I came to this place to try to do the right things for my constituents and, indeed, my country. I seem to find that a large amount of my time and effort is spent trying to stop bad things happening, which my constituents often reassure me amounts to much the same end, but I can assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it is nowhere near as satisfying. There are few projects that I have ever believed are such a bad thing not only for my constituents, but for the whole country, as HS2. If this goes ahead, my constituency will take all the pain for none of the gain.
What we are being asked to vote for today is the signing of a blank cheque for HS2 Ltd for a railway that is, in my opinion, a solution looking for a problem. This is a scheme with vast financial costs for the taxpayer and a high human cost for those unfortunate enough to live or to have their business on or near the proposed route. The financial costs were initially estimated by the Government this morning as £33 billion, but stand at over £42 billion this afternoon, with a further £7.5 billion for rolling stock. That is an enormous commitment at a time of austerity for a project that will not be ready until 2033 and is of questionable economic benefit.
How can we be certain that today’s £10 billion of additional budget will prove to be the last? When it comes to keeping to budget, Government rail projects certainly have a terrible record. The west coast main line upgrade, which was initially estimated to cost £1.5 billion, ended up costing £9.9 billion. The Thameslink upgrade was estimated to cost £650 million in 1996, but the end costs will be nearer £6 billion on completion. We could be looking at a project with a final bill of many tens of billions more than the Government’s initial estimate or even today’s estimate. All that for a railway where the cost-benefit ratio analysis, even before today’s £10 billion, did not stack up. For phase 1, the Department for Transport claims that HS2 will produce £1.40 of benefit for every £1 spent. The Government categorise schemes below £1.50 as being low value for money—and that is before today’s extra £10 billion.