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Integrated Rail Plan and High Speed 2

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 17 November 2020

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the integrated rail plan and High Speed 2.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I am grateful that this important issue has been selected for debate. Like many Members of this House, I am a passionate advocate for social mobility, a fervent supporter of the levelling up agenda and wholly committed to securing a carbon-neutral future. There is no doubt that I am seized by this matter, as MP for Broxtowe, hoping to foster benefits from a High Speed 2 east midlands hub at Toton.

I entirely agree with the Prime Minister that we must build back better and invest in an infrastructure revolution to recover from the unprecedented challenges and economic pressures caused by the covid-19 pandemic. HS2 is central to fulfilling all those aims, connecting our great towns and cities, accelerating our recovery from covid-19 and creating a prosperous, productive economy. Although it is most welcome that phase 1 of HS2 is under construction and that the Bill for phase 2a is making its way through the House, I want to focus on phase 2b of HS2, the scope and delivery of which is currently under review.

I understand that the National Infrastructure Commission’s rail needs assessment is being published this month and that the Government’s integrated rail plan will follow in the next few months. On this point, it is essential that the importance of the eastern leg of phase 2b is brought to the fore.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the eastern leg of the integrated rail plan. We have great representation in the room from the eastern leg. It stretches 500 miles from London to Aberdeen and Inverness, but in its current state it is sadly holding back the communities that it is intended to serve. That is why local authorities have come together to launch their Invest East Coast Rail campaign this Thursday. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in calling on the Minister to bring the Government’s support for that campaign to the fore and to ensure that the east coast main line is absolutely key in their thinking about investing in future rail for this country?

I thank the hon. Member for her intervention. It is quite right that the Government invest in dependable rail lines that are quicker to their destination.

The connection from Birmingham to Toton, in the east midlands, and to Chesterfield, Sheffield and Leeds must be delivered in full. The council and business leaders in my area, and indeed in the north, have raised serious concerns with me that the eastern leg of phase 2b might be scaled back.

I congratulate the hon. Member on securing this important debate. Does he share my concern that, with the pressure of this pandemic and the subsequent costs, Government finances are such that there will be real pressure on the delivery of capital projects, and that it would be worth having a debate in the main Chamber on these schemes?

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. They are certainly worthy of a debate, but we need to make sure that we make the argument for future prosperity and for the potential of the people of this country, and not just for spending in the short term.

Should that scaling back come to pass, it would be counterintuitive, short-sighted and, frankly, unacceptable to communities in the midlands that have suffered from decades of chronic under-investment. Indeed, over the past five years, the east midlands region has had the lowest total public sector capital expenditure per person on transport on two occasions: in 2016-17 and then in 2017-18. In 2018-19, the east midlands received around 4% of the total capital expenditure across the UK—the second lowest after only Yorkshire and the Humber.

Despite those statistics, I wholeheartedly believe that the Government are committed to righting the wrongs of inequality and to levelling up and investing in the legacy of a green transport network. In the midlands, the new hub station at Toton will create thousands of highly skilled jobs, spark a huge improvement in local transport links and establish the east midlands region as a centre of innovation and renewable energy generation. It will provide green, carbon-neutral travel for the next century. It must go ahead, as the Prime Minister and numerous other Cabinet Ministers have repeatedly promised. Critically, the case for levelling up the eastern leg is more pronounced than for any other section of the railway.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. He is passionate about the levelling up agenda, and not just for the east midlands. Does he agree that it will not just be the likes of Sheffield and Leeds that will benefit from the eastern leg and that towns in Yorkshire and the Humber, such as my local town of Huddersfield, will also benefit? Will he ask the Minister directly to commit the Government to deliver the east leg of HS2 on time, in full and at the same time as the western leg, to show their commitment to levelling up?

I agree with my hon. Friend’s point, which is central to my argument. Towns and cities in Yorkshire, such as Huddersfield, Leeds, Sheffield and others, are all part of our levelling up, as are towns in the midlands, because levelling up cannot be done in part; it must be done in full.

It concerns me to read reports that communities surrounding the eastern leg have suffered from lower productivity and less investment, and are home to a number of social mobility coldspots, compared not just with the UK average but with communities on the western leg of phase 2b, from Crewe to Manchester. I draw the Minister’s attention to a recent study, “Mind the gap”, which highlights those inequalities. It shows that, despite housing 23% of England’s population, the east midlands is home to over 42% of England’s social mobility coldspots. It outlines that children born poor in these areas are more likely to stay poor. They are less likely to gain qualifications, and they are isolated from opportunity. Crucially, these areas are almost perfectly aligned with those experiencing high levels of transport poverty.

To be clear, it is not the east versus the west. We need the whole of phase 2b to be delivered, but the evidence is clear that communities on the eastern leg cannot and must not be left behind. As part of the levelling up agenda, the Government have said that they want to reduce regional disparities in the country. I welcome that, and I agree with the Prime Minister that we must build back better.

It is key to emphasise that when we speak of levelling up we are speaking of not merely one sector but a cross-departmental effort to build back better. Again, High Speed 2 is central to fulfilling that agenda, connecting our great towns and cities, accelerating our recovery from covid-19 and creating a prosperous, productive economy.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he agree that Birmingham is much closer to Nottingham than London, but the travel time from Nottingham to Birmingham is not that much shorter than it is to London? Although we often talk about improving north-south travel, improving east-west travel is also important, and schemes such as the eastern leg of HS2 will help to achieve that, and more.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. It is not just about speed, but about capacity to be able to achieve our aims.

There is no doubt that levelling up cannot be done in part. As I have said, it must be done in full. That includes levelling up communities, businesses and housing, and linking them with viable and efficient transport, thereby fostering true regeneration in regional communities such as the east midlands.

HS2 is so much more than a railway. It is important that we communicate its wider benefits. It is essential that the importance of the whole of the eastern leg of phase 2b is brought to the fore. Moreover, I want to press the case that Toton must remain as the HS2 east midlands hub in the Government’s integrated rail plan.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He may not have been an MP at the time, but back in 2012 the options for phase 2 of the high-speed rail network ran to 347 pages and, after rigorous analysis, concluded that Toton was the right place for the station. That was not just because it had the potential to offer great interchange across our region, which local councils and other partners have now spent eight years developing, but because it provided the opportunity for regeneration—for housing and jobs. Does he agree that Toton beat other alternatives, including East Midlands Parkway, for those precise reasons?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. She is supportive of Toton, as are colleagues across the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler) and others. Toton is really important to the story of regeneration. At Toton, there are plans for a high-tech innovation campus with 6,000 jobs, as well as garden villages and 4,500 homes. The site of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in a neighbouring constituency will be redeveloped into a national centre of excellence for green energy generation. The Government have supported the creation of a development corporation to oversee this huge regeneration project. It will change the lives of a generation of young people in and around my constituency.

Regarding potential alternatives for an east midlands hub, as HS2 Ltd’s March 2012 report describes,

“the intuitive interchange option for serving the East Midlands was potentially incorporating an HS2 station with the existing East Midlands Parkway station.”

Its viability was compared

“directly with the proposed East Midlands Hub station at Toton”—

the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) will recall that from her time in Parliament, as she mentioned. Here, an initial appraisal conducted by HS2 Ltd noted engineering and sustainability issues with East Midlands Parkway, concluding that development around the HS2 station would not be supported.

[Ms Nusrat Ghani in the Chair]

In contrast, Toton is ideal and already functions as the centre point of a local transport strategy to connect over 20 villages, towns and cities across the region. On this point, I am excited to report that there are plans for tram extensions in Nottingham and Derby, new rail links—including reopening the Maid Marian line to Mansfield—more buses and better connections by road. This access to Toton strategy has the backing of the whole region, and would deliver the benefits of investment sooner. Therefore, it is critical that these plans and the wider Midlands Engine Rail programme are given the investment they deserve in the Government’s integrated rail plan, ensuring that we make the most of HS2 and connect as many people to it as possible.

To suggest that the station in the east midlands should move away from Toton would reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Toton proposition has become. Toton will be a super-connected artery intended to pump new blood into a levelled up economy, a vision of the future and a blueprint for new ways of living and working.

Let us think for a moment. There are young people in communities such as the one I represent and in towns in the midlands and the north who are in school today. They are growing up with hand washing, wearing face masks, working in bubbles and learning online. For them, the investment that comes from HS2 is not about a railway. It is about hope, aspiration and a positive future: a future where their playing field has been levelled up, and where their potential can be untapped and harnessed. We all know covid has not affected everyone or every economy equally. The areas that were already left behind can now barely be seen in the rear-view mirror.

Economic recovery is not an option. Economy renewal is the key. HS2 runs through the centre of those left-behind towns and cities in the midlands and the north. There are compelling and comprehensive plans in place to harness the investment for the benefit of communities and businesses across the region. To give one example, two years ago, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government invited the Midlands Engine to bring forward this new form of development corporation to generate transformational economic, social and environmental change. That work, almost ready for submission, would result in 84,000 new jobs and £4.8 billion productivity for our economy.

The plans are not just for an extension of the old economy. The plans are for jobs for the next generation, and that is now. As the sun sets on industries such as coal-fired power stations, investment in infrastructure will bring forward sunrise industries: next-generation zero-carbon technologies developed by industry and universities, designed and built on the site of the former coal-fired power station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar; an innovation campus focusing on health, MedTech and biodiversity, alongside next-generation forms of living in a zero-carbon community, around the HS2 station at Toton; and next-generation forms of making and moving in the UK’s only inland air-based freeport around East Midlands Airport, which is already the UK’s largest dedicated freight airport. It is important to stress that these plans are not just compelling; they are credible. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government said so in the planning reform White Paper.

Set those benefits from HS2 in the east midlands alongside benefits across the whole stretch of the eastern leg up through Leeds to Newcastle. The impact will be breathtaking: over 150,000 new jobs and more than £60 billion added to the national economy. The benefits extend beyond jobs: 2.5 million lorries will be taken off the road, reducing carbon emissions by 76%, and 1.2 million cars every day will be replaced by rail, reducing carbon emissions further still.

No, I will not. I need to make some progress.

There is no doubt that hard investment choices need to be made in this country, but we cannot lose sight of the long-term benefits by focusing too much on the short-term costs. It is not a question of whether we can afford this. That misses the cold, hard logic of investing in long-term strategic infrastructure. The Victorians knew what they were doing, and we are still generating economic benefit from their investment today. The question is whether we can afford not to do this. Over 13 million people are standing ready to benefit from this new infrastructure.

I am asking, first, for assurances that the eastern leg of phase 2b of HS2—from Birmingham to Toton in the east midlands, to Chesterfield, Sheffield and Leeds—will not be cancelled. Secondly, I would be grateful to meet the Minister to discuss progress on the eastern leg in my capacity as co-chair of the midlands engine all-party parliamentary group. Specifically, I hope to have productive discussions with the Minister to provide reassurance to my constituents that Toton station and, more generally, the eastern leg of phase 2b will happen.

In conclusion, recovery from covid-19 means investment is more important than ever. My concern is that communities along the eastern leg of HS2 have been left behind in the past. I urge the Minister to look at the evidence provided and ensure that the east midlands and, specifically, Toton station, will not be forgotten in the integrated rail plan. There is no doubt that levelling up cannot be done in part; it must be done in full.

It is a pleasure to see a former Department for Transport Minister in the Chair. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Darren Henry) for securing this important debate. I also thank the hon. Members for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) and for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), as well as my hon. Friends the Members for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) and for Gedling (Tom Randall) for their contributions. An honourable mention goes to the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup), who cannot speak, but I am sure that if she could, she would tell me off and be bending my ear about this exact subject.

Thank you, Ms Ghani.

I want to reiterate the Government’s commitment to HS2 and to enabling the east midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east to reap the benefits of high-speed rail services.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Darren Henry) on securing the debate. The Minister will be aware—he has heard the views expressed this afternoon—that splitting the Bills into two has given rise to concern about potential for delay or worse in respect of HS2 east. My constituents in Leeds, who really want this, for better transport links and for jobs, would be grateful for a specific commitment from the Government, namely, that they intend to proceed with HS2 east—I am backing up what the hon. Member for Broxtowe had to say—to Leeds, at the same time as the western leg to Manchester.

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The reason why we have talked about doing this in more than one Bill is to speed up the process and deliver the benefits sooner. It was a recommendation that came from the Oakervee review. We acknowledge that the phase 1 Bill was introduced to Parliament in 2013 and did not get Royal Assent until 2017; similarly, the phase 2a Bill was introduced in 2017 and still does not have Royal Assent to this day. Hopefully, the idea of splitting it up is a good idea, put forward by Douglas Oakervee in his review, in order to speed up delivering the benefits of both the eastern and western leg.

Since the announcement of the integrated rail plan in February, I have met local leaders, Members of Parliament and business groups to hear their priorities for major rail investments in the midlands and the north. In all these meetings, regional representatives made it clear how important the potential economic benefits of HS2 are to their local communities. I will therefore address the concerns expressed today and reported in the media about the Government’s commitment to the eastern leg. I will try to respond to all the points raised in the four and a half minutes I have left.

In February, following the Oakervee review, the Prime Minister confirmed that HS2 will go ahead. He also committed us to delivering an integrated rail plan to determine how best to deliver phase 2b alongside our other major rail investments in the midlands and the north. As things stand, communities on the eastern leg will be waiting until 2040 to realise the benefits of HS2. That is clearly too long to wait, which is why our integrated rail plan is working on ways to scope, phase and deliver phase 2b alongside other transformational projects, such as the midlands rail hub and Northern Powerhouse Rail, with a view to not only bringing down costs but delivering the benefits of those major investments as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The integrated rail plan will be informed by a rail needs assessment for the midlands and the north by the independent National Infrastructure Commission. The NIC’s interim report was published in July, and we expect its final report to be published before the end of this year. I am aware that there are concerns about what the NIC is likely to suggest in that report, but as an independent body it is right that it looks at all available evidence when undertaking its assessment. Once the report is published, it will be for Ministers to consider the NIC’s conclusions and make final decisions on the integrated rail plan.

I will briefly mention the western leg of phase 2b, as I know that there have been rumours that the Government have scrapped the eastern leg in favour of focusing on the western leg. I confirm that that is simply not true. I made the point earlier to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) that the reason behind this was simply in order to smooth the parliamentary passage of the legislation. We think that delivering phase 2b in more than one Bill, subject to what the integrated rail plan says, is a sensible way to move forward. The only reason why the western leg came forward before the eastern leg is that the western leg is shorter than phase 1 or 2a of the eastern leg. The design of Manchester Piccadilly is absolutely crucial for how we deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is the only reason why we have started a design refinement consultation on the western leg rather than on both legs simultaneously.

Even across the north, the west is economically better off than the east of the country. Does that not make the case for investment to go to the east of the country first, or at least at the same time as the west?

As the Prime Minister said, it is not “2b or not 2b”. We have to get on with levelling up across the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe said, this is not about east versus west. Many Members here and many stakeholders want to see the full network delivered, as promised for many years. However, we will not know what that will look like until the integrated rail plan is published, which will hopefully be soon.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe makes a compelling case for his constituency, for levelling up and for wider regeneration that could happen around the Toton site. As the Prime Minister recently said, as we build back better from the pandemic, we will be doubling down on levelling up, and HS2 can play a major part in that. While covid-19 has not stopped us from pressing ahead with HS2, it has made levelling up even more important, to help ensure that no part of the country is left behind as we work to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

By improving capacity and connectivity, HS2 will give people better access to jobs and businesses access to larger markets and suppliers. Growing local economies and levelling up the north and the midlands is at the heart of what we are trying to achieve, and for that reason I am happy to confirm that Ministers from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Treasury will be closely involved in drawing up the IRP. We know that it is not only about building a railway but about taking a holistic view of how to capitalise on our investments to help to boost regional economies.

Earlier this year, I had a very useful and informative visit to the proposed site at Toton with my hon. Friend. I also had good discussions with the leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, Kay Cutts, on this issue. I will continue that dialogue. I am more than happy to agree to my hon. Friend’s request for a meeting with him and the all-party parliamentary group. This railway is not just for the short term; it is a long-term investment that will bring our cities closer together. I hope to be able to provide certainty to my hon. Friend as early as possible.

Question put and agreed to.