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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:56 pm on 24th March 2014.

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Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras 7:56 pm, 24th March 2014

I wish to speak about a huge sum that was not mentioned in the Budget statement, but will loom large over Chancellors of the Exchequer in years to come: the £50 billion that is committed to the building of High Speed 2. To put that amount in perspective, it is about what we spend on our entire school system each year.

Both the Higgins and Deighton reports on HS2, which were recently produced for the Government, demonstrate that, whatever was wrong with the Government’s original plans, they were amateurish and ill thought out. Most importantly of all, they show that massive additional investment will be needed in the areas that HS2 is supposed to serve if its promised benefits are to come about. The Government have agreed to a huge saving by abandoning the preposterous proposal of a High Speed 2-High Speed 1 link. That link, which would have run through my constituency, was opposed by local people and businesses, as well as Transport for London, the rail freight industry and the Institution of Civil Engineers, but it is still included in the hybrid Bill and was supported by the House when it voted through the paving Bill. Fortunately, now that the Higgins report has said, “Dump it,” the Secretary of State has, to his credit, agreed to dump the link, but I wonder whether any of the people and businesses that spent a lot of time, effort and money opposing the idea will get any compensation.

The other proposition that affects my area involves the redevelopment of Euston station and its use as the terminus for HS2. Long before HS2 was dreamed up, there was an outline proposal to redevelop Euston station, which is awful, on its existing footprint. That proposal would have involved building more than 1,000 new homes. HS2 originally said, “We could incorporate that in our scheme and it would be 1,500 new homes,” but then the masterminds behind the proposition concluded that as the cost of the scheme had increased from £1.2 billion to £2 billion, it was unaffordable and they would drop all the planning gain and extra housing and industrial premises, and replace that with a lean-to shed approach. However, while speaking in Hong Kong, the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggested that there should be a reversion to something like the original scheme, which is what the Government now propose. The proposal is still awful, but it is better than what is included in the hybrid Bill.

Other investment will be needed beyond the budget for HS2 if its benefits are to flow. According to HS2 itself, Euston will not be able to cope with the extra passengers and it will therefore be necessary to build—God help us—Crossrail 2, at a cost of anything between £16 billion and £20 billion, but that is not included in anyone’s budget at the moment. So much for the idea that HS2 will transfer transport spending from London to the north, because although that has already been identified as necessary expenditure, similar expenditure will be necessary in Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and in the east midlands if the benefits from HS2 are to flow. There is no money in the Chancellor’s Budget for that investment, nor is there money in anybody else’s budget.

My constituents’ great fear now is that, after the announcement that there will be a huge redevelopment at Euston, all sorts of property-speculating vultures will descend and want to build a huge office city there and not provide the housing that people desperately need. When we consider that the biggest problem in London for Londoners is the fact that average Londoners are being priced out of the city—and average Camden dwellers are being priced out of Camden—we want to make sure that if the redevelopment of Euston goes ahead, it includes housing that ordinary people can afford and does not include a lot of speculative blocks of penthouses to be bought, but not occupied, by Russian oligarchs. They are the people who are driving up the cost of housing in this country and, as a final offer to the Government, I suggest that if they want a sanction, they should stop the oligarchs buying residential property and take back what the oligarchs have bought up to now if they are not occupying it.