High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 6:47 pm on 28th April 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Liberal Democrat, Solihull 6:47 pm, 28th April 2014

It is a refreshing change to speak in a debate on a Bill that has overall cross-party support. My party was, I think, the first to commit to high-speed rail, before the heady days of Government ever came along. [Hon. Members: “Where are your party colleagues?”] I am their representative.

Several colleagues have already mentioned the economic benefits to the United Kingdom of high-speed rail. Nationally, it will create £50 billion-worth of economic benefits to the UK and 400,000 jobs, of which 70% will be created outside London, but I will focus my remarks on the benefits that I envisage for my own region, the west midlands.

My region will be the first to benefit from high-speed rail, and local councils tell me that it is a once in a century opportunity. By 2026, HS2 will reduce the journey time between London and Birmingham to 31 minutes. It will put 45 million people within two hours of Birmingham airport. With the new runway extension, this will create a synergy that will enhance and ensure investment, tourism and jobs.

The west coast main line is the biggest mixed-use railway in Europe. It has 12 operators and carries a quarter of the UK’s freight. Passenger journeys have increased by 50% in the last decade and now stand at 1.46 billion per year. From Birmingham to London at peak times, there are 162 passengers for every 100 seats. Declaration of interests notwithstanding, that is no fun. S2 will help to ease that pressure, and by doing so it will help the environment.

Research by Greengauge 21 suggests that freeing up capacity on the west coast main line will improve the service that it can offer. This will encourage more people to shift from road to rail travel, which emits half as much carbon per passenger kilometre. HS2 is often described as carbon neutral, but this research suggests that that understates its benefits to the environment. The environmental statement consultation is now closed, and there will no doubt be more to say about that when the Government publish their response, but I would ask the Secretary of State to pay particular heed to the concerns of the National Trust in relation to Hartwell house, Coombe Hill, Claydon house and the Waddesdon estate.

The west midlands were hit particularly hard by the recession in 2009. Despite significant drops in unemployment, which are thanks to the tough economic decisions taken by the coalition Government, joblessness there is still above the national average. Birmingham council estimates that HS2 could bring 50,000 extra jobs to the region, raising economic output by £4 billion every year, but we are investing in the existing rail network, too. This Government are putting more money into our infrastructure than any Government since Victorian times, and electrifying 80 times more track than the last Labour Government did. I believe that infrastructure is absolutely key to the future economic prosperity of our country. In particular, it will help the building industry, ensuring more consistent growth instead of the boom and bust that we have seen in the race for short-term results by previous Governments.

Our rail network was mostly built in the mid-19th century, and we are already outgrowing our infrastructure while the rest of the world is overtaking us. Railway journey times in the UK are actually slower today than they were 15 years ago. Meanwhile, Japan has had the bullet train for 40 years. Turkey will soon have over 1,500 miles of high-speed rail track, compared with just 67 in the United Kingdom. HS2 is a long-term investment for our country’s future. If we do not invest in it now, the next generation will be forced to rely on a railway network that is 200 years old. We do not want to be another short-termist Government; we want to leave a legacy that will continue for generations and secure the prosperity of our country well into this century and beyond. For all these reasons, we believe that this project should and must go ahead.