We are currently undertaking a very significant level of activity to prepare for construction of phase 1. Preparations include growing HS2 Ltd’s capability by bringing in senior teams with extensive experience of major rail and infrastructure programmes; commencing ground investigation works; progressing the procurement of contractors to undertake £750 million-worth of enabling works; and preparing to commence procurement of contractors for the main civil works this autumn.
May I welcome my hon. Friend and congratulate her on the fantastic result she secured in the general election?
No decision on the phase 2 route and station locations has yet been made. The Government intend to announce a way forward on phase 2 later this year. I certainly appreciate the uncertainty for those people around the route that is being talked about, but it is absolutely essential that we get the best possible connectivity to serve the whole of the east midlands. I think that we are all concerned to do that, but I certainly understand the concerns raised by my hon. Friend.
Let us take one step at a time. As I have said, we have not yet confirmed the route. Once it has been confirmed, that preparation work will be undertaken. A separate Bill is being considered to deal with another stage to phase 2—phase 2A—which would go from Handsacre to Crewe.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that progress on the preparations for the construction of HS2 have been delayed because of the antiquated Victorian processes to get permissions to build a major project of this nature? What are the Government’s proposals to modernise and improve the procedures?
I think that I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his helpful question. It is right that we address people’s concerns, and I think that we are making the progress that was set out when HS2 was first promoted by the previous Government. The Bill before the House is making good progress.
First, I welcome the Secretary of State back to his departmental position. I am sure we will find many areas of common interest and purpose within this portfolio to assist people in Scotland and across the UK.
I note that Mr Brown said in another Parliament that he had not met me, but I have spoken to him on the phone on a number of occasions and am more than happy to arrange a meeting with him. It is very important that Scotland gets the benefit of HS2 from day one, and it will. Trains will continue to run on conventional lines once they come off the high-speed lines.
The Select Committee on HS2 will shortly visit the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty, to see the stunning national jewel we are all trying to protect by getting extra tunnelling for the railway. May I invite the Secretary of State to visit the Chilterns with me—I know that he has visited on many previous occasions—to look at the AONB and to see why the tunnelling is essential to keep our manifesto pledges to
“build new infrastructure in an environmentally-sensitive way” and to “maintain national protections” for AONBs?
As my right hon. Friend says, I have visited the Chilterns on many occasions, but visiting with her might be unresistable. [Hon. Members: “Irresistible!”] I might stick by the first word. I will go and investigate, Mr Speaker and report back to the House. If it can be arranged and fitted in with my diary, I will be more than happy to visit.
I welcome the Government’s renewed commitment to HS2 and look forward to the announcement later this year of the precise route for phase 2. Will the Secretary of State indicate whether any serious consideration is being given to advancing the date for construction of the Sheffield to Leeds section of phase 2? If it is, and if that goes ahead, what will that mean for the parliamentary timetable?
There is great demand from Leeds, Sheffield and other areas in the north for an accelerated programme, which I understand. It is right that we go through all the proper procedures. I am very pleased that all the attempts to judicially review the Department have been unsuccessful save for one, which was on a very specific item. It is right that we act properly within the rules and the law to enable those developments to take place, but David Higgins is certainly looking at that, and I very much support him in that objective.
My right hon. Friend will know that the upgrade works to Birmingham New Street station are running more than a year overdue. What assurance can he give me that construction work on HS2 will not suffer a similar fate, causing disruption not only to my constituents in Lichfield, but to those of Mr Speaker in Buckingham.
How to curry favour, Mr Speaker!
My hon. Friend is right that there has been some overrun at Birmingham New Street station. There are occasions when big infrastructure projects overrun and do not come in on budget, but I point out to him the many projects that get done on time and well within budget. Crossrail is a fantastic tribute to engineering in this country, and it is on time and on budget. We are getting better at delivering such very big projects.