Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I am committed to managing the cost of HS2 and ensuring maximum value for the taxpayer. Total expenditure on HS2 in the period from 2009-10 to 2015-16 was £1.4 billion, of which £450 million was spent on land and property. The rest has ensured that HS2 is on track for delivery, and includes money for developing the scheme design, consulting affected communities, bringing the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill to Parliament and developing HS2 Ltd. Figures for the current financial year will be available in the summer.
The cost of HS2 is not just to the taxpayer but to those it affects. The House of Lords Select Committee on the HS2 Bill has recommended amending it to ensure that HS2 Ltd does not have a blanket power to compulsorily purchase land for regeneration or development, and to provide that it must limit its land acquisitions to what is needed for the scheme, particularly in relation to clause 48. As you know only too well, Mr Speaker, farmers, landowners and communities have been blighted for years by the scheme, and the threat of further compulsory purchase orders is truly worrying. Can the Secretary of State reassure me that he will accept the Committee’s important and very welcome recommendation on clause 48 and alleviate the anxiety of those affected by this project?
First, on behalf of the Government, I thank all members of the House of Lords Select Committee for their work over the past few months. Indeed, I thank those who served on the equivalent Committee in this House, for whom this was a long and arduous task. We are carefully considering the Lords recommendations and we will publish our response shortly. If my right hon. Friend will forgive me, I will save my detailed response for that publication, but I am looking extremely carefully at the recommendation to which she referred.
I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that, with regard to the option to have a station in the centre of Sheffield, there is currently no money to get trains out of the station and north to Leeds, and there is no money to increase the station’s capacity at the southern end to get better connectivity to trans-Pennine trains. There is even no money to electrify the line between Sheffield station and the main HS2 route. Does this not increasingly look like a cut-price option? Will he agree to meet local MPs and councillors, and other interested parties, to discuss these matters?
May I start by wishing the hon. Gentleman a happy birthday? [Hon. Members: “For tomorrow.”] For tomorrow. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Andrew Jones, has indeed been involved in such discussions, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that the original proposal for a station at Meadowhall was opposed by the city council, which wanted the route to pass through the city centre. It is in response to pressure from within Sheffield that we have revisited those original plans, but I assure him that those discussions will continue.
This is one of the key aspects of the development of this project, so my hon. Friend makes an important point. What is happening in the area around Long Eaton, and the new development of a station and surrounding facilities at Toton, will make a huge difference to her area. As she knows, we have been discussing how best to make sure that we get the right solution for Long Eaton, but we will continue to work for her constituents to reflect in the final design what works best for them.
Given what will be the eye-wateringly huge final costs of HS2, surely it makes sense to maximise the use of this asset, so will the Secretary of State tell us whether the line will be used 24 hours a day, seven days a week? If not, will the otherwise wasted capacity be used for freight—and if not, why not?
Of course the whole point about HS2 is that it releases capacity on the existing west coast main line for freight. As a result, I see the potential for significant increases in freight across the west coast main line area. As for timetabling, that is a matter for those who decide what is the best commercial proposition for that route, but we expect, and are planning for, very intensive use of the route across a wide variety of destinations, including Stoke-on-Trent.
My right hon. Friend’s last answer worries me slightly. Lichfield suffers all the disadvantages of having the line go through it and no station, because it is too small. I was hoping that he would say that the freeing up of capacity would mean that the west coast main line could have more trains stopping at Lichfield Trent Valley, but is that now not going to be the case, because the line will be blocked up with freight?
No, I think there will be room for both. The benefit of HS2 is that it provides an opportunity for more commuter trains, more intermediate trains and more services to places that do not currently receive them. By taking the fast trains off the west coast main line—trains that go straight up to places such as Manchester and Liverpool—more opportunity is provided for better services in places such as Lichfield and the Trent valley, which the current mix of services makes it difficult to achieve.
Mr Speaker, you and the Minister will remember that when I said that the cost of HS2 would soar past £60 billion I was mocked, but it is now past £60 billion and rising. The chief executive has quit and the people in my constituency would like this folly to be stopped now, with the money—£60 billion and rising—put into saving the health service and into our local government, which is going bankrupt.
I hate to disappoint the hon. Gentleman but actually the plans for HS2 have been widely welcomed across the north of England. The project will make a significant difference to the economy of his region. The point I would make to him about cost is that one reason why we are spending more money than is spent on equivalent lines in some other countries is because we are spending money on amelioration measures that minimise the impact on the environment.
As well as updating the costs of the project, may I urge my right hon. Friend to update the economic benefits to communities such as mine in Milton Keynes, which, as he says, will benefit from a significant increase in commuter and inter-city traffic as a result of the release of capacity on the west coast line?
We will continue to provide information about the benefits of this project, but my hon. Friend is right to say that in places such as Milton Keynes—it is one of our most important growth areas, and it will need more commuter services north to south and east to west—the introduction of HS2 will make it possible to deliver a much better service for his constituents and others.
The Adam Smith Institute has warned that HS2 could end up costing up to £80 billion, which would equate to nine times more per mile than comparable high-speed tracks in France. How can the Government assure the public that the already sky-high costs of this project are not going to spiral even further out of control?
As I said, this is a choice; we want not only to deliver high-quality infrastructure for the future, but to do so in a way that is environmentally sensitive. That means spending money on tunnels, cuttings and things that other countries would perhaps choose not to do. I want to retain a careful stewardship of Britain’s green and pleasant land while delivering what we need for the future, and that is what we are doing.