May I associate myself with your remarks, Mr Speaker, to both members of staff who are retiring and wish them well in their retirement? I am sure they would be welcome to come back and observe us in a different role, if they so wished.
In November last year I confirmed plans for accelerating the construction of phase 2 from the west midlands to Crewe so that it opens in 2027, six years earlier than planned. We are developing our plans for the rest of phase 2 and I intend to make decisions on the rest of the route by the autumn at the latest.
The Secretary of State will be aware that HS2 Ltd is currently evaluating a proposal to extend the line north of Manchester to Wigan. The cost of that is around £1 billion but as yet no incremental business or economic case has been produced. Will my right hon. Friend undertake that, before a decision is taken to extend the line north of Manchester, a business case will be laid before this House so that it can be reviewed?
When we come forward with proposals, they will receive the same scrutiny as those for the earlier part of the line. I believe that high-speed rail is essential for the long-term economic future of the United Kingdom. It gives us the increased capacity that we so desperately need on our railways, and that is a whole other scheme.
The hon. Lady, as Chairman of the Select Committee, is absolutely right that that is part of what needs to be done. It is part of what is being addressed by David Higgins as chairman of HS2 in his designs for the routes. Also, we wait to see what the National Infrastructure Commission led by Lord Adonis comes out with on the east-west link on HS3.
Will the Secretary of State give close consideration to how Middlewich railway station can be reopened to passengers? That would facilitate much increased use of the rail line right into Manchester from Crewe and relieve considerable congestion on the M6, which has the support not only of local residents, but of a number of surrounding Members of Parliament.
I am not sure that comes into the HS2 line route development, but I am more than happy to discuss these matters with my hon. Friend, as is the rail Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Claire Perry. One of the reasons for developing a high-speed rail link is that we need to find a lot more capacity on the existing rail network, and one of the ways we do that is by providing the extra capacity that HS2 will give.
The simple fact is that from day one I see HS2 serving areas wider than just those in which it is built. When we start the service from Birmingham, it will be possible to link with conventional rail routes, rather as high-speed trains currently run from St Pancras to Ashford and then beyond. I hope that the northern parts of the United Kingdom will be served by HS2 straightaway.
When the plans were put forward in November, they included none of the proposals for mitigation in my constituency that I and my constituents had put forward. Will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that those proposals will continue to be looked at throughout the passage of the Bill?
Indeed. When we bring forward the Bill, my hon. Friend and his constituents will have every opportunity to make their case, including throughout its consideration in Committee.
This is one of the largest and most expensive Government projects on the table. Just before Christmas the Public Accounts Committee heard from the Secretary of State’s permanent secretary about the evaluation of High Speed 1, which was two years late and was therefore not included in the evaluation for the early stages of High Speed 2. How can he convince us that he really has a grip on the costs of this project and that the House will have proper, full scrutiny of that challenge?
The hon. Lady represents a London constituency and will therefore get the benefit of Crossrail, which is a very expensive scheme—the expense is not dissimilar to that of the first part of phase 2 of HS2. We are evaluating the project very carefully indeed, and we look very closely at anything the Public Accounts Committee tells us—of course, it always tells us in hindsight; never in advance.
No, I very much want to see Newcastle served. Those decisions are yet to be taken in full, but there is no reason why Newcastle should not be served on the east side of the HS2 spur.
We welcome the decision to accelerate HS2’s construction to Crewe. However, the whole of phase 2 is crucial for the midlands and the north. We were told that Ministers would confirm the route by the end of 2014, but that target has now slipped by at least two years, prolonging blight for residents, creating uncertainty and scaring off investment. Does the Secretary of State agree that there must be no doubt about the Government’s commitment to phase 2? Does he further agree that were a Chancellor with a Cheshire constituency to terminate the route south of Manchester, that would be an abject betrayal of the northern powerhouse?
I agree with the first part of the hon. Lady’s question, but I have had no stronger support in promoting this scheme from any member of the Government than I have had from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, even though it affects his constituency. He has been very clear about the benefits it will bring not only to the north, but to the whole of the United Kingdom. To intimate that he is somehow against the scheme is wholly wrong. I said that I hoped to have the full scheme announced by the end of this year, but I left a bit of leeway in order to make announcements sooner if I possibly can, to alleviate the blight of certain areas affected, which might not be affected under the proposals now being worked on.