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High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:27 pm on 26th June 2013.

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Photo of David Mowat David Mowat Conservative, Warrington South 6:27 pm, 26th June 2013

I support the Bill, but before I say why I support it let me give a number of reasons for not building this railway. We should not build it just because we have less high-speed track than any other country in the world. We could be right and those countries could be wrong, so that is not a good reason. We should not build it because the business case for HS1 to move to St Pancras was predicated on access to the north. We should not build it on environmental and carbon-related grounds: I think that those are rather difficult to justify, at a time when most electricity continues to be produced from fossil fuels. We should not even build it to try to rebalance infrastructure spending, which over the last decade has been 10 times higher per head in London and the south-east than in the north-west, and more than 10 times higher than in the north-east.

We should proceed with this project if, and only if, three conditions exist: a robust business case, clear transformational benefits, and affordability in cash-flow terms, at about £2 billion a year. That £2 billion a year needs to kick in as Crossrail finishes, and I think that that is quite achievable. I cannot go into the business case in a great deal of detail, other than to say that the benefit-cost ratio remains higher than 2—about 2.5 for the full Y network—and is predicated principally on capacity arguments. The number of passengers on the west coast main line has been increasing at a rate of 5% a year for the last 15 years. This business case assumes an increase of only 1.6%, which is quite conservative.

As for transformational benefits, some Members have said today that the northern cities could do better if they just invested in broadband, while others have said that northern cities do not understand that HS2 will cause all the jobs to be sucked into London. All that I can say to that is that the northern chambers of commerce do not agree. They have estimated that in the north-west it will produce some 40,000 extra jobs and £8 billion of incremental benefits, while KMCG’s Green Gauge report estimates that there will be about 50,000 extra jobs.

I want to make a number of observations about the project. First, on the timing, 2032 is a long time ahead, and I am a little concerned that there is going to be a gap of over a decade before it goes to Birmingham and Manchester. That is a decade in which the northern cities will be put at a disadvantage—although prosperity will not, of course, stop in Manchester and Birmingham. I do not fully understand why we are not able to do more in the north earlier, in terms of the timing of the investment.

It is important that the northern cities are linked not only to London but to Brussels and Paris. I do not fully understand the issues around the linkage and all that goes with that, but to do this project and not allow that to happen would be wrong.

I also want to comment on a number of councils. We heard about Bradford no longer supporting the project, and I have heard Warrington council say it no longer supports it, because there is no station on its patch. Either this project has transformational benefits for the region and all of us in that region benefit, or it does not. My constituents in Warrington work in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and elsewhere. What matters to them is that we go some way towards fixing the north-south divide and getting prosperity much more evenly spread across the entire country.

Finally, let me say that I commend this Bill and that I hope the House supports it tonight.