Transport Infrastructure

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 11 February 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Leader of the Conservative Party, The Prime Minister 12:31, 11 February 2020

Thank you. We will be installing new signalling at Harrogate, one of North Yorkshire’s busiest stations. Further south, I can today announce that we will be upgrading the Bristol east junction, a major pinch point in the rail network of the south-west that limits access to the Brunel-designed Victorian splendour of Bristol Temple Meads station.

This transport revolution is local, because it must be local. We can unite and level up across the country with fantastic local improvements: better rail; less congested roads; and beautiful, British-built buses that are cleaner, greener, quieter, safer and more frequent. Above all, we can improve the quality of life for people and improve their productivity. We can make places more attractive to live in and to invest in. But we cannot make these improvements in isolation from one another, because we will be doing only half the job; we will not fix the great musculoskeletal problem of UK transport. Yes, we must fix the joint between the knee bone and the thigh bone and the shin bone and the ankle bone. Yes, we must fix the arthritis in the fingers and the toes, but we also have to fix the spine, and our generation faces a historic choice. We can try to get by with the existing routes from north to south. We can consign the next generation to overcrowding and standing up in the carriageways, or we can have the guts to take a decision—unlike the party opposite—no matter how difficult and controversial, that will deliver prosperity to every part of the country. This will take 50 minutes off the journey time to Glasgow.

When it comes to advocating HS2, it must be said that the task is not made easier by HS2 Ltd, the company concerned. Speaking as a Member of Parliament whose constituency is on the route, I cannot say that HS2 Ltd has distinguished itself in the handling of local communities. As everybody knows, the cost forecasts have exploded, but poor management to date has not detracted from the fundamental value of the project. The review recently conducted by Douglas Oakervee, copies of which will be placed in the Library of the House, leaves no doubt of the clinching case for high-speed rail: a vast increase in capacity, with hundreds of thousands of extra seats, making it much easier for travellers to move up and down our long, narrow country. That means faster journey times. It means not just more capacity, but faster journey times—extraordinarily fast journey times. Passengers arriving at Birmingham Airport will be able to get to central London by train in 38 minutes, which compares favourably with the time it takes to get from Heathrow by taxi, a point I just draw to the attention of the House.

But this is not just about getting from London to Birmingham and back. [Interruption.] It is also considerably faster than the Piccadilly line. This is about finally making a rapid connection from the west midlands to the northern powerhouse—to Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds—and simultaneously permitting us to go forward with northern powerhouse rail across the Pennines, finally giving the home of the railways the fast connections they need. None of that makes any sense without HS2. The Infrastructure and Projects Authority considers that the first phase can be delivered for its current projected cost of £35 billion to £45 billion in today’s prices. The designs have been improved immeasurably thanks to the tireless contributions of campaigners, including my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan, who I do not think is in her place.

If we start now, services could be running by the end of the decade, so today the Cabinet has given high-speed rail the green signal. We are going to get this done, and to ensure that we do so without further blow-outs on either cost or schedule, we are today taking decisive action to restore discipline to the programme. I will be appointing a Minister whose full-time job will be to oversee the project, a new ministerial oversight group will be tasked with taking strategic decisions about it, and there will be changes to the way HS2 Ltd is managed. In line with Mr Oakervee’s recommendations, we will interrogate the current costs to identify where savings could be made in phase 1 without the costs and delays that would be associated with a detailed redesign, and so that the company can focus solely on getting phases 1 and 2a built on something approaching time and budget, I will create new delivery arrangements for both the grossly behind-schedule Euston terminus and phase 2b of the wider project.

Before those designs are finalised and legislation is introduced, we will also present an integrated plan for rail in the north. Informed by an assessment from the National Infrastructure Commission it will, in line with the findings of the Oakervee review, look at how we can best design and integrate rail investments throughout the north, including Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester. I have just spoken to the Mayor of Greater Manchester, who has warmly welcomed the project, which I committed to supporting, I seem to remember, during my first days in office.

I want the plan to identify the most effective design and sequencing of all relevant investments in the north. For example, with many in the north crying out for better east-west links instead of improved north-south ones, which we have heard about many times in the House, some have suggested delaying or even cancelling HS2 in order to get Northern Powerhouse Rail done more quickly. I say to the House that it is not an either/or proposition: both are needed and both will be built as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible. To make sure that that happens we will, working closely with northern leaders, explore options for creating a new delivery vehicle for Northern Powerhouse Rail, and we will start treating HS2 north of Birmingham, Northern Powerhouse Rail and other local rail improvements as part of one integrated masterplan: high-speed north.

Something has to change. Those who deny that—those who say that we should simply build phase 2b and Northern Powerhouse Rail according to the plans currently on the table—are effectively condemning the north to get nothing for 20 years. That would be intolerable, so as we draw up this plan, we are not asking whether it is phase 2b or not 2b. That is not the question; the question is how we can bring a transport revolution to the north sooner.

Altogether, this revolution in local and national transport has the potential to be truly transformative for the entire country. Yes, it is ambitious, but ambition is what we have lacked for far too long. Two centuries ago our ancestors could have been content with breeding faster horses; instead, they invented the railways—they created the transport network on which the United Kingdom rose to economic pre-eminence. They looked to the future of transport and they made it happen. Today, it is our duty to do the same. Let us bring about a future where high-speed trains glide between our great cities, where electric buses convey us cleanly around our towns, where self-driving cars roam along roads that are free of the congestion that causes so much pollution, and where a new generation of cyclists pedal safely and happily to school and work in tree-dappled sunlight on their own network of fully segregated cycle paths—[Interruption.] As we did in London.

This Government will deliver a new anatomy of British transport—a revolution in the nation’s public transport provision. It will be a sign to the world that, in the 21st century, this United Kingdom still has the vision to dream big dreams and the courage to bring those dreams about. I commend this statement to the House.