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Infrastructure

Part of Opposition Day — [17th( )Allotted Day] — Horsemeat – in the House of Commons at 5:57 pm on 12th February 2013.

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Photo of Mark Reckless Mark Reckless Conservative, Rochester and Strood 5:57 pm, 12th February 2013

Given the new time limit and the scope of the Government’s activities in the infrastructure field, I shall limit my remarks to the rail sector.

It is pleasure to follow Mr Raynsford. I must say, however, that the second most absurd comment in his speech—after the one about the Thames estuary airport—was when he invited the Minister to recognise that HS1 was the achievement of the last Labour Government. I thought he was about to make an appeal by saying that infrastructure was a long-term thing and that both parties had been involved in it, but no. Perhaps even more striking was the comment of Andy Sawford, when he said that we had Lord Prescott to thank for the preservation of the wonderful façade of St Pancras station. That might have been news to the late Sir John Betjeman.

HS1 certainly has better branding than the channel tunnel rail link, and I congratulate Labour Members on that, but the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act was passed in 1996, and it included outline planning permission. The then Government decided as part of that to have the station at Ebbsfleet, and very serious redevelopment in north Kent flowed from that. HS1 cuts through my constituency and there was significant opposition to it at the time. To a degree, the community’s view of it has settled down; certainly the noise and interference from those trains has not been as great as I feared. We have very significant benefits from having Ebbsfleet, and the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich should recognise the cross-party impetus that was behind HS1.

As for HS2, Opposition Members have spoken of it as it were just some little add-on. We have heard that great things are being done in Brazil; some project worth about £5 billion has been mentioned. However, the scope, scale and ambition of the HS2 project, and the vision shown by the Chancellor in driving forward that project from his time in opposition until now—despite the state of the public finances that we were left—are hugely impressive. That £35 billion project is basically inventing a high-speed rail network for this country.

Opposition Members complain that trains will not stop in certain places or will not go to others, but the fact is that even places that will not be on the new line and will not be given new stations will gain significant benefits from HS2. I am thinking particularly of the link that will go all the way to Wigan, the link that will go almost as far as York, and the link that will allow trains to come on from Crewe. All those will provide huge benefits for Newcastle, Liverpool and Scotland, which, as with cities actually on the network, will see substantial reductions in travel times. The Government deserve to be given a measure of credit by Opposition Members for pushing ahead with HS2, particularly given the finances with which we were left.

I am happy to give credit to the Opposition when it comes to Crossrail, and I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman give credit to us for keeping it. I think that particular credit is due to us in view of the financial circumstances in which we have proceeded with Crossrail. If he will do me the courtesy of allowing me to visit his constituency on 27 February, I look forward to seeing the handover of the Woolwich station box to Crossrail. Berkeley has done an excellent job, and it will be a real gain for his area and for south-east London in general. I am an Eltham boy of old myself. I also think that there will be huge benefits for north Kent. Crossrail will go through Woolwich to Abbey Wood, and the connections with Dartford, Gravesend and the Medway towns will be much improved.

A Crossrail spur from Stratford to Stansted could serve as a tribute to, and be a legacy of, the current Government. We are seeking to have infrastructure projects that can be proceeded with quickly. The Davies commission is due to report in 2015, but an interim report is expected this year, which will consider how existing runway capacity in the south-east can be better used. The single best answer to that must be Stansted, because it has one runway which is only half used. It has the capacity for a further 18 million passenger movements per year, but it does not have good links with central London. If we had the Crossrail spur, it would.

The former aviation Minister Steve Norris is doing fantastic work in promoting that idea. He proposes a six-mile tunnel from Stratford to Fairlop Waters, and for the railway to run along the M11 all the way to Stansted. As a result, the journey from Stansted to Liverpool Street would take only 23 minutes, and it would take only half an hour to travel to the west end or to Ebbsfleet. What a legacy for the Government that would be! What better way could we find of kick-starting the construction industry? I would expect the Liberal Democrats to support it: they may not want any new runways ever to be built in the south-east, but at least they believe in improved rail connections, and they are working with the Conservatives to deliver that.

I hope that Treasury Ministers will allow Steve Norris, and perhaps my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith and me, to put the case to them. I think that it would be more than a short-term—perhaps a longer-term—solution to the aviation issue.