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High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:12 pm on 26th June 2013.

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Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras 4:12 pm, 26th June 2013

I cannot possibly disagree with my hon. Friend. In theory, a million years ago, I got a degree in economics, and I have reached the stage where I can usually work out when someone is talking drivel. When I heard the Government’s cost estimates, I think I understood they were talking drivel.

Does anyone in the House really believe that the line will be completed by 2026? I was going to offer a bet against completion by then, but I suspect that the final completion date is so far in the future that I am unlikely to be around to collect my winnings, which brings me to compensation and mitigation.

At present, HS2 Ltd intends that people and businesses in our area should receive lower compensation, lower standards of protection and inferior mitigation measures. There is no excuse for that treatment of a settled residential and business community. Local council tenants, right-to-buy leaseholders, private tenants, leaseholders and owner-occupiers should be no worse off as a result of the project, which is being carried out, apparently, in the national interest. They must be found new homes that meet their needs, and without any detriment to the terms and conditions of their tenure.

The same approach should apply to businesses. Restaurants and small shops in Drummond street depend on passing trade to Euston station for up to 70% of their business, but HS2 Ltd proposes that for 10 years, they should be cut off from the station by a barrier that will be higher than the Berlin wall. What is worse, it is proposed that they would not receive any compensation at all. May I tell Government Members, who always say that they are speaking up on behalf of small businesses, that if they do not do something to prevent that wickedness, they will let down some small businesses? The same non-compensation rules will apply in Camden Town.

The Government must reconsider the project. Is it really the best use of a scarce £17 billion if we want to improve our creaking transport system? Even if it is, would not the London terminus be better sited at Old Oak Common which, unlike Euston, is on the Heathrow Express route and will be on Crossrail? It would be welcome there, and studies show that if people got off Crossrail at Old Oak Common, only 4% of London underground stations would take longer to reach than if they went to Euston. The stations that would take longer to reach are Euston Square, Regent’s Park, Mornington Crescent and King’s Cross St Pancras, so there is no disadvantage. If this goes ahead, most sensible travellers will get off at Old Oak Common anyway, whatever anybody says.

Finally, if it is decided to go ahead, I hope there will be agreement across the Chamber that there should be a special made-to-measure compensation and mitigation scheme for the whole length of HS2 and all the residents and businesses affected by it. It should be as generous as the Secretary of State promised, and I do not doubt the integrity of the Secretary of State.

I also have to say this: in all the years that I have dealt with public and private bodies, I have never come across an outfit as stupid, incompetent and incapable of even delivering letters as the people at present running HS2, and if I were in favour of the project, I would get someone else to do it.