My right hon. Friend has posed a number of questions, which I will do my best to get through. She has expressed her disappointment that I am not the Secretary of State, but I am indeed the Minister responsible for this project. Not only is the project this Government’s policy, but it was in the Conservative party’s manifesto as well as in the Labour party’s manifesto. It is absolutely right that the Minister responsible for the project continues to undertake to ensure that it stays on track.
This is a good opportunity to remind the House why HS2 is so important. It is indeed a national project, and it is the largest infrastructure project in Europe. It will connect eight of our 10 biggest cities, connecting half of our country’s population, so every Member of Parliament in this place will have constituents who are positively impacted by HS2. It will create thousands of jobs directly and over 100,000 jobs indirectly, and the net positive for our economy will be well beyond £94 billion over its lifetime.
We always talk about investment in our rail network and why we need to have extra capacity when it comes to HS2, but demand on the west coast line has increased by 190% since 1995 and we are close to being unable to add any more seats or trains. People often stand the whole way on long-distance journeys, and while delays are less frequent than in the past, we need a solution, and HS2 provides that solution. It is supported by a number of leaders up and down the country, but particularly in the midlands and the north, who often comment not only to the media but to me that they are quite fed up about people in the south commenting on what is needed in the north.
My right hon. Friend wanted to know about the notice to proceed. The notice to proceed is the point when HS2 Ltd instructs its main works civil contractors to begin construction of the phase 1 railway, as set out in the HS2 development agreement, which was in the Bill that went through in 2017.
My right hon. Friend talked about the impacts on Buckinghamshire, and she has been a very passionate campaigner for her constituency. I understand that her constituents will be feeling some of the impacts of HS2’s construction, but the enabling works are absolutely crucial, especially when it comes to the environment. The early works are necessary to enable the construction of HS2 to proceed in accordance with the programme once notice to proceed is given. The existing programme of enabling works includes habitat creation, tree planting, ground investigation, the construction of work compounds, road improvements and utility diversions. This existing programme of enabling works has not changed, and it is the backbone of ensuring that further environmental mitigation can take place, which is why enabling works are so crucial. My right hon. Friend will know, because we have often talked about this, that HS2 is seeking to achieve no net loss in biodiversity across the route of the new railway.
My right hon. Friend talked about the particular impacts in her constituency, and she has been such a staunch campaigner on behalf of Buckinghamshire, which we know will be impacted by the line. A large section of the subsurface route, in the form of the 24 km Chilterns tunnel, has already been put through the hybrid Select Committee process. Furthermore, £3 million has been provided for the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty, and there are the £5 million woodland fund, the £30 million road safety fund and the £40 million community and environment and business and local economy funds. Buckinghamshire has already received over 30% of all the awards it could be afforded.
HS2 is a large infrastructure project—there is no denying that—but it is absolutely vital if we are to focus on smashing the north-south divide and provide opportunities for people who live beyond London and the south-east. It is and will be the most important economic regeneration project for a generation, and it is absolutely right that parliamentarians commit to long-term infrastructure projects that reflect the needs of our country.