High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 7:39 pm on 28th April 2014.

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Photo of John Randall John Randall Conservative, Uxbridge and South Ruislip 7:39 pm, 28th April 2014

I am not against high-speed rail. In fact, I have been a strong advocate, in particular with regard to taking domestic air travel away from Heathrow airport, so I was in favour of it. There is no doubt that our railways have been going through a renaissance, but they suffer from a chronic capacity problem. If we had been told at the outset that we needed to add lines, rather like how we must sometimes widen motorways to accommodate more traffic, the argument would have been easier to understand. Instead, rather mistakenly from a marketing point of view, we were told that it was all about speed. Although speed is important, it is not the be all and end all.

I was disappointed when the Government decided to adopt the route proposed by the previous Labour Government, because it could have been designed specifically to cause maximum opposition and the greatest environmental damage. My constituents in Uxbridge and South Ruislip and I are grateful, however, that the route will now be tunnelled throughout my constituency. Of course, that is not the end of the matter because, as

Glenda Jackson said, we will suffer, like she will in her area, huge disruption during the construction period due to air vents and many other such things that will be a great concern.

I want to mention one of the little anomalies that I am sure there will be masses of in my constituency and throughout the route. My constituents Mr and Mrs Jones of Almond Close, Ruislip, live in a semi-detached house. The one semi-detached is safeguarded, but theirs is not. One side of the house will be safeguarded from the vibrations of construction and tunnelling and will be sorted out, but their side will not. That is something that the Committee will have to consider.

Elsewhere in the London borough of Hillingdon, we have even bigger problems. My hon. Friend Mr Hurd has been working with me to try to get the tunnel extended by a few hundred yards, which is perfectly feasible. The only problem is that the Government do not want to do that because of the Heathrow spur. I think we can pretty well agree that the Heathrow spur is dead and should be scrapped now. We could then get the tunnel extended, and those few precious yards would sort out a few more constituents.

The other major problem for us in Hillingdon is the fate of the Hillingdon outdoor activities centre, which I have mentioned before in the House. It is a much-valued and much-used facility that is enjoyed by many people, but it would be lost under current plans as HS2 will go straight through it. Something must be done very soon, because the lease will soon be up. I am grateful that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Mr Goodwill, has accepted the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner to visit the site. I am sure that we will be able to persuade him that it must be saved and we have some ideas about what can be done.

If I had more time, I would like to talk about the environmental damage that will be done all along the line. It may seem small, but I want briefly to mention something that I was reminded of at the weekend. A small relict population of corn buntings will be destroyed, which I mention because the population has decreased by 90% from 1970 levels and by 34% since 1995 and will now almost certainly be wiped out. We must look after that population. We know that ancient woodlands will be badly affected and we cannot just create ancient woodlands, so we must be careful.

When I first entered the House, I was told that we should put our country first, our constituency second and our party third, and I agree with that. I am not putting my constituency first; I am putting my country first. The plan is currently unsuitable for our country, because it will ruin too much of it. I think we are getting along the right lines with it, but we must do something. I have voted against my party only once before and that was over Iraq. It is as important to me that we get this right. I will vote against tonight with a heavy, but resolute, heart.