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Transport

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:58 pm on 5th February 2020.

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Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole 5:58 pm, 5th February 2020

I think the Government are doing a good job, as they have both reduced emissions and kept the economy rolling. The key policy has to be to create jobs and wealth while having a cleaner environment, so we need to be patted on the back, rather than criticised. We can still make progress, but things are going pretty well as they are.

If we want to make quick progress, we have to invest in roads and pinch points to stop congestion. That is the best way to get a quick economic hit. If we want to make a big difference through public transport, it has to be buses.

HS2 has been part of this debate, and I had some small role in it by chairing the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill Select Committee. My right hon. and learned Friend Jeremy Wright made a good and well-balanced speech. He and many other Members have had a high-speed rail line landed on their constituencies, which creates a number of great difficulties, particularly because of the long timeframe of any such developments. The public think that schemes are produced by people in Whitehall, who know all the answers, the scheme is then in a filing cabinet and they just will not tell them things because they do not want to tell them. The reality is that these things often are designed, with the detail done, well down the line, by which time people have lost faith in the organisation.

In the 20 months that I was chairing the Committee, I came to the view that, on balance, HS2 is a correct thing to do. We have capacity constraints on the west coast main line and if we put a fast line in, which takes all the commuter traffic, it opens up all sorts of opportunities for freight and for various communities. If we do that, we have to see HS2 in terms not of one line, but of the enhancement of the whole rail network. That does not mean we should not be responsive to people affected or that we should not give them fair compensation. A lot more has to be done by HS2 Ltd to interact with members of the public and Members of Parliament affected, but the scheme is a good one, which I still support. It will make a big difference over 20 to 30 years. The good thing about it is that it is a strategic decision, and it will lead to considerable work and a considerable increase in capacity.

Most of the money spent on the scheme will be on the stations and on redevelopment. The key point is that we are spending about £2 billion on Euston—whether that is a good or bad amount of money, the fact is that it will have a big effect in Camden; we are spending money on Old Oak Common, where there is to be a station; we will be spending money on Solihull international, where there will be housing, offices and development; and we will be spending money rebuilding Birmingham Curzon Street, which creates all sorts of opportunities—there will be offices, houses and all sorts of things in the centre of Birmingham and points north. So we should not look at the line purely in terms of the line; we should look at it in terms of the opportunities as we build new stations all the way up it. That is why Stoke-on-Trent petitioned our Committee for the line to go through Stoke-on-Trent. People there see an opportunity for their community. At the moment, the line is going through Crewe, which also sees an opportunity. Although people in the south worry about the line and the impact on communities, many in the midlands and the north see it as a great opportunity for them. So I suspect that, as the project gets under way, as I hope it will, there will be many arguments between colleagues about why the railway should be going through their communities, not around them, because of the impact it will have in areas of the north.

If we are going to be a country that represents the whole nation, if we are going to join up north and south, if we are going to have redevelopment, we have to build HS2. It is expensive. The payback time on most of these major projects is probably 100 years, rather than 20 or 30 years. Most of the Victorians who developed the railways went bust, but they have left us with a wonderful legacy. I think we should support this project.