The last three years of political turbulence should have taught the Government that politics has to change. The diktats from Westminster must be replaced by co-production with communities, listening to what they are saying. It is unbelievable that, yet again, the Secretary of State has failed to make it to the Dispatch Box.
Week by week, we hear of the spiralling costs of HS2, and in a week when Labour is declaring a national climate emergency, it is clear that the full carbon and environmental cost of HS2 will be deeply damaging across Buckinghamshire, not least to the irreplaceable Chilterns, if the connectivity, route and infrastructure are not refocused. It is not the concept of the project that is wrong, as urgent capacity is needed to secure a significant modal shift from cars and HGVs to passenger and freight lines, but the governance of HS2 must be overhauled and fully integrated into the network enhancements programme. Labour aspires to high speed rail, which has to have a focus on interconnectivity to facilitate investment and economic growth in the northern cities and to compete with the internal flight market, thus becoming a sustainable alternative. However, Dame Cheryl Gillan is right to scrutinise the Secretary of State’s handling of the project.
Why is the Minister proceeding before a full business case, the skills capability and the real cost have received further scrutiny in the light of evidence that these measures have changed? What discussions has she had with the National Audit Office and the Transport Committee over the widely held concerns expressed over HS2 costs and environmental impact? Does the Minister believe, as has been argued by the Tory leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, that ultra-fast broadband replaces ultra-fast rail? That certainly shows a lack of understanding in the Minister’s party of the transport and economic needs of the north. Finally, will the Minister revisit the route plans to ensure that connectivity opportunities are maximised by this project?