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Part of High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 15th July 2019.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee 5:30 pm, 15th July 2019

I rise briefly to support new clause 4 and the call for a full peer review of this project. I will also call for the review to go wider, particularly to look at the geographical impact of the HS2 investment and the impact on cities and towns. I raise this because, like most Members of this House, I strongly support the need for substantial investment in our transport infrastructure. I think it needs to increase; we should be spending more capital investment on transport, particularly on our railways, especially given the climate change challenges we face.

The more we look, however, at the current Government’s transport infrastructure budget, the more doubts we should have about the continued focus on cities, rather than towns, and about the continued concentration of the capital budget on cities, rather than towns. HS2 and its plans raise those serious questions, which is why serious issues need to be reviewed about whether or not HS2 is the right priority now, given the need for investment in our towns. According to the National Infrastructure Commission, the Government propose to spend £4.5 billion a year on HS2 between now and 2025, but only £200 million a year on Northern Powerhouse Rail. We must bear in mind that Northern Powerhouse Rail is also predominantly focused on cities.

I want to set out the impact on my constituency, but the towns there could reflect many across the country. It is not clear that HS2 will have any benefit for Normanton, although Ministers say that it will mean faster trains to Leeds. Normanton used to be at the heart of the rail network. We used to have 700 jobs on the railways alone in Normanton and 700,000 passengers used to go through it. Normanton used to be a central railway town, but now there is only one train an hour to Leeds, even though it is less than half an hour away. Therefore, any benefits from speeding up journey times for anyone in my constituency just disappear, because the connections into Leeds are so rubbish. From Castleford, Pontefract and Knottingley, there are a few more trains, but they are often cancelled or late, or there are just too few carriages and so people cannot get on.

After the May timetable changes, things got worse. One constituent told me that on his regular trains the seating capacity was reduced by between 58 and 130 seats, making it impossible for many passengers to get on, so they were just stuck on the platform. Some trains currently run to London from Pontefract Monkhill, but it has no disabled access. So I have had constituents with wheelchairs who have been stranded on the platform as a result or who, in one case, have had to crawl over the bridge. Yet there is no sign of the investment in our station just to get basic disabled access. This is the capital investment we need in our towns.

We are told in other parts of our area that the regular trains cannot go any faster because the lines need upgrading, but there is no sign of it ever happening. Time and again we are told that HS2 will mean better connections for our country and for our towns, but we never see it—we never see any credible plan. My hon. Friend Rachael Maskell, who spoke from the Front Bench, has rightly talked about boosting the connectivity between Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. I strongly support that, because I believe that it will hugely benefit the north. Indeed, I think the House of Lords report was right when it said that investment in improving the rail links in the north of England would deliver greater economic benefit for every pound than HS2 would.

Having those connections between our northern cities would be substantial, but the economic benefits from better connecting our northern towns with neighbouring cities would be huge. That would boost our towns; give employers in our towns and our cities a far bigger catchment area, for staff and for customers; and build the size of local markets. Those town connections should be done first, before any of this, but we do not see it ever happening. We do not see it ever coming. As a result, we do not believe it is ever going to come. We get all these promises from these massive national infrastructure projects, which always concentrate on our cities, but we do not believe this is ever going to benefit our towns.