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February Adjournment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:17 pm on 13th February 2020.

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Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham 2:17 pm, 13th February 2020

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, it is always sensible to listen to one’s constituents, and I am delighted that he has raised that point this afternoon. Indeed, there is significant local opposition to this scheme. Aylesbury Vale District Council, on which my hon. Friend sits, and Buckinghamshire County Council have, on a cross-party basis, opposed the expressway scheme. They should be given full credit for refusing to sign the non-disclosure agreements, which were demanded by the Highways Agency to try to stop them from representing their residents effectively. There are also significant resident groups, both along the entire route of the expressway and, indeed, in Buckinghamshire. I am delighted to say that the No Expressway Group and the Buckinghamshire Expressway Action Group will be coming to Parliament on 26 February to ensure that their voices are heard on this matter. Throughout the general election campaign, and since my election to this House, I have received a significant number of representations from constituents on this matter, so it is very much on the minds of my constituents.

I mentioned earlier that my principal objection to the plan is the impact that it will have on people—the loss of their homes and their farms. I represent a largely agricultural economy. It is a rural constituency on which farming is so dependent, and we cannot keep concreting over those fields. Those businesses sustain our farmers and, indeed, grow and rear the food that we need and enjoy.

I do not want to dwell on this point, but the cumulative impact of building HS2, which was given the go-ahead this week, much to the disappointment of my constituents, and of building the expressway would bring abject misery to my constituents. Then there is the destruction of wildlife. The expressway will have a devastating impact on wildlife along the whole route. Mark Vallance of the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust has commented that part of the route would destroy

“one of the most undisturbed and wildlife-rich areas of Buckinghamshire.”

Indeed, let me quote the words on the website of the Wildlife Trust, which are so elegant. It says that what would be destroyed by the expressway are

“stunning wildlife meadows, ancient woodland, hedgerows alive with birds and butterflies, and gentle undulating ridge and furrow fields that have survived since the Middle Ages.”

On the point of homes, I mentioned earlier that I am no opponent of development, but I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South that we should be looking to develop new homes on brownfield sites, not on the green belt, not in the countryside and not on our farmers’ fields. Aylesbury Vale District Council has already been very ambitious in terms of its house building and its local plan. We are talking about some 28,000 new homes, which is a very high number compared with many other district councils covering similar ground. I do feel that Buckinghamshire, particularly the Aylesbury Vale district area, has taken its fair share of new home building, and we should be looking, yes, to the remaining brownfield sites, but also to other places to take their fair share of the new homes. Along the whole arc corridor—the Oxford to Cambridge Arc—some 3,130 hectares of brownfield site have been identified that would be good for house building, and we should look at that first.

When my hon. Friend Ben Everitt intervened, he mentioned that the economic case is also not right for the expressway. It is projected to cost somewhere between £4 billion and £8 billion. That is an estimate at the start of the scheme, and we know what happens once these schemes start. Indeed, the business case is also very weak, with the benefit-cost ratio at the start of the scheme showing a return between £1.10 and £1.30 per pound spent. I put it to this House that that simply is not good enough.

During the election campaign, I was delighted when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport visited Verney junction in my constituency to discuss this matter. He made a number of pledges and commitments that I want to put on record, as I would very much like to see the Government bring them forward as soon as possible. A priority review of the expressway was promised. He said that he did not think that the case for the expressway stacked up and that we should look at other schemes that could improve east-west travel both by road and by rail. He also talked about cycling through Buckinghamshire instead. In particular, we need to look at improvements to the A41 and the A421—two major A roads that pass through my constituency—to get them moving faster rather than building new roads and, where residents consent to it and where residents want it, we should build all-important bypasses. For example, the residents of the village of Wing in the east of my constituency are very keen to see money brought forward to relieve their village of heavy goods traffic and general traffic as people travel north-south, principally from Aylesbury to Leighton Buzzard and up to Milton Keynes.

I am delighted that the Government have signed off East West Rail. We must ensure that East West Rail happens on time and on budget, and before the final detail is signed off we must keep open the debate for the line to be electrified, rather than running with diesel trains.

In conclusion, the Oxford to Cambridge expressway is the wrong project for my constituency. I can genuinely say that it has virtually no public support in my constituency, or indeed those of other right hon. and hon. Members, so let us have the priority review, stop concreting over Buckinghamshire and look to other projects that can improve the lives of my constituents.