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High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:48 pm on 26th June 2013.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham 3:48 pm, 26th June 2013

That is a nice try, but the cost of this project is going up minute-by-minute, so I doubt that that ratio is accurate even as I stand here today.

I also have to say that the Department and HS2 Ltd have already failed on other bases: engineering calculations have been wrong, and the costs of alterations to Euston were inaccurate. That, along with public failures such as the west coast main line franchise debacle, must prompt this question: do the Department or HS2 have the leadership capability or competence to deliver the largest infrastructure project in the UK in living memory?

If the project gets the green light, however—as I fear it will, judging by the number of Members present—I want to make two particular points to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. On the current consultation—I use that term loosely—by HS2 Ltd on the draft environmental statement, whatever the failings of the process, at the moment one thing is clear: the area of outstanding natural beauty, which belongs to everybody in this country, is going to be irreversibly damaged. My first request to the Secretary of State is that if this project does go ahead, can we have the best possible mitigation in the Chilterns in order to protect our precious, and highly endangered, environment to the utmost level? A fully bored tunnel under the whole of the AONB would offer that protection, and I urge the Secretary of State to adopt that option.

My second request has I think been answered partly, because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State accepted in his opening speech that he will look more seriously at, and perhaps even deliver, the property bond. The compensation scheme has been totally inadequate to date, and the engagement of officials and Ministers often the dialogue of the deaf, frankly. The Bill does not include specific undertakings on compensation that would fulfil the Prime Minister’s assurance to me that it would be timely and generous to those people adversely affected. So I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will look at the property bond put forward by my constituent, Hilary Wharf, who is to be commended for her work in this area, and that the compensation system introduced is rapid, fair and does not make my constituents feel that the Government are wriggling to avoid paying them a proper price for their properties.

As you know, Mr Speaker, there are several Members of Parliament whose constituencies are affected by HS2 who are unable to speak today, so I want to say a few words on behalf of my right hon. Friend Mr Lidington, who has worked tirelessly to put forward the interests of his constituents. He asked me to point out today that places such as Wendover Dean and the Hawkslade and Walton Court areas of Aylesbury are among the worst affected of any along the phase 1 route. He also asked me to highlight the need for better mitigation—a request that fits in with my own request for a fully bored tunnel. I know that you, Mr Speaker, have regularly communicated your constituents’ overwhelming opposition to this project and, like me, have received thousands of letters and have similar experiences of the failure of the exceptional hardship fund to offer adequate compensation to constituents. Likewise, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve is very worried about the Denham viaduct and the Colne Valley site of special scientific interest.

Why do we need a paving Bill? There was no paving Bill for the channel tunnel rail link, Crossrail or the Olympics. We could continue to spend money as we have already, without this Bill. Once it is passed, as it undoubtedly will be, the Government can claim that HS2 is backed by the will of Parliament. Frankly, all colleagues should be concerned about proceeding with this project. The Bill is a blank cheque, handed over before Parliament is in full possession of the facts, and to a Department that is having a hard job convincing people that the project is fit for purpose. On that basis, and because this is the first time we have even had a vote on HS2, it is with a very heavy heart that I say I cannot support the Government. I hope that colleagues in the House today will support my reasoned amendment and vote against the Bill. At this stage, I have no intention of calling votes on any other part of the proceedings, but I will on the amendment and on Second Reading.