Skip to main content

High Speed 2 (Newton)

Volume 621: debated on Thursday 23 February 2017

May I gently appeal to right hon. and hon. Members who might be leaving the Chamber—I am bound to say leaving the Chamber quite unaccountably in the light of the parliamentary feast that remains to be consumed—to do so quickly and quietly?

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Chris Heaton-Harris.)

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this debate about a very important subject: HS2 in my constituency.

I remember clearly the statement by the then Secretary of State for Transport announcing HS2 for the north. I asked him then whether it would go to Derbyshire Dales and of course the answer was no, but one thing was certain: it was going to the very heavily populated eastern side of Derbyshire. That meant there was going to be some trouble. Sure enough, during the past few months, I have been meeting people and trying to deal with that trouble in Tibshelf and other parts of Bolsover. In an industrial estate in Tibshelf, the line goes straight through the factory owned by a firm employing nearly 100 people.

Little did I know, however, that in the course of the past few weeks a decision would be made that was going to supersede everything I thought about HS2. Mr Higgins, who is in charge of HS2, decided it would be a good idea to have, in the middle of Sheffield, which is built on seven hills, a dead-end station—the trains will go in and come out the same way. The station was going to be where the old steel industry was, in the massive shopping area now called Meadowhall. That is a flat area. Most of us assumed that Meadowhall would be the ideal spot.

We are in a similar situation in Coventry. The environment of Warwickshire will be desecrated by HS2. It will affect a lot of villages, and many people in Coventry who may be affected will not receive any compensation. The Elliott family, whom I know, are in that position. What is more important, however, is that Birmingham will benefit while Coventry could lose out on investment, and that could happen to my hon. Friend’s constituency as well.

I have no doubt at all that Birmingham is favoured because it is part of that new-fangled powerhouse, whereas Coventry is not regarded as such. In my area, the powerhouse is based in Sheffield. The Government said to Mr David Higgins that they wanted a station in the city built on seven hills, and they got one. Little did I realise, although I was holding meetings about HS2 and voting against it. The truth is that it was like a bombshell, and it showed that in the argument about localism versus powerhouses, the powerhouse wins every time.

It is preposterous that the Government did not even consider what would happen in Derbyshire the moment they designated Sheffield as an HS2 station. It meant that the whole line had to be redrawn, and another line had to be found to run through Derbyshire. The net result is that the line will go through the middle of Newton, a small village in my area. More than 30 houses will be demolished, and Blackwell parish council will be cut in half—all because of the Sheffield decision.

I am not the only one who has introduced an Adjournment debate on this subject. This is the third Adjournment debate that we have had about this particular business of Sheffield. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) was on his feet the other Monday talking about what would happen now that the route had been moved away from Meadowhall and towards his constituency. It will go through Mexborough and destroy houses there as well. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) had an Adjournment debate on the same matter a few weeks earlier. Sheffield had got the station, and therefore the line would run through a village called Bramley and several other villages in his area. The result will be havoc in Doncaster North, Rother Valley, and now Derbyshire. That is why you gave us these Adjournment debates, Mr Speaker. You know that it is a very important issue.

When I read the report of that Adjournment debate, I saw that, at the very end, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North—the ex-leader of the Labour party—had asked the Minister concerned whether Meadowhall was still viable and on the table, and the Minister had said yes. I hope that that is the case, because he, the Secretary of State, Higgins, and all the rest of them have got to get their heads together and stop this nonsense of allowing a station in Sheffield. It is going to create more havoc in our area than Hitler created in the second world war. When I was a little kid, my father used to say, “Go and have a look at that big hole. The bombs dropped last night.” It would always be near the railway line, but Hitler never hit it. Why did he want to hit it? Because Clay Cross diverged into two lines, the midland main line and the Erewash line.

I have to ask the Minister whether he has ever considered the idea of starting at Toton, and going straight up the Erewash line, which is already there and is used for traffic going to Nottingham and also for freight. That could then connect up to the midland line at Clay Cross, and therefore Newton would not be affected whatsoever. In other words, it would be a slow line—like it is now, believe me. All those 30 minutes will have gone. Can we remember when the Government made that 30 minutes announcement—that the business people would be able to get to London 30 minutes quicker?

The current cost is £78 billion. If I was in government and I had £78 billion, I would be giving a lot of that to the national health service and some more to social care, and I would have electrification of the Sheffield line. Why do the Government not do that? If they do that with the Sheffield to London midland line, they will get the benefit of what would be applicable if they had HS2.

Interestingly, high-speed rail could affect the frequency on the west coast main line, for example. Also, we do not know how much passengers’ fares would cost on high-speed rail; that has never been spelled out. This could affect us in Coventry in a number of ways, therefore, but my hon. Friend was right when he mentioned that Birmingham is the regional capital. All the benefits will go to Birmingham, and, more importantly, in order to get Birmingham on board a skills college is going to be established. There are enough skills in the west and east midlands to fulfil this objective.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. He has been with me in the Lobby when we have voted, but little did I know when I was voting that I would later on be arguing this case for the beleaguered people of Newton. It is horrific when we think about it that there they were playing no part in the HS2 argument, then suddenly a decision was made by Mr Higgins—no doubt supported by the Ministers concerned—who announced the Sheffield station, and the net result is that we have these two lines. One is the slow track that starts on the Erewash line, finds its way to the middle of Newton and then joins the track later on. The very idea that the Government thought they needed a branch line is nonsense when they could have carried on at Toton and gone straight through to Sheffield on the midland line.

It is almost unbelievable that the Government have fallen into this trap. That is why I am pleased that at this morning’s Transport questions I was able to ask the Secretary of State whether he would meet the Newton people. As we can imagine, immediately they found out that they were in the firing line, a group of people set to the task of finding out what was going to happen and making sure it was prevented.

When I went there the other week, there were more than 300 people in the old folks’ hall, and there were 150 people standing. It is a tiny village, but that shows the scale of their response, and they kept the doors open for the people on the streets to hear what was taking place. It was the biggest meeting I have had since the general election, and it was all done on the spur of the moment.

So I say to the Minister concerned that we want to bring these people down, and they will ask the Minister, very sensibly, about ensuring that, instead of going to Newton, the train carries on from Toton and joins the Clay Cross midland line on its way to Sheffield. It will not make a ha’p’orth of difference about the time, because, frankly, it is going to lose time on that route anyway, but it will mean that the Government would not have to develop a branch line, called the Newton spur, that turns off to the left. But the most sensible thing would be the electrification of the midland line. Then we would be home and dry, and we would probably get trains travelling even faster.

I want the Minister to report to the Secretary of State about this discussion today. This can be resolved, but they must ensure that the Meadowhall idea is continued. That would resolve the problems in Newton and in Mexborough. It could also solve the problem in Bramley in the Rother valley. In my opinion, those are the most sensible things that the Ministers could do to solve this problem. Have I done quarter of an hour? [Hon. Members: “Not quite.”] I have two minutes.

I hope the Minister will take on board everything I have said today. I have not tried to hide the facts. Everything I have said in the Chamber today has been based on the knowledge I have obtained by going to meetings with my Newton colleagues, who believe that they are going to have to deal with a storm that has come out of the blue. They never realised that this would be a problem. So let’s have the fast line going on to Meadowhall and the slow line dwindling on its way; let’s keep it away from Newton and make sure it moves from Toton; and let’s hope there is a satisfactory conclusion.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) on securing this end-of-day debate on high speed rail. I apologise for being a bit croaky, but I will get through the next quarter of an hour.

Through programmes such as HS2, the Government are investing in world-class infrastructure to ensure that the UK can seize opportunities and compete on the global stage. I believe that HS2 is a great project. It will increase capacity on our congested railways for both passengers and freight. It will also improve connections between our biggest cities and regions, and generate jobs, skills and economic growth, helping us to build an economy that works right across our country. Even those who never travel by train stand to benefit from having fewer lorries on the roads and from the thousands of local jobs and apprenticeships created by HS2, with 2,000 new apprenticeships, 25,000 private sector jobs involved in building the railway, and 3,000 jobs involved in operated it once it opens. It has been estimated that 100,000 new jobs will be created by HS2, 70% of which will be outside London. That will provide a massive boost to employment in our country.

The route to South Yorkshire has not yet been decided. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Meadowhall option was still open—it is. We have not made a decision. We are consulting on that matter, and the consultation closes on 9 March. We will then review the submissions before making any final decisions. The original 2013 consultation proposed serving South Yorkshire with a route along the Rother valley and a new HS2 station at Meadowhall, which is about 6 km from Sheffield city centre. Since that consultation, opinion among local people about the best location for a station has been divided. Indeed, that is clearly an understatement. This has made the decision about how HS2 can best serve the region very challenging, and the factors surrounding the decision are finely balanced. I have met colleagues and residents from South Yorkshire, and I will continue to do so.

In addition, there have been a number of new developments since 2013, including the northern powerhouse aspiration for fast and frequent rail services between city centres right across the north. In the light of these developments and the feedback received in response to the 2013 consultation, HS2 Ltd continued to consider a range of options for how HS2 can best serve South Yorkshire while maintaining the integrity of the service to the larger markets right across the north of England. As a result of this work, Sir David Higgins recommended that the main north-south route should follow a more easterly alignment over some 70 km between Derbyshire and West Yorkshire, which we refer to as the M18 route. He also said that a 9.4 km southern spur at Stonebroom could be built off the HS2 mainline, enabling HS2 trains to run into Sheffield city centre along the existing rail network. That spur would pass close to Newton.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Erewash Valley line. It has been considered, but it was deemed unsuitable for high-speed trains. The line lies within a floodplain and would require elevating via a viaduct, and we would have to divert all the line’s existing usage on to some other rail facility.

This is vital to the meeting that we will have with the Secretary of State. The Minister said that the Erewash line could not or will not be considered, but the truth is that HS2 goes to Toton and then proceeds to Meadowhall. Under the present arrangements, the spur line would go through Newton and clean out at least 30 houses. Does the Minister realise what he is saying? He thinks that South Yorkshire can be dealt with, but 30 properties in Newton will be demolished purely because the Government do not have the wherewithal to deal with the Erewash line, which has traffic on it now.

No, I am saying that the Erewash line has been considered but that no final decision has yet been made. We are still reviewing all the options, as has been made clear in all debates. The consultation is live and will run until 9 March. I will come on to talk about Newton in just a moment.

The approach put forward by Sir David Higgins would allow HS2 trains to serve Chesterfield directly, which would have further benefits to neighbouring parts of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Sir David also identified the potential to create a connection back on to the HS2 mainline north of Sheffield, creating a loop rather than a spur, and enabling services stopping at Sheffield midland to continue to destinations further north. The proposed M18 route has additional benefits in that it affects fewer properties and will generate less noise pollution than the Meadowhall alternative. It is also less congested, avoiding businesses and the risk from the legacy of mining.

The hon. Gentleman has forwarded letters from his constituents in which they express concerns about the impact of the proposed new route on their communities. Today he highlighted the issues facing the community in Newton, where people have raised concerns about the impact of the proposed M18 route on property value, compensation, noise and other pollution, and disruption due to construction traffic. He mentioned the matter at Transport questions today, and I agree that it is important to meet local residents. I have met many, as has the Secretary of State, and we will continue to do so. The Government consider that it is really important to listen to residents’ concerns about the proposed HS2 route. That is why HS2 Ltd has engaged closely, and continues to engage, with the people of South Yorkshire to understand and address their concerns. Public meetings are taking place. The current phase 2b route refinement consultation is addressing the issues raised directly by local residents, including the location of depots, where tunnels and viaducts should be built, the height of infrastructure and property impacts.

In the other stages in the development of the project, we have seen that refinements have followed the consultations, so these consultations are genuine and open, and changes are being made as a result of them. This consultation exercise closes on 9 March. HS2 Ltd has run some 30 information events along the line of route at which residents and stakeholders have been able to ask questions and get information about the project. The events have been widely attended by residents, as well as engineers, environmental consultants and property experts. The entire HS2 programme has benefited from close engagement with communities all the way along the line of route. I hope that I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that the Government and HS2 Ltd are listening.

It is not a question of listening. I do not think that the Minister really understands that the small village of Newton will be decimated as a result of Higgins’s decision. I want to know not only whether there will be consultations, but whether the Minister has the power to sack Higgins for coming up with this preposterous idea of a branch line that will result in Newton being wrecked.

I am not going to agree that people should be sacked for coming up with ideas, which is clearly not a sensible way forward in any kind of policy development.

I am aware of how challenging the situation is for communities all along the line of route, which is why my colleagues and I have met those communities. I emphasise that we recognise and sympathise with the difficult position in which those communities find themselves. Five residential properties in Newton and a further seven commercial properties at Tibshelf are potentially on the direct line of route.

We have tried to design the HS2 railway to minimise the effect on residents and businesses along the line of route, but it is impossible to build such a large piece of infrastructure without some impacts. The construction and operation of any major infrastructure project has the potential to cause substantial changes to the surrounding neighbourhoods and environments, and it is not only the impact of the line; there are also impacts such as dust, noise and road diversions during the construction phase.

Whenever the effect on property is considered, I am acutely aware that we are not just dealing with a financial investment, as people invest much more than money in creating a home, and a home is not something that one should ever take away from a person lightly. I have full sympathy with and respect for the communities along the line of route.

As I said earlier, I have constituents who are not covered by the compensation formula. As a result, they will lose the value of their homes. What discussions has the Minister had with the Select Committee on the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill? Has he taken on board any suggestions? Has he had any discussion about this?

I have met many colleagues, including members of the Select Committee.

HS2 Ltd is liaising with communities. I fully recognise all the complications and challenges that people face, and I fully understand that the blight, the concern and the anxiety are very difficult. HS2 Ltd is committed to working closely with authorities and communities to draw up a comprehensive and detailed package of measures to address the local impacts of construction, including hours of construction activity. It has provided information on its plans to mitigate noise and other environmental issues, and that information is all available on the HS2 Ltd website. Examples of mitigation could include environmental interventions such as the planting of trees, hedgerows and shrubs, the creation of landscape earthworks and so on.

HS2 Ltd has also provided, and continues to provide, information on property compensation schemes to affected residents. It has written letters to directly affected residents informing them of the specific impacts on their property and of their available options. Those options include a “need to sell” scheme, under which applicants are required to demonstrate that they have a compelling reason to sell their property, but that they have been unable to do so—other than at a substantially reduced price—as a direct result of the announcement of HS2. If an application is accepted, the Government will buy the applicant’s property at its full unblighted market value.

HS2 is recognised as a controversial project that has divided opinions in many communities, but the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Act 2017 was passed by both Houses with huge majorities. On HS2 we have run the largest public consultation in British Government history. Throughout the lifetime of the scheme, we have sought to listen to communities and to take on board their comments and concerns at every stage—that will continue. We will certainly continue it with the hon. Gentleman and the residents he represents.

HS2 is already having an impact. Local authorities and local enterprise partnerships are gearing up for HS2 and developing growth strategies, supported by UK Government growth strategy funding, to maximise the benefits of HS2 in their areas. Regions can start to benefit from HS2 long before it is built simply by starting to work on their long-term plans for regeneration and development to bring in investment and businesses. I have met council leaders in Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, all of whom have highlighted how this will be a fantastic boost for their cities and regions, with opportunities flowing from it. HS2 Ltd is working with businesses across the UK, including many small and medium-sized firms, to ensure they are well prepared to bid for contracts and reap the benefits. We have held a supply roadshow, and I spoke at our event in Aberdeen, which is a long way from the line of route. However, the point is that many businesses in that area have high levels of skills in steel platform construction and other engineering, and I wanted to say, “Right, this is a project from the UK for the UK. We want you to participate. There is business going.”

The point remains that HS2 is going ahead—Royal Assent was given just today—so we must recognise that the next questions are about how we minimise the disruption during the build and how we maximise the opportunities it presents, while working very hard to resolve the outstanding questions and to treat all the residents affected with the dignity, transparency and courtesy that they demand. HS2 is not simply about improving transport; it is about building a much better infrastructure network right across our country, and creating from that an economic legacy fit for future generations.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.