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High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:09 pm on 26th June 2013.

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Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford 6:09 pm, 26th June 2013

Yes, and I fully understand the problems mentioned by some of my hon. Friends. We need to do something about that, but an ultra-high-speed line is not the answer.

I come now to the business case for HS2. There has been a lot of argument about whether it is valid. I am not an expert in these matters, but there are several things that make me sceptical. The first is the apparent lack of knowledge at HS2 about current demand. The second is the surprising fact that HS2 is to be largely a leisure railway rather than a business railway. Since leisure passengers are much more sensitive to price than business passengers, especially premium business, I wonder whether this price sensitivity has been fully incorporated into the business case. The third reason is the large question mark over whether this is the right way to help the midlands and the north to develop. Just this week, plans were unveiled for a vast new commercial development at Old Oak common in London at the proposed junction of Cross Rail and HS2. I welcome that, but it underlines the concerns of those who worry that HS2 will simply bring more development into London, possibly at the expense of the midlands, the north and Scotland.

Then there is the business case for the west coast main line after HS2 comes into service. The line will remain an essential part of our national transport infrastructure, so it is essential that its post-2035 business case be at least as strong as that for HS2, but I have not had that case from HS2, despite my asking for it. Given that HS2 is so dependent on leisure traffic, I am concerned about what will be left for the west coast main line. Clearly, there will be an increase in freight and some leisure, commuter and regional services, but will it be sufficient to maintain the line without very substantial subsidy? And if a subsidy will indeed be required, has that been factored into the business case for HS2?

I fully support the comments made by north Staffordshire MPs about the real concern over the connectivity of Stoke-on-Trent, which is one of the top 10 conurbations in the country. I ask the Secretary of State to take that matter very seriously. On compensation, I entirely agree with those who support the idea of a property bond. That must be done. In France, people receive well over the market rate for their property, and everything goes through much faster. Let us be generous, as many Members have suggested.

I have no pleasure in opposing the proposals before us. If this were a Bill to provide for additional capacity in the network by using existing corridors at a sustainable cost and without a fixation on ultra-high-speed trains, I would support it wholeheartedly, but I am afraid that it will achieve none of those things.