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As is the norm with any major infrastructure project in this country, HS2 has provoked a massive debate and has become something of a national drama. I think it fair to say that Ealing and Acton has not exactly been immune from the debate, and that the project has had a bumpy ride in my patch. With a border to the north more or less marked out by the railway lines pinpointed to be the arteries taking the new trains in and out of London after they have passed through Old Oak common, it is undeniable that the proposal will have an impact on my constituency.
Residents in north Acton, living right on the boundary between Ealing and Brent where the new Old Oak Common station would be, will be particularly affected by an estimated eight years of construction works. Some will also find themselves potentially living alongside the railway where it comes out from the tunnel. Obviously, it is not easy to allay genuine and legitimate concerns, but, first and foremost, compensation for those whose properties border or lie close to the track must be as generous as it is possible to be.
Secondly, the onus will be on Ealing council and Transport for London to manage the arrangements in a way that keeps disruption to a minimum. I understand that some constituents fear that they will be almost completely trapped, and will be unable even to gain access to local shops or their doctors while the works proceed. That would be simply unacceptable. Alternatives such as extra bus routes around the works will have to be laid on, and effective traffic management will be essential.
Concerns about mayhem around the Hanger Lane gyratory system while the line is being constructed, along with anxieties about the impact of an overground HS2 through parts of north Ealing, prompted a vigorous campaign by local residents who have demanded, at the very least, a tunnel between Old Oak Common and Northolt. Last year I wrote to the Secretary of State supporting their campaign, and I am delighted to say that that option appears to have met with his favour. We look forward to final confirmation.
Nevertheless, as my constituents know—notwithstanding those local impacts and the opposition from campaigners further up the proposed line—I have long been a firm supporter of what I see as an ambitious and timely project. Given that I have campaigned loudly against a third runway at Heathrow and have used the “train not plane” argument, how could I not be? Central to this pledge was the logic that a new high-speed rail link improving north-south connections would dramatically reduce the need for the airlines to lay on so many short-haul domestic flights from some of our northern cities, which take up so much landing space at Heathrow. The HS2 concept, however, has always been more than just a buffer against the immediate third runway threat. It is a project for the future, and a rare example of a Government’s demonstrating genuine long-term vision—something that we should be encouraging.
We know that existing services will be full to bursting point by the mid 2020s. We know that the demand is there and that we need to ease the pressure, so why not plan now? Sooner or later we will need the extra capacity, and if we wait for 10 years we will just be doing what we have to do now in a rush. In any case, I have always believed that a country that can be ambitious should be ambitious, and should seek to update its infrastructure in a timely fashion.
High-speed rail makes sense, it will be needed in this country, and the proposals are achievable. I believe that as long as there is generous compensation—and I do mean generous—for all whose lives would be blighted, we should all get behind this project.