High Speed 2 (Birmingham)

– in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 25th January 2013.

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

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 2:31 pm, 25th January 2013

I am grateful for the chance to bring this subject to the Floor of the House for debate this afternoon. May I say to the Minister, who has now taken his place, that I am very grateful to the Secretary of State, and indeed to his predecessor and to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, for meeting me to discuss this important subject? I rise, therefore, to reinforce a point.

The nub of the matter is extremely simple. Today High Speed 2 is consulting on safeguarding orders that, if put into effect, would lock up, sterilise and write off one of the most important development sites not just in the city of Birmingham but in the entire country. High Speed 2 proposes to do that in an area that has some of the worst unemployment in the country, and at a cost of some 7,500 jobs, which could not and would not be created in years to come if the proposal were implemented.

My argument this afternoon is very simple: to proceed with locking up the land on the LDV-Alstom site in Birmingham is tantamount to a monstrous economic crime against the city. It is a senseless act and an avoidable one. The city of Birmingham is looking to the Minister and to the Secretary of State to bring an end to this lunacy.

I want to preface my remarks by saying that I am a passionate and strong advocate of High Speed 2. I think it would transform the economic geography of our country and do an incredible amount for the economy of the west midlands and for the city of Birmingham. Some estimates have suggested that something in the order of 60,000 jobs could be created in and around the city. Heaven knows we need those jobs, not least in the light of the growth figures we saw this morning. I and other Members of Parliament in and around Birmingham want to join forces with the Government to ensure that the High Speed 2 legislation that is needed hits the statute book as quickly as possible. We want the project to go ahead and we want it to succeed, because we know what kind of prizes it can bring.

However, putting a marshalling yard in the middle of the inner city, in the middle of the worst unemployment blackspot in the country, is simply a recipe for hobbling the economic growth of the city, specifically east Birmingham, for literally the next 50 years. We in this House should not stand by and watch that happen. Around half the city’s unemployment is concentrated in three constituencies, Hodge Hill, Ladywood and Erdington, all of which are at the junction of the site in question, where High Speed 2 proposes to build its marshalling yard. There are 22,000 people on jobseeker’s allowance in those three constituencies. That is 42% of the number of people on the dole in the city of Birmingham. Simply, the problem confronting local MPs is that there are just not enough jobs to go around.

This morning I was pleased to meet some of the managers from my local jobcentre, who do an incredible job under the most difficult of circumstances. It is clear from what they tell me that there are simply not enough jobs to go around. Indeed, the unemployment statistics published earlier this week confirmed that in my constituency 24 people are chasing every job.

What is holding up unemployment in my part of the city of Birmingham is that we do not have the local jobs to go around. That is why a couple of years ago I suggested to officials at Birmingham city council and, indeed, to the owners of the site that a once-in-a-century moment was about to come to pass. After the liquidation of LDV and of the regional development agency in 2010, for the first time in 100 years three great pieces of the jigsaw puzzle on the LDV-Alstom site were about to come together. In so doing, it created the second biggest development site in the city of Birmingham, after Longbridge in the south of the city.

When I asked city planners to undertake some rough and ready master planning of what could be done on a site so big and so neatly adjacent to the city centre and to our brilliant transport links in east Birmingham, they said, after a bit of work, that something in the order of 7,500 jobs could be created on the site. There, on the table, is a specific proposal to create 7,500 jobs in the middle of the worst unemployment blackspot in the country. That, at a stroke, would take one in six of those in the city’s dole queue off the dole and into work, paying tax and national insurance, not sitting on the dole and taking benefits. That is why this is too good a prize simply to throw away. Of course, what is worse is that if the proposal for a marshalling yard goes ahead, we will lose 850 jobs within the next couple of years. There are two big businesses on the site and they are both ambitious to expand, but they will be forced to move quickly if the proposal is given the green light.

This is not a theoretical problem. In the past year or so, two major businesses, both seeking something in the order of 1 million square feet, wanted to invest in the site, but ultimately they turned away to go elsewhere because of the uncertainty that HS2 has cast over the site. At a time of rising unemployment in east Birmingham, that is a tragedy.

My second big point is that I am not making this case simply on behalf of the citizens of Hodge Hill, Ladywood and Erdington. The problem confronts not just the citizens of east Birmingham but all residents in Birmingham. If a site this big, which constitutes half of the best urban land available in the city, is taken out, the city will, of course, be forced to take land out of the green belt—and, my goodness, what a lot of land it would have to take. In fact, it would have to take almost double the amount of green-belt land to compensate for the loss of land in Washwood Heath and Hodge Hill. That is the equivalent of 105 football pitches— 7 million square feet of green-belt land that would have to be taken from other parts of the green belt around the city. I suspect, although I am not an economic geographer, that a great deal of that land would come out of Sutton Coldfield. There are therefore big concerns not just for the residents of Hodge Hill but for citizens across the city.

My third major concern is that, if this proposal goes ahead, it will not last 10 minutes in court. I won and lost enough judicial reviews in my time as a Minister to recognise a process that is not judicial review-proof, and the selection of this site is in no way judicial review-proof. The objective criteria used to select the site have not been published. High Speed 2 has ignored much of its own guidance. Indeed, I have been told by one of the site owners that two of the three sites HS2 identified in its assessment are in green-belt land south of the city, but there has been no clear acknowledgement in its reporting of the economic devastation that the selection of the site at Washwood Heath would wreak. There has clearly not been a transparent and open process, and I should think that that would fall foul of a judicial review hearing in any court.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for allowing me to make a brief intervention in his debate. As someone who has been trying to protect the interests of the people who live in my constituency, I sympathise with his efforts to protect the interests of his constituents.

May I advise my right hon. Friend not to give too much weight to any assurances that he may receive in this debate? On 20 December 2010, when originally announcing that HS2 was to go ahead, the then Transport Secretary, Mr Hammond, said that people adversely affected would be “compensated fairly”, and stated in response to the shadow Transport Secretary, my hon. Friend Maria Eagle, that

“it is right and proper that individuals who suffer serious financial loss in the national interest should be compensated.”—[Hansard, 20 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 1207.]

Despite that, last night at a meeting in my constituency, officials from HS2 and the Department for Transport said that many people living near Euston station, including some who had exercised their right to buy from the council, would not be fully compensated, and others would not be compensated at all. Ministers are saying one thing in the House of Commons and officials are saying the opposite outside.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for making those important points. What he says about the standard and quality of the way in which the High Speed 2 team have gone about public consultation rings very true.

I say gently to the Minister that this is one of the most important projects in the country. It will, I hope, be a railway for well over a century to come. It will transform the economic geography and economic prospects of my region. It is controversial, it is difficult, and it will have its ups and downs. It needs a powerful coalition across all parties to support it. That cross-party support is jeopardised when we have slipshod, mediocre management of a consultation process which, in the case of the landowners that have talked to me, has involved their producing very detailed and expensive submissions and getting but a letter of acknowledgement, without even the offer of a meeting or an invitation to come to consultation forums. AXA Insurance, one of the site owners, presented some very detailed proposals that were not even acknowledged by High Speed 2, provoking the former Secretary of State herself to have to apologise for the omission. When we have a project that is so significant to the country’s future, we need the world’s best team, not any old team, managing the consultation. I hope that the Minister will take that on board.

My final point is that some landowners, such as the Homes and Communities Agency, have a legal obligation, in transferring their assets, to seek the best possible outcome for local communities. I cannot see how such an obligation could be satisfied under the current proposals on the table.

I hope that the Minister has listened hard to the debate, and I look forward to a full response. I look forward even more to him and the Secretary of State taking the decision to put the marshalling yard somewhere else. Much better sites are available. There are sites much closer to the Y junction at Birmingham international airport, where there are significant land holdings in the hands of Birmingham city council. It is true that they are on green-belt land, but they are also land-locked by the M42 and therefore dead; they have no future economic purpose. They are in the middle of a very busy motorway junction that is perfectly suitable and appropriate for designs of this type.

I hope that the Secretary of State and the Minister can take a degree of inspiration from our history. One hundred years ago, the city of Birmingham doubled in size following Acts passed in this House in 1911 and 1912. A century ago, in 1913, the city of Birmingham published in full its ambitious plans to create a bigger, better city in east Birmingham, building on the foundations set by some of our great civic entrepreneurs—Joseph Wright and his sons who built the great Metro Cammell engine works; Herbert Austin who built the great site that was the forerunner of Austin cars and LDV; and, of course, Lord Norton, the last lord of the manor at Saltley, who laid out the streets in the design that can still be seen today. Those great civic and industrial engineers helped to create the mighty city of Birmingham and set a standard against which we should judge ourselves. I hope the Minister and the Secretary of State will not fall short.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport 2:45 pm, 25th January 2013

I congratulate Mr Byrne on securing this debate on the location of HS2’s rolling stock maintenance depot. He has talked passionately about how important the area is for jobs and regeneration—quite rightly—and I hope he will agree that we all have those interests at heart.

Before I go into the specific issues of the proposed use of the site for HS2 and what is being done to help business currently located there, I would first like to say just how important the Government believes HS2 is for the country. We believe it is a crucial part of our plans to develop the right infrastructure for future economic growth, and I personally welcome the cross-party support that exists in this House for high-speed rail, and I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s comments in support of it. Shortly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will announce details of the route for phase 2 of HS2—the legs to Leeds and Manchester. Our plans put Birmingham and the west midlands at the very heart of Britain’s new high-speed rail network, and in my view they will change the geography of the country in Birmingham’s favour. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that this is a fantastic opportunity for everyone in the area.

The new terminus station at Curzon street, the interchange station near Birmingham airport and the west coast main line will put Birmingham and Solihull at the centre of the country’s transport infrastructure, creating huge opportunities for growth in the area. The Curzon street station will be a catalyst for the development of the Eastside area of the city, and offer real regeneration potential for the Digbeth area. The interchange station will act as the nexus for the economic development plans of local authorities and the area’s local enterprise partnership. More widely, HS2 will bring construction jobs, operational jobs when the line is open, and support wider jobs and wealth creation, improving the prospects for businesses and people right across the west midlands.

HS2 could help to support growth in employment with more than 8,000 jobs in the regeneration and development areas around Birmingham stations. Centro estimates that figure to be closer to 10,000 jobs with as many as 22,000 created in the wider region once phase 2 is completed, with economic output increasing by £1.5 billion.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, HS2 Ltd has identified Washwood Heath as a key site for the development of the high-speed rail network. It is situated approximately two miles from Birmingham Curzon street. The intention is that once phase 1 of HS2 is completed, Washwood Heath will accommodate the rolling stock maintenance depot to serve the London to west midlands route. That role will be expanded when phase 2 opens to provide the maintenance services for the extended network. To that extent we will need to consider the land required at Washwood Heath for both phase 1 and 2 requirements to ensure that the construction of the railway and depot can be facilitated.

The Washwood Heath rolling stock maintenance depot will create 400 jobs during construction and support a further 300 operational jobs when phase 1 opens, with a potential 400 additional skilled jobs when phase 2 is completed. There is also the potential to locate the HS2 control centre at Washwood Heath, generating a further 100 jobs.

I think I should say something about how Washwood Heath was chosen and why we are where we are now. I know there has been a desire from some for the selection of the Washwood Heath site to be looked at again, so let me dwell on that for a second. HS2 Ltd undertook an assessment to identify a credible location for a rolling stock maintenance depot that could be progressed as part of an overall HS2 London to west midlands phase 1 proposition. The fleet using the depot, and ultimately the depot’s functional requirements, informed much of the site selection process. Additionally, the key factors influencing the site selection process included location, size, access to the HS2 network and sustainability.

The initial assessment concluded that a west midlands location was more appropriate than a site in the London area. From that assessment, a longlist of six potential sites in the west midlands area was identified and evaluated. That resulted in the identification of a shortlist of the Washwood Heath, Middleton and Coleshill sites. Those locations underwent further evaluation to enable a preferred option—Washwood Heath—to be identified as the most suitable rolling stock depot location. The key reasons for Washwood Heath’s selection as a preferred option include the fact that it is close to the Curzon Street terminus station, that it is situated off the main HS2 line of route, and that the site is centrally placed within the future national high speed network. That process is documented in HS2 Ltd’s “Rolling Stock Maintenance Depot Selection”, which was prepared in September 2010. In developing a longlist of options, HS2 Ltd worked closely with Birmingham city council officers, who agreed with the site selection process.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The Minister is characteristically generous in giving way, but it is simply inconceivable that he could say that Birmingham city council officers agree with the site selection. I have worked with so many of them for so long, and they are very clear about the economic catastrophe that the chosen site would represent. I hope that, when we conclude the debate over the next month or two, there is a note of consensus, but I must tell the Minister that, if the legislation is not on the books by 2015 and Labour forms the next Government, we will look at the decision again.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

On Birmingham city council officers, the right hon. Gentleman will know from his time in ministerial office that Ministers discuss matters in some detail with officials so that they are properly prepared for Adjournment debates. I raised that specific point and was given an assurance that Birmingham city council officers had indeed responded in that way. That is why I included it in my comments. He questions the robustness of the process, but I am satisfied that there has been a thorough examination.

Would Birmingham benefit more from other use of the land? The right hon. Gentleman made the case that it would, and HS2 Ltd recognises his concerns and those of the landowners at Washwood Heath which have emerged since the selection process I have described. HS2 Ltd is currently looking in detail at their concerns and the alternative sites they have proposed for the rolling stock maintenance depot, and will report to the Department for Transport in February, when Ministers will consider them. I hope that gives him comfort that the matter is being considered at the highest level by Ministers.

Given where we are in the process and the need to progress the scheme, I expect the Secretary of State to wait to receive the outcomes of HS2 Ltd’s examination to understand the most appropriate mechanism formally to address the concerns of the landowners and Birmingham city council. However, I should like to make two further points. First, the site in question has remained largely as it is for many years, including through the last economic boom, and it is not immediately clear—or at least the Government are not persuaded—how realistic the development proposals are. Secondly, the proposals for the rolling stock maintenance depot would bring employment directly associated with building and operating the railway, create opportunities for supporting employment uses, and make valuable use of the site, which, I might add, has an historic association with the railway.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the impacts on businesses based on the Washwood Heath site. UKMail has a particularly large presence there, and I assure him of the Government’s commitment to work with the company to ensure that the business can either continue to operate there or move to another location. HS2 Ltd has had regular and constructive conversations with it and I expect them to continue.

Some people have said that HS2 Ltd is proposing to safeguard too much land. HS2 Ltd needs to safeguard a larger area of land initially to ensure that the land is kept available for the depot and that HS2 Ltd can be notified of any future proposals that might compromise our ability to build and operate the facility. That does not mean that all the land will be taken by HS2, but we need to ensure that conflicts do not arise.

Draft safeguarding consultation began in October 2012 and is due to close on 31 January. As the engineering design for the depot and railway develops, HS2 Ltd will continue to meet Birmingham city council officers to share emerging designs and to discuss the potential of developing a planning framework for the area, enabling additional employment uses to exist alongside the depot, and providing certainty for landowners and developers on the extent of future land availability and use.

I am aware that Birmingham city council recently consulted on options for the future growth of the city, and in particular identified the need to expand into the green belt, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, to accommodate future employment growth. There was a recognised need to do that, even without the rolling stock maintenance depot located at Washwood Heath, so he has made his point about how far he thinks that ingression needs to go.

In addition to supporting the preparation of a planning framework, HS2 Ltd will continue to work with the city council to ensure that the proposed rolling stock maintenance depot maximises the opportunities created by locating the hub of the national high-speed network at Washwood Heath, both in terms of employment opportunities created by the construction and operation of the railway, and in attracting investment and new jobs to this area of Birmingham.

The Government and HS2 Ltd are working hard to implement a scheme that will not only bring the widest possible benefits to the country, but help all those who would be impacted. HS2 Ltd is already engaged with UKMail and other interested parties concerning the future of the Washwood Heath site. It is HS2 Ltd’s intention to work with Birmingham city council and key landowners to share emerging design solutions, and to prepare a planning framework for the site, enabling the rolling stock maintenance depot to co-exist with additional employment uses. We should not forget the direct job creation this opportunity will bring: approximately 300 operational jobs with phase 1 and approximately 700 with phase 2. The site offers opportunities for more jobs, local training opportunities and the attraction of wider rail industries, as the site becomes a hub of high-speed rail activities in the region, and therefore one of national importance. The Government and HS2 Ltd will continue to support these aspirations for HS2 and continue to do what we can to support the economy of Birmingham and the west midlands.

Frank Dobson raised an issue about consultation—a meeting from last night of which I obviously have no knowledge. All I would say is that it is the Government’s intention to ensure that there is proper compensation, and that has not changed since the statement made by the previous Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Hammond

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras

Will the Minister try to ensure that officials from HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport are made aware of ministerial desires and intentions, because they were denying them outright last night?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

As I say, I was not at the meeting and I would be surprised if that was indeed the case. I have restated the position to the House that we believe in proper compensation for people affected by HS2.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The Minister is generous in giving way a second time. The argument that has been rehearsed this afternoon is an argument that has been rehearsed by HS2 in the past year and a half, and it has been systematically taken apart. There will be no comfort in the notion of 300 or 400 jobs being created some time in the 2020s when 7,500 jobs could be created in the next few years. The idea that history is any guide to what could be done now is, I am afraid, almost completely irrelevant. A site of this size and scale has not been put together for more than a century. This is a completely new opportunity. Borne of the worry about grip on detail, I hope the Minister can give a commitment that either he or the Secretary of State will come to Birmingham and discuss with the leader of the city council, me and Birmingham city council officers the whys and wherefores and the logic of the case we are making this afternoon, before they come to a final conclusion in February?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

I will certainly pass on the right hon. Gentleman’s request to the Secretary of State and make him aware of the exchange we have had this afternoon.

In conclusion, the Secretary of State wants to reach the best conclusion for the country and the transport system, and for those who will benefit from HS2 in terms of jobs and employment, particularly in Birmingham and the west midlands, and in Manchester and Leeds. He will make a statement in due course about further plans for HS2, and the right hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to raise the matter directly with him at that point.

This has been a useful exchange. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the way he has put his case, with the usual aplomb and forcefulness that I expect from him. His points have been noted, and I am also grateful to the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras for his contribution.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.