High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 6:03 pm on 28th April 2014.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham 6:03 pm, 28th April 2014

I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That”
to the end of the Question and add:

“this House, while accepting the need to increase overall railway capacity, declines to give a second reading to the Bill because there has been inadequate opportunity for Members and those affected by the Bill to consider and respond to the report of the Assessor appointed under Standing Order 224A, which was not published until shortly 5 before the Easter recess;
because assessments of the relative costs and benefits of works envisaged by the Bill have been repeatedly unconvincing and still fail to demonstrate a sound economic case for the proposed works, particularly in relation to other options;
because the Secretary of State has declined to publish the Major Projects Authority report on High Speed 2, with the result that Members have been denied access to highly 10 significant evidence on the viability of the project;
because the case for starting further high-speed rail construction in this country with a line from London to the West Midlands rather than in the north of England has not been convincingly made out;
because the Bill will cause widespread environmental disruption to many areas of the country including areas of outstanding natural beauty;
and because the Bill should be 15 preceded by proper consideration of and a strategy for integrating high-speed rail with other transport modes including the UK’s international airport hubs.”

This cross-party amendment commences by stating that we accept the need to increase overall railway capacity, and I make my remarks against that background. It is good to follow Mary Creagh, but I am afraid my speech will break the cosy consensus over this project between those on the two Front Benches, which will be no surprise to anybody in this Chamber.

It has been four years since Labour first announced HS2, and I want to thank the vast armies of people from all the conservation groups, including the Chiltern Countryside group and the Chilterns Conservation board, lobby groups such as HS2 Action Alliance, district and parish councils, individuals, and volunteer engineers and county councillors, who have contributed to trying to put this project under scrutiny. In Buckinghamshire I am most grateful for the support of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve and my right hon. Friend Mr Lidington, and to Mr Speaker himself. All our constituencies are affected by this project.

I believe that more than 50 Members have applied to speak about this project, and in the short time available I hope to register the risks associated with it and the pain and anguish that it continues to bring to so many people, and to ask the House whether this is really the top priority and the best way to spend £50 billion of taxpayers’ money. I started as a nimby, but over time I have come to look at this project and I do not believe it is the answer to the UK’s transport issues.

Let us consider some of those issues. Originally, the costs totalled about £20 billion, yet they have now doubled to £42.6 billion and we should not forget that that does not include the trains, which are budgeted at £7.5 billion. An apparent leak from the Treasury to the Financial Times estimated that the costs as they stand could run to £73 billion or more. In fact, such high risks are attached to the project, that the contingency is £14 billion. We are now on the fifth business case for phase 1 and the benefit-cost ratio is now 1.4, so for every £1 of taxpayers’ money spent, only £1.40 comes back. If we strip away the flawed assumptions and replace them with a more realistic value of time, the true benefit-cost ratio falls way below £1, and there would actually be a loss to the taxpayer.