and stakeholders along the line of route to find the best solutions.

After listening to consultation responses and considering alternatives to the proposed viaduct in the Aire and Calder area, we changed the route to pass under Woodlesford in a tunnel. In Leeds, we moved the location of the HS2 station 500 metres to the north to create a major transport hub with a single concourse. Again, we are listening. The point is that people in Leeds came together to suggest a solution. It would be great if that were possible in the Sheffield city region, so that the region spoke with one voice to the Government and decided where the station should be.

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What needs to happen to get the Meadowhall option back on the table? That is on the Huddersfield-Penistone-Sheffield line that goes through my constituency, so it has the added benefit of connectivity to Huddersfield and the surrounding towns.

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As ever, my hon. Friend makes a good point about connectivity and the services that would benefit his constituency.

Let me get into the points that have been made. We know that we have to get the decision on the M18 route refinement and the Meadowhall options right. This is more than a Government-led proposal; it requires collaboration from regional and local stakeholders.

The original 2013 consultation proposed serving South Yorkshire with a route along the Rother valley and an HS2 station at Meadowhall, about 6 km from Sheffield city centre. Since 2013, opinion among local people about the best location for the station has remained divided and no consensus has been reached. Indeed, it does not look like a consensus will be reached. That has made the decision about how HS2 can best serve the region very challenging, and the factors around the decision are finely balanced. In addition, there have been new developments since that time, including the northern powerhouse rail aspiration for fast and frequent services between city centres.

In the light of those developments and the feedback received in response to the 2013 consultation, HS2 Ltd continued to consider a range of options for how HS2 could best serve South Yorkshire while maintaining the integrity of the service to the larger markets of Leeds, York and Newcastle.

As part of the changes, Sir David Higgins recommended that a 9.4 km southern spur at Stonebroom be built off the HS2 main line, enabling HS2 trains to run directly into Sheffield city centre along the main network, and that the main north-south route follows a more easterly alignment over some 70 km between Derbyshire and west Yorkshire.

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From whose budget will the cost of electrification of the HS2 main line into Sheffield Midland station come?

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We are still working up the proposals for northern powerhouse rail, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We are looking at that all the time.

Building a northern connection would result in Sheffield being served by a loop rather than a spur, enabling services stopping at Sheffield Midland to continue on to destinations further north, and this connection could allow journeys between Sheffield and Leeds of 25 minutes —well within the northern powerhouse rail ambition of 30 minutes. The proposed M18 route has additional benefits, in that it affects fewer properties, generates less noise pollution than the Meadowhall alternative, is less congested, and avoids businesses and the risk from the mining legacy. I can see many attractions to a city centre location such as Leeds, Birmingham or Manchester.

On the parkway station recommendation, the Government have commissioned HS2 Ltd to conduct an options study that will review rail demand in the South Yorkshire region, and alternative options for meeting that demand, including the parkway station, as well as potential service extensions to places beyond Sheffield Midland, such as Meadowhall, Rotherham and Barnsley. That work is under way. We look forward to the results in the spring. Alongside the route refinement and property consultation, the study will be used to inform a decision on HS2 in South Yorkshire later this year.

I agree with everybody here that we want to secure the benefits of HS2 in South Yorkshire and right across our country. It will be a major challenge to get the scheme right for South Yorkshire, but already we can see some benefits, including funding to help with the development of a growth strategy. The region can start to benefit from HS2 even before it is built, through long-term plans for regeneration. Several contracts have been let, and further major contracts worth up to £11.8 billion for civil engineering work between London and Birmingham are expected to be let this year.

HS2 is going ahead. The programme is moving at pace. The question is how to minimise the disruption during the build and, most importantly, maximise the benefits when HS2 arrives. I want people to be thinking about that, including in South Yorkshire. I have met colleagues from South Yorkshire, and I will meet them again—I think that dates are already in the diary; I am happy to receive all representations. I think that we can take this debate as part of the consultation exercise, and I hope that we can achieve a consensus around the proposal in South Yorkshire.

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Will the Minister answer a simple question: is Meadowhall still on the table?

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Yes. We have not ruled options out, although the Government have said that they are minded—but only minded—to go ahead with the proposal from Sir David Higgins. HS2 Ltd has run the largest public consultation in British Government history. We have sought to listen to communities and to take on board their comments and concerns at every stage, and that will continue, but HS2 is not just about improving transport; it is about exactly what the right hon. Gentleman said—building a better Britain and creating a legacy of prosperity for future generations. That especially applies in Yorkshire, which stands to benefit enormously from the new line, which is why I, as a Yorkshire MP, am proud to be part of this fantastic scheme.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.