Earlier this year, hundreds of my constituents awoke to find that the value of their homes had been substantially reduced and those who had plans to move discovered that purchasers could no longer get mortgages. That remains the case. The reason was the announcement of the preferred route for HS2—a route that followed none of the previously published options nor an existing transport corridor. Furthermore, the project will not see a shovel in the ground for 13 years and will only be completed in 20 years, meaning uncertainty and disruption for a generation. It was also a route that, I have been told, can hardly be altered, because it is designed to take ultra-high-speed trains travelling at up to 250 mph and hence must be straight. As a result, it goes through five villages in my constituency and comes very close to others.
I have long advocated sensible investment in rail in the UK. When the previous Government proposed to build new track for the west coast main line across my constituency in order to cut journey times and improve capacity, I supported it, but I believe that HS2 is the wrong solution. The Government have rightly said that a new rail network needs to be designed to increase capacity, rather than speed, so I cannot understand the fixation with speeds of 225 mph to 250 mph, if that means that routes are so inflexible that they cannot follow existing corridors, such as motorways, as many have argued. No railway in Europe travels at that speed. The maximum is 200 mph.
Then there is the question of capacity and demand. I imagined that HS2 had done a lot of detailed work on this point, so I wrote asking for current figures for the utilisation of west coast main line services as well as projected figures to 2035. The answer from HS2 was: