The past few days have brought important proposals to make the most of High Speed 2. They will help us to build the line better, bring benefits to the north sooner and support job creation and economic growth. I wanted to update the House at the first opportunity and I am sorry that, for unavoidable reasons, I was unable to do so last week.
The proposals are welcome, because HS2 is a vital project. It can do for future generations what the Victorian railways did for previous generations and what the motorways did for ours. That is why it has the strong support of the Government and why cities in the midlands and the north are calling for its benefits to be spread as widely as possible. We must heed that call, but if that is to happen, we must also get the basics right, stick to the cost, plan well, listen, respect the environment, build what really works and what we need for the future, and ensure that people get the benefits as quickly as possible.
I know, too, that HS2 is just part, although a vital part, of our long-term economic plan—one that will see better infrastructure for all parts of our country. It is a clear and ambitious plan that is already paying dividends, as shown by last week’s welcome decision by Hitachi, the company that invented the bullet train, to move its global rail headquarters to Britain. That is the sort of opportunity presented by HS2.
First, let me respond to the report by Sir David Higgins. He began work as chairman of HS2 in January and the first task I set him was to consider how to maximise the benefits of HS2 and manage the costs. Last year, Parliament backed the principle of a high-speed rail link to the north with 350 votes in favour and only 34 against. It is now up to us to make that happen and, given his great track record, there is no one better suited to the job than Sir David Higgins. Let me turn to his proposals.
First, on costs, Sir David has reviewed the cost estimates for constructing phase 1 and confirmed that they are realistic. The budget set by the Government in 2013 stands. As experience shows, in Britain we can build great projects on time and on budget, such as High Speed 1, Crossrail and the Olympics. At this early stage, however, before Parliament has considered the hybrid Bill, we must include a proper contingency. Of course, for popularity’s sake, one option would have been to slash the contingency and claim that as a saving. Sir David said that that would be wrong and I agree, but, as he also says, with growing certainty comes growing confidence. That will be the stage at which we can bring down the contingency.
Let me turn to Sir David’s second proposal. I have heard many hon. Members asking why we cannot build in the north sooner. I agree, and we can. Sir David’s report suggests opening the new line to a new hub station in Crewe six years earlier than planned. Direct trains will of course be able to run off HS2 lines to serve places such as Stoke, Liverpool, Manchester, north Wales and Scotland, and faster too, and the line to Crewe sooner would mean journeys that are shorter than they would be under phase 1—journeys that are quicker to Manchester, quicker to Liverpool and quicker to Scotland. That is a welcome proposal and I am commissioning HS2 Ltd to undertake the work to allow it to be considered in detail, but that must be an acceleration of phase 2 and not an alternative. Sir David says that we must make the most of this investment so that as many towns and cities as possible benefit. I agree, and we will make sure that that happens.
Let me turn to Sir David’s third proposal, for the south-eastern end of the line. Our priority must be to get the benefits to the midlands and the north as soon as possible. In short, we must put the money and time where they can do the most good. Sir David is clear that he does not think that the existing proposals for a HS1-HS2 link meet the test. The HS1-HS2 link proposed in the hybrid Bill has not secured consensus. It requires too many compromises in terms of its impact on freight, passengers and the community in Camden. I therefore intend to remove the link from the hybrid Bill and withdraw safeguarding as soon as possible. I will also commission a study into options for ways to improve connections to the continent, which could be built once the initial stages of HS2 are complete.
I also agree with the report that much more can be made of Euston station, not just to build something of which we can be proud but to maximise the economic potential of the line, to use a site that has been neglected and to generate private sector investment that can reduce the overall burden on the taxpayer. I will therefore ask HS2 and Network Rail to develop comprehensive proposals for the redevelopment of Euston.
Our ambitions for Euston must not, however, conflict with our commitment to control costs. I want to see a substantial private sector investment to ensure that. Let me therefore turn to the report from the HS2 growth taskforce, published last week. It comes from an impressive panel including business leaders such as Sir John Rose, Alison Nimmo and Ray O’Rourke, city leaders such as Julie Dore from Sheffield and the general secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady. I thank everyone involved, and especially the commercial secretary for his committed leadership. Their message is clear: we need HS2, and we need to act on how to squeeze the most jobs, skills and growth from it. The taskforce’s recommendations are plain common sense. They are things that business, the Government and cities can do together, and must start doing now: on skills, proper training to make sure that our young people get the best jobs on the project; on planning, ensuring that the line brings new strength to our cities; and, on transport, making sure that we link the existing road and rail network properly to HS2 and plan investment to bring them together.
Regeneration and economic growth are vital parts of HS2. City leaders have already started to put plans in place, but the Government have a role to play, too. That is why I am asking HS2 Ltd and London and Continental Railways, which developed the King’s Cross-St Pancras site, to come forward with proposals for a regeneration company that will respond to the growth taskforce’s recommendations on regeneration. This matters because, as I have said before, HS2 is a project that will be built over many Parliaments—and no doubt Governments, too—and will serve many people through the generations. It is not the only answer to our transport needs, but it is a central part of the answer, and that means designing it carefully and building it right. It is about something that works, something of which we can be proud, and something that benefits as many people and places as possible at the lowest cost.
We are on schedule to open the line in 2026 which, by the way, is exactly the date that the previous Government set in 2010, or ahead of time in the case of the Crewe proposals. The Government are keen to rise to the challenge and I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will do the same.
Transforming rail capacity south of Birmingham and improving connectivity north of Birmingham are vital and will transform our great cities. We support HS2 because of the capacity constraints that too many commuters on our railways face. We will continue to hold the Government to account for keeping costs down on the project. We will vote in support of the hybrid Bill when the Government finally bring it to Parliament.
David Higgins has made it clear that there are significant savings to be made if Ministers get a grip of this project and stop the delays. He says:
“a lower budget for Phase One could be set at some point...but only when the legislative timetable becomes clearer and more certain.”
What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the phase 1 hybrid Bill is put before the House as soon as possible? The Government must now act so that the scheme can be delivered under budget.
Sir David recommended, and the Secretary of State has acted, to scrap the link between HS1 and HS2. That is welcome because the link was set to cause huge disruption to large parts of Camden. At Euston, Sir David proposes central London’s biggest regeneration site, with a mix of retail, office and residential units. Given the acute affordable housing crisis in Camden, a significant proportion of any new housing must be social housing. Does the Secretary of State agree that the community and council must be fully involved in those plans?
At Old Oak Common, where significant regeneration is planned, there is as yet no decision from the Government about the relocation of the First Great Western and Heathrow Express train depots. When can we expect a decision about linking HS2 and Crossrail into the west coast main line at Old Oak Common? That is key to maximising the development potential of the area and to improving the capacity for commuter services into Euston, which is crucial if there is to be a longer construction phase at Euston. When will those three important decisions be made? What contact has the Secretary of State had with the Mayor about setting up a development corporation to take regeneration plans for Old Oak Common forwards?
Sir David has listened to concerns from cities such as Milton Keynes, Northampton, Rugby, Stoke, Leigh and—yes—my city of Wakefield about how the line will connect to the current railway network and how their services into London can be improved. When can we expect the Government’s response to those significant issues in Sir David’s report?
On phase 2, we are glad that HS2 will link to future Network Rail classic rail investment and that the connections between our great northern and midland cities that we have called for have replaced the Government’s previous take-it-or-leave-it approach. We want a coherent transport plan for the north and the midlands, which have been historically underfunded, and for proper east-west links between Liverpool and Manchester and Leeds and Hull. A rebalancing of railway investment into the regions to close the economic divide: that is how we maximise the benefits for the whole country from this project.
We welcome the faster construction of phase 2 to bring benefits more quickly to the northern cities and north Wales. Will the Minister tell the House when the hybrid Bill for phase 2 would need to be completed in order to get to the north-west by 2026, as Sir David recommends? Sir David also recommends that discussions between council and business leaders and the Government should be conducted on a regional rather than a bilateral basis. When do the Government envisage such meetings starting, given the imperative to work fast to reduce costs? When will the Government announce their response to the phase 2 route consultation in order to get it started more quickly?
I turn to Lord Deighton’s growth taskforce report. He is correct that HS2 must become the spine for jobs, growth and regeneration in our country. His report wants cities to set up locally led delivery bodies to maximise the regeneration that High Speed 2 will bring. He warns:
“Even the very best authorities will be stretched to manage a project as complex and large as HS2”.
What help will the Government give councils whose budgets have been cut by 40% over this Parliament in order to do that? He says that land for development should be bought early before land prices rise and to reduce blight around the station sites. When will the Secretary of State set out which costs will be included in the costs of the High Speed 2 railway and which are excluded, so that councils can budget accordingly?
On transport, Lord Deighton wants the Government to set out their plans for commuter rail in non-high speed areas by the end of the year. Will the Secretary of State undertake to publish such a plan?
On skills, Lord Deighton warns that the railway work force are ageing. Some 10,000 new people are needed to work on the railways in the next five years alone, and he also states:
“Railways have an image problem.”
How does the Secretary of State plan to transform that image to entice young people from both sexes to work on the railways?
When will the site of the High Speed 2 skills college be announced? Wherever it is located, it must not be a stand-alone institution; it must reach out to cities and towns across the UK that have young people who want to work on High Speed 2. Which Minister is overseeing that skills work and how can procurement processes drive up the number of apprentices on the project?
On small and medium-sized enterprises procurement, the Minister must learn lessons from Crossrail, where SME contract numbers are high on volume, but the total value of those contracts is uncertain. We must ensure that the High Speed pound reaches all parts of the UK. It is vital that we maximise the opportunities that the new north-south line brings to our country. We are behind the project. We wait for the Government to rise to the challenge.
I thank the hon. Lady for her support. I am not sure how many questions she asked me, but I will try to answer the vast majority of the points she raised. There will be other points on which I shall respond to her in due course.
Frank Dobson has been a long-time critic of the HS1-HS2 link. It is right that we needed not only to listen to what local communities said, but to look at how we get a better link between the two stations of Euston and St Pancras. We are talking about a fundamental redevelopment of the whole of Euston station, which I think is the right thing to do. Anybody who has looked at those three stations over the past 20 years will have seen stations, particularly St Pancras and King’s Cross, where one would not really have wanted to spend any time at all. Today, they are destinations in their own right and show what can be done with proper work and careful consideration. That is why I think that a complete regeneration of Euston is necessary. I hope that we can address those problems. With regard to Old Oak Common, the Mayor has already announced his intention to set up a development corporation. I have regular meetings with him. In fact, I have one coming up this week.
It is right that we look at the overall cost, which of course is an important consideration. There is a £14 billion contingency built into the current budget of £42 billion. It has been left in place because at this early stage that is thought to be the right thing to do. One of the reasons why costs have gone up—it is important to reflect on this—is that we have taken exceptional steps to try to meet some of the environmental concerns that have been raised by many hon. Members, their constituents and communities. I do not apologise for that, because it is right that something that will be there for the next 150 years is built correctly and properly, as it will be.
The hon. Lady made an important point about skills development and the opportunities that that can bring, for example through apprenticeships. I will be looking at Crossrail, which I think has done incredibly well in trying to spread the benefits across the country, even though it is a London project. It benefits London in particular, but it also brings great benefits to the United Kingdom and the regions. I will also be looking at how Crossrail has tried to improve apprenticeships and develop skills across the industry. By the time it ends, the shovels will be on the sites for HS2, so hopefully there will be some cross-over.
This should send out a message to young people that the railway industry has a great future. What has happened to the industry over the past 20 years, with the number of passenger journeys rising from 750 million to 1.5 billion and continual growth each year, shows people who want a long-term future that the industry certainly offers good opportunities and work prospects. That is why it is important. I will write to hon. Lady in due course on the other points she raised.
The Higgins report is excellent and fully justifies Sir David’s appointment. However, can my right hon. Friend give the House a categorical assurance that the money that is to be spent on High Speed 2 will in no way affect the record billions being spent in control period 5 on the conventional railway and what is likely to be spent in control periods 6, 7 and 8?
May I first put on the record my appreciation for the contribution my right hon. Friend made to this project? He was also the last Minister to meet Hitachi in Japan and so might have had a great influence on its decision to move its rail headquarters to the UK. I congratulate him on that. He is absolutely right; some £38.5 billion will be invested in the rail network over the next five years, excluding the money being spent on HS2. It is absolutely essential that we make that long-term investment in our railways.
The reports from Sir David Higgins and the taskforce are very important documents. However, following the question from Mr Burns, how can the Secretary of State demonstrate that investment in High Speed 2 will go together with investment in the existing classic line so that the whole network benefits?
The hon. Lady, as Chair of the Transport Committee, has spent a lot of time looking at that, and indeed has taken evidence from me, Network Rail and Sir David Higgins over recent months. She will know that there is huge investment. In her city, for example, in May this year we will see the first express train running from Liverpool to Manchester, which I welcome. It is part of the northern hub, with over £500 million of investment linking Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and, eventually, Hull.
It is a reflection of the poor genesis of the project that, four years down the line, the Secretary of State is still making fundamental adjustments to the plans for HS2. It does not matter how many studies or justifications he puts forward, he needs to understand that for many of my constituents, it is like putting lipstick on a pig. However glossy the lipstick, HS2 is still a pig.
I am sad that the Secretary of State can stand at the Dispatch Box and say that he respects the environment when we are still not to have full tunnelling under the whole area of outstanding natural beauty in the Chilterns and when neither Front-Bench team have had the decency to talk about compensation. My constituents, and many people up and down the line, still do not know what the compensation package is, and it is about time that he came to the Dispatch Box and announced the generous and fair compensation that the Prime Minister promised.
I hope very soon to be able to make announcements about the Government’s proposals for compensation. I would just say to my right hon. Friend that on one hand I am attacked for listening to people, and then on the other hand I am attacked for not listening to people. I suppose that is just one of the problems of dealing with big infrastructure projects—wherever we take them, there will always be people who are directly affected, and they will not be convinced of the necessity of them. However, I am convinced of the necessity of high-speed rail for our cities in the north.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision to abandon the ridiculous proposal for the High Speed 2-High Speed 1 link across Camden Town, and I also welcome Opposition Front Benchers’ support on that matter. However, I cannot say the same about the proposal to go ahead with an even bigger redevelopment of Euston than was proposed before. It will mean that the homes of more than 500 people will be destroyed, and that the lives of about 5,000 people will be subjected for a decade to the noise, filth and disruption of the biggest engineering project in Europe. I hope that, even at this stage, at a time when looking back, looking forward and coming to different decisions is apparently still on the cards, the Government will at least consider having the initial London terminus at Old Oak Common.
The right hon. Gentleman has been consistent on the HS1-HS2 link. I do not need to tell him about the difference that has been made to the area around King’s Cross and St Pancras in his constituency—it is plainly there for all to see. Those of us who use St Pancras station faced a lot of inconvenience at the time when that development was going on, but given what we see today, it was worth it.
My right hon. Friend will know that Lichfield will be badly affected by HS2, with phase 1 ending and phase 2 beginning in the constituency. As a consequence, a line running from east to west will join what was to be the end of phase 1 with the west coast main line. That work will transform the leafy lanes of Lichfield into the marshalling yards of Lichfield. What hope can he give my constituents that the temporary east-west line will no longer have to go ahead, and that there will be significant improvements in the environmental plans proposed for Lichfield?
I am always ready to listen to my hon. Friend’s comments and points on these matters. I believe that, overall, HS2 will bring great benefit to the midlands, including Birmingham, which is an important city close to his own city of Lichfield. It is a matter of ensuring that areas such as his can also benefit from high-speed rail.
The Higgins report specifically highlights poor east-west connectivity as a problem on the rail network, such as that between Manchester and Leeds, to which I would add that between Manchester and Sheffield, which is directly relevant to Stalybridge and Hyde. Will the Secretary of State go into more detail about how he plans to integrate Network Rail’s existing investment plans with the relevant phase of HS2, specifically to address the east-west connectivity issue?
The hon. Gentleman mentions the rail line that goes through the top end of my constituency, so I am familiar with his points. Our plans for the northern hub will greatly enhance the services he receives, as will ensuring that we build them in to benefit from HS2, which is possible. On Thursday a number of parliamentary colleagues will come on the high-speed Javelin line. It goes to Ashford and continues to service other parts of Kent, and it has been very successful.
I thank my right hon. Friend for making the statement to the House. My constituents and residents in the London borough of Hillingdon look forward eagerly to the statements on compensation. As I am sure he is aware, the borough of Hillingdon still has some outstanding matters, and the most pressing—which I ask him to look at urgently—is the relocation of Hillingdon outdoor activities centre. That is a valuable asset, and we must resolve its future shortly.
My right hon. Friend has never lost an opportunity to make that case for Hillingdon, and I assure him that I will look into it. I reassure him that I hope to say something about compensation in the very near future.
These are two excellent reports, and the Secretary of State is right to talk about ensuring that rail links help to provide the economic benefits from the high-speed links. When lines in the north of England are electrified, can he guarantee that, following the fiasco of the TransPennine Express, there will be electric trains to run on them?
Before we start talking about fiascos and the TransPennine Express, I chide the hon. Gentleman for not pushing a bit further and getting more electrification when he sat on the Government Benches, and getting more rolling stock—[Interruption.] He says he did, but he did not succeed. We are doing it, we are succeeding, and we will order the rolling stock.
I support linking our northern cities with high-speed rail, but does the Secretary of State understand the concerns on the east side of the Pennines about the announcement of the Crewe hub? All along we were given assurances that the link to Sheffield and Leeds would happen at the same time as Manchester. Will he commit to looking at the “High Speed UK” proposal that links more cities more quickly and for considerably less cost?
There is a recommendation on the Crewe hub and I have not made a full decision on it yet. A consultation is going on about the Y section from Birmingham to Manchester and Birmingham to Leeds. It is important I do that properly, which is exactly what I will do.
The recommendation for the line to reach Crewe by 2026 is welcome, but does it allow for any possibility of the other sections of HS2 further north being completed earlier—and, if not, why not? How does the Higgins study impact on the study being carried by the UK and Scottish Governments to ensure that the benefits of HS2 reach Scotland as soon as possible?
The extension to Crewe will have a positive impact on Scotland. As I have said, trains will be able to continue running on, and the fact that they will go further up will have a positive benefit. That should reassure the hon. Gentleman.
As the Secretary of State knows, my constituents are completely against these proposals and have been from the beginning. Furthermore, they are looking for proper compensation on principles that he knows I put forward in amendments to the project. Will he consider increasing compensation in line with the criteria that have already been provided to him in my amendments?
The full consultation process for the part of the line that goes through my hon. Friend’s constituency is ongoing, and no final decision has been made. I hope to be able to say something about the compensation relating to phase 1 very shortly.
May I thank the Secretary of State for the report and congratulate Sir David Higgins on it? Does the Secretary of State accept that the data on page 8 of Sir David Higgins’s report, which show that investment per head in London and the south-east has been running at least three times that of any other region, emphasise his point that this is not a zero-sum game between HS2 investment and investment in other services but rather the reverse—that this investment, properly co-ordinated with control period 6, should beget further investment in rail services across the north?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman; I think he is right. I will not chastise him about when this huge extra expenditure in London was first committed to—we will leave that to one side. What is important is getting the long term investment in infrastructure right for all the northern cities. That is vital to all of us who care about those cities, and those connections, and about making sure that they have the right opportunities. As I said in my statement, this kind of project does not happen over one Parliament but runs over several Parliaments. That is why it is so important to have as much cross-party support as possible for such a big scheme. I believe that this will be an evolutionary change in transport. As I said, it will do for future generations what the motorways have done for today’s generation.
My right hon. Friend will clearly come to the House in due course with a statement on compensation. Will he give an undertaking that during the proceedings on the hybrid Bill he and ministerial colleagues in the Treasury will be willing to listen to suggestions on how the compensation scheme can be further refined, improved and targeted?
Of course I am always prepared to listen; that is partly what we have been doing in consulting on the existing scheme. People often come forward with proposals that increase the cost and then complain that the cost has been increased, so it is quite important that we get the balance right on these projects.
In view of the Secretary of State’s commitment on Government funding to look at the prospects for opening up the line to Crewe that much earlier, what are the implications for the alternative proposal made by Stoke-on-Trent?
Sir David has made a recommendation to me and I am asking for work to be done on it. It is right that I then consider that alongside the representations that have been made by other cities in the north as part of the final consultation process. I am still engaged in that process, and I will do so.
I am all in favour of better links with Europe, at least in this context. Does the Secretary of State accept, however, that most of the demand for an HS1-HS2 link will be domestic? Will he learn from the sub-optimal interchange at Stratford and consider installing a travelator to get people quickly and easily between St Pancras and Euston?
One of the problems at the moment is that people cannot get to the northern cities by high-speed trains, yet they can get to Europe in that way. I want the people of Birmingham and Manchester to have the same opportunities as those who wish to travel from London to Paris or London to Brussels. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the need to have a good link between Euston and St Pancras. Sir David says in his report, and has said to me, that that can be done at a much more efficient rate than what is currently planned under the High Speed 1-High Speed 2 link, which will now be removed from the Bill.
I welcome the Government’s continued commitment to the Old Oak Common interchange, but I am alarmed that they are handing control of the whole area, including Wormwood Scrubs, to the Mayor of London, with instructions that any development must exclude separate funding schemes. Some 24,000 new homes are planned for Old Oak. How will the Government ensure that some of these are affordable homes for Londoners, and not the empty luxury flats for foreign investors that the Mayor prefers?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong about what the Mayor prefers. I think I am right in saying that he was one of the supporters of a Mayor for London. Perhaps he just does not like the democratic outcome and the Mayor he has today. I think the Mayor knows exactly what is needed at Old Oak Common and will act on it.
As someone born in Crewe, I add my gratitude for any proposals to improve this transport renaissance. Will the Secretary of State clarify whether the connection to the west coast main line at Crewe will obviate the need for a connection at Wigan, as was proposed earlier? I do not wish to restrict the shadow Health Secretary’s future freedom of manoeuvre in this regard.
I did not realise that my hon. Friend originally came from Crewe, which given its connections is a very important railway town, always has been and always will be. I will want to consider his point about the later connections on to the west coast main line in the light of Sir David Higgins’s recommendations.
I very much believe and hope that HS2 will be beneficial to Coventry. The entire west midlands benefits from HS2 and Coventry is certainly part of that wider west midlands conurbation. I want to see greater interconnection between the cities, and we have the time to plan and get that right. In this control period and the next one for Network Rail, we will be able to build on certain proposals that I know Coventry wants. Representatives of Coventry have been to see me and made recommendations about certain line improvements that they want to see.
KPMG predicts benefits of more than £200 million for Worcestershire’s economy from HS2, so I broadly welcome the statement, but can the Secretary of State reassure my constituents that nothing in it precludes investment in faster trains between London and Worcester to address the absurdity that a journey of 130 miles, which took under two hours in 1910, takes more than two and a half hours today?
My hon. Friend is right. One of the problems that HS2 addresses in a way that no other proposals put before us will address is capacity. I very much hope that it will free up other journeys so that we can have faster journey times from cities such as Worcester.
I fully accept that while huge works are going on at a station, there is disruption, so one of the questions that must be asked in the planning phase that HS2 is currently going through is how we minimise that. Inconvenience was caused at St Pancras for a number of years while redevelopment was going on, but, as I said earlier, nobody doubts that it was worth going through the pain as we have a far better station than we had previously, and I very much hope we can do the same for Euston.
As the Transport Secretary knows, my constituency is a major hub for the rail freight industry. The growth taskforce suggested that the Government should invite the rail freight industry to set out how best it can take advantage of extra capacity on the existing network. Can my right hon. Friend outline what plans he has for this?
One thing that is curtailing growth in the freight market in the UK is the capacity problems. I hope that, by freeing up capacity, we will see a lot more freight travelling on our railway lines. I urge the freight industry to come forward with proposals on how we can improve the situation, which I think we can.
Newcastle will benefit from faster trains running up to Leeds and being able to continue on their current routes. The hon. Lady is right that more work needs to be done on that. It will be done and I will come to the House when it is complete.
I welcome the report and the Secretary of State’s statement. Opponents of HS2 in the north-west have claimed that although it might be beneficial for Manchester, it might suck investment out of other towns and cities in the north-west. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a new regional hub at Crewe will allow the benefits of HS2 to roll out to places such as Liverpool, north Wales and, of course, Chester, and support economic growth in those areas?
My hon. Friend represents a great city, which I have visited on many occasions. It will receive benefits from Crewe. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Mr Timpson, who joins me on the Front Bench, has made it clear that the station will not only be very important for his constituency, but will serve the whole of the north-west, including the great city of Chester.
The Labour Welsh Government recently changed their view on the Barnett consequentials from HS2, following questions from the Financial Times on why they were not backing Plaid Cymru’s position on a fair share for Wales. What representations has the Secretary of State received from the Welsh Government or the official Opposition to demand a fair share for my country?
If my hon. Friend does not mind, I think that that is a debate for another occasion. He is right that HS2 will have a major impact on the cities it serves and that we will have to go further as a result.
Despite the reports, it remains the case that the initial preferred route for the second part of HS2 will devastate parts of Warrington, with the loss of businesses and jobs, and will possibly give us a worse service in the long run. Does not the proposal of a regional hub at Crewe give more impetus to the suggestion by Warrington borough council and others of a preferred route that would be of huge benefit to the western part of the region?
As I have said, a period of consultation is going on and I am listening to the representations. No firm decision has yet been taken. The Higgins report states what Sir David believes would be the best way forward at the moment. I will certainly consider that, but I will also consider other recommendations and representations.
I very much welcome the cross-party support for this transformative project. On the Higgins report and the proposed new Crewe interchange, will the Secretary of State do everything he can to give clarity and certainty to the Yorkshire leg of the Y, so that we can crack on with investing in and regenerating the areas around the proposed new stations at Leeds and Sheffield, and along the branch lines, such as the one from Huddersfield to Sheffield which goes through my constituency, that will bring better connectivity?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is asking us to take on board the wider implications of HS2 across the area that it serves. I will certainly do that.
The Secretary of State echoes Sir David Higgins’s call for the benefits to be brought to the north-west and north of England faster. Other than the Crewe interchange—which I welcome, but which should not be seen as the only solution—what other avenues is he looking at? Will he speak with leaders of local authorities in places such as Manchester to bring forward funding and proposals sooner rather than later?
I am in touch with Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester city council about the issues. Manchester has made some imaginative proposals on how the station should be built alongside Piccadilly station, and they are being looked at. There are good communications between the northern leaders and the Government on this issue.
My right hon. Friend knows that the people of the far south-west do not speak much about high-speed rail: our focus is simply on rail and getting reconnected to London after the storms of the winter. Can he assure us that, at the same time as spending all this money on the north and midlands, he will have sufficient to invest in an alternative or additional route between Plymouth and Exeter as soon as it has been identified by Network Rail?
My hon. Friend has long been an advocate of better rail services in the south-west. Following the storms, I said that I had asked Network Rail to do some detailed work on possible alternatives for the south-west, and that is happening. Network Rail is doing a huge amount of work to ensure the swift reopening of the Dawlish line, which is on course to happen on
In congratulating my right hon. Friend Frank Dobson on his tenacity and hailing the relief of Camden as a consummation devoutly to be wished, may I tell the Secretary of State that the dispassionate observer would still feel that the lack of connectivity between HS1 and HS2 represents a problem for the future? Will he give thought to the possibility of an underground connection from Old Oak Common?
My hon. Friend raises one of the many issues that need to be considered and resolved, but Old Oak Common is likely to become a major new transport focus for future generations, and will have an important role to play. Getting the maximum development in that area will also be very important.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. I am delighted to see him in his place, but I wish that his predecessor was still there—as I am sure we all do. He was a big supporter of HS2 and believed that it would bring tremendous benefits to his city of Manchester—I agree.
If we build to Crewe, as suggested by Sir David Higgins, it will result in immediate time improvements for Manchester, but I know that what people want to see is the connection to Manchester airport as well as to the city itself.
Speeding up delivery for this major infrastructure project for the north is to be welcomed, but—as my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) suggested—deep concern is felt in west Yorkshire that economic advantage may come for the west side of the Pennines earlier than it will in Yorkshire if the extension goes beyond Birmingham before it goes to Manchester and then Leeds. I urge my right hon. Friend to engage more with the west Yorkshire councils to ensure that they have a strong, positive and simple message about the advantages of HS2, as their colleagues on the west side of the Pennines did, and which I am sure has influenced Sir David Higgins in his recommendation to extend on that side first, rather than ours.
I hear what my hon. Friend says. There has, rightly, been involvement: Julie Dore, the leader of Sheffield city council, was a member of the taskforce. The taskforce has stated that cities need to prepare, so that we can consider the long-term consequences of overall transport investment. They need to prepare for the benefits that HS2 will bring to their areas.
I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State used the two words “north Wales” in his statement. He will have my support for the speedy development at Crewe to link to north Wales. Does he accept that this is about not just speed, but capacity? What steps will he take to increase capacity to north Wales, and, by extension, to Ireland?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Too many people talk about high-speed trains as though they are just about speed. They are not just about speed. When Lord Adonis launched the initial plans he talked a lot, as I have done since I have been Secretary of State for Transport, about the need for additional capacity. One of the biggest reasons for the new railway line is capacity on links between north and south, and the extra capacity we need at Euston. He is absolutely right: we need to ensure that that capacity serves north Wales well.
Surprisingly, my hon. Friend is the first Member today to mention locating the skills academy in his region. That is probably because other Members have been asking questions on the details and might have felt that they would be testing your patience, Mr Speaker, if they also made a bid for the academy. The skills academy is essential to getting the message across to young people that engineering and the railways offer good opportunities for them in the long term.
My constituency of Darlington is the indisputable birthplace of the railways—I think there are no Members for Stockton present—and my constituents currently enjoy a very good service to London. They are delighted that people in Leeds will soon be able to enjoy a good service too, but are concerned that that must not be at the expense of investment in the east coast main line. Will the Secretary of State commit to that not being the case?
Indeed I will. We are committed to providing brand new rolling stock for the east coast main line: one of the biggest orders placed for the railways has been signed off by the Government. I am delighted we have done that.
It is essential that all these suggestions are considered. HS2 will fundamentally change capacity on our railway lines. It will give us many more opportunities not just for passenger numbers, but for more freight. In the past 10 years, there has been a 60% increase in freight. The issue of capacity is what is holding back a further increase. The west coast main line is the busiest railway line in Europe. An increase in capacity will free up a lot of other services and opportunities.
I am pleased to be able to advise the House that 37 Back Benchers were able to contribute in 37 minutes of exclusively Back-Bench time. I suggest that the Secretary of State issue his manual on pithy replies to all members of the Cabinet, who would profit greatly from reading that text. The journey time was very satisfactory.