High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 7:18 pm on 28th April 2014.

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Photo of Dan Byles Dan Byles Conservative, North Warwickshire 7:18 pm, 28th April 2014

Although I do not agree with those who believe that HS2 will provide the benefits claimed, I accept that they are sincere in their belief that it will. I ask them to accept that those of us who do not support HS2 are not mindless nimbys. We sincerely believe that this project is wrong, because it will not provide the benefits that are claimed. The financial cost and the impact on ordinary people’s lives up and down the country outweigh the limited and unbalanced benefits that HS2 might bring.

My constituency of North Warwickshire is particularly badly affected. We have the delta junction into Birmingham and the Y junction and we are affected by both phase 1 and phase 2. The property market is completely frozen along the route, trapping many people in houses that they wish to sell for all sorts of legitimate reasons that do not qualify as “exceptional hardship”. The village of Gilson will be obliterated and communities in Coleshill, Water Orton, Curdworth and Middleton will be badly affected. We will have a colossal 31 track railhead close to Lea Marston and Kingsbury but, because it is deemed a temporary structure, nearby residents will not qualify for compensation. That temporary structure will be there for more than 15 years and, because of a sleight of hand that moved it at the last minute from phase 2 to phase 1, it has never properly been consulted on. The line will demolish houses, destroy sports clubs and cut through two country parks and a local primary school.

For four years now, I have been working closely with the five action groups I helped to establish across my constituency and I have chaired all the phase 1 community forum meetings in North Warwickshire. I have also worked closely with some of my fellow Warwickshire MPs, and I know that my hon. Friend Jeremy Wright has been making strong representations about HS2 within the Government.

In my constituency, we have sought to play a constructive role in the debate from the start. We have not simply stood in the corner shouting no. Yes, we have campaigned against HS2 in principle, but alongside that our action groups have engaged constructively with HS2 Ltd at every stage from the very beginning, attending community forums and bilateral meetings with HS2 staff and engineers and working hard to produce local mitigation proposals to minimise the impact on our communities.

More than three years ago, I brought representatives from two of our action groups to London to meet the HS2 chief engineer, Professor McNaughton, and to lay out some early ideas for mitigation and route changes in North Warwickshire. Despite that, we strongly feel that HS2 Ltd has let us down. We believed back then that we were embarking on the start of a dialogue with HS2 Ltd that would involve a two-way discussion over a number of years. For more than three years, we have been trying to get HS2 Ltd to engage in a constructive dialogue, but we have consistently been pushed back because, by its own admission, of inadequate resources in our area. Eventually, after all the time had gone, the excuse became that we were now too close to the hybrid Bill procedure for detailed discussion to take place and we were told simply to petition with our suggestions.

Many in our area see the three years of dither and delay as a conspiracy deliberately to waste time. I am inclined to believe that HS2 Ltd simply did not have the resources to consider our area properly. It is the most complex area outside London, and mine is the worst affected constituency outside London, so resources should have been put in place from the start. Regardless of why it happened, however, the results are the same. We lost three years that could have been used for meaningful dialogue but were not.

My constituents now feel that they have had no true voice in this process and we must now pin our hopes on the good sense of the hybrid Bill Committee instead of the hoped-for meaningful discussions with HS2 Ltd. That is why I shall support the reasoned amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend Mrs Gillan, to which I have put my name, and why I shall vote against Second Reading this evening.

I fully expect the Bill to receive its Second Reading, however, so I urge the Secretary of State to do all he can throughout the planning of the project to put the ordinary people and communities whose lives have already been turned upside down first and foremost, because if we cannot afford to put in place proper mitigation and proper compensation for the people affected, we cannot afford the project.