I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Today, the House is considering the next stage of HS2—the section from Crewe to Manchester, a route that will bring high-speed rail to the heart of the north for the first time. When this section is completed, HS2 will link the UK’s three largest conurbations, Greater Manchester, the west midlands and London. It will double capacity on the UK’s busiest rail route, freeing up much-needed space on other congested rail lines. It will halve journey times between Manchester and Birmingham, and it will speed passengers from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston in just one hour and 11 minutes —a trip that takes over two hours today. By transforming rail travel for millions of people each year and acting as a catalyst for investment, jobs and regeneration, this vital route will honour the Government’s defining commitment to levelling up our country.
My constituency contains a large town called Northwich. Just over a year ago, part of the station collapsed: the roof collapsed. Through the grace of God, nobody died.
As the Minister may well imagine, people are somewhat sceptical about HS2. We see significant investment going into it, while we have a station where those who are disabled cannot go in one direction because they cannot cross a bridge. Will the Minister consider intervening and genuinely levelling up for the people of Northwich, as part of this project?
I am aware of that station, but I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that the Government are investing record amounts in conventional rail alongside HS2.
I am sure that the House was as delighted as I was to see the Elizabeth line open last month: a major new artery to meet growing passenger demand in the south-east for decades to come. The Elizabeth line had its beginnings in a hybrid Bill, and it is great to be able to celebrate the fruits of our labours. Today, we push forward again with another Bill for HS2, the third of its kind. This Bill, and what we are delivering for the north and the midlands, is even more ambitious than the Elizabeth line was for London.
Perhaps I should gently remind the right hon. Lady that, owing to the way in which the Barnett formula works in spending reviews, the Welsh Government have received a significant uplift in Barnett-based funding as a result of the UK Government’s spending on HS2.
Let me return to the subject of investment. We have a £96 billion integrated rail plan, including Northern Powerhouse Rail, to overhaul infrastructure and services across both regions. This is the largest rail investment ever announced by a UK Government.
I will make a little more progress.
This is the biggest upgrade to the north and midlands rail network since the Victorian era, and the Bill is pivotal to the entire plan. Getting HS2 from Crewe to Manchester involves far more than just a 38-mile stretch of the high-speed network. It also provides critical infrastructure for Northern Powerhouse Rail services between Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, cutting journey times and significantly boosting capacity on east-west routes. For decades, passengers have put up with slow journeys and overcrowding on many routes across the north and the midlands.
Can the Minister tell the House whether she is determined to press ahead with HS2 irrespective of how high the cost goes? Is there a price at which she will say, “Actually, this no longer represents value for money for the taxpayer”, or is she prepared to give HS2 a blank cheque and press on with it irrespective of how much it costs? If she is, I have a house to sell her.
I am going to continue.
The infrastructure was simply not built for a 21st-century economy. For example, daily passenger journeys in the Greater Manchester region have quadrupled since 1995. This Bill will transform rail capacity into Manchester. There will be extra platforms and extra junctions, making it one of our best connected cities.
I fully understand the reason for improving the high-speed railway between Crewe and Manchester, but at the same time I have great concerns about the environmental impact and particularly the loss of traditional forests and trees. Can the Minister give us some indication of what has been done to retain them, and what has been done to replace them?
The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point in raising the environmental impacts. We are keeping negative environmental impacts to an absolute minimum, creating new habitats and planting 7 million new trees in phase 1 alone. It is also fair to say that on the Crewe-to-Manchester phase, we have committed to raise our ambition even further, and we aim to deliver a 10% net gain in biodiversity.
I want to make some progress, but then I will take some more interventions.
Turning back to HS2 and the north-west, I must mention that this section of HS2 includes a new high-speed station at Manchester Piccadilly and a new high-speed station at Manchester airport, offering the potential to use the airport station to further promote the international airport.
I warmly welcome the Second Reading today and I absolutely agree with the Minister about the crucial importance of integrating HS2 with Northern Powerhouse Rail, which I think is equally as important as, if not even more important than, HS2. But would it not be better to do this properly and have an underground station at Manchester Piccadilly that properly links to Northern Powerhouse Rail and future-proofs the network?
On the specific point of a Manchester Piccadilly underground station, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my Department has been working closely with Greater Manchester stakeholders for a long time to try to understand their reasons for supporting an underground station at Piccadilly. HS2 Ltd has considered these reasons and done extensive investigative work on the feasibility of this option. That work has found that an underground station would cause major city centre disruption during the construction period and significantly delay the opening of services into Manchester by more than seven years. It would also add around an additional £5 billion to the cost of the Crewe-to-Manchester scheme alone. That is an absolutely crazy amount of money to spend on something that is quite frankly worse.
I am going to make some progress.
HS2 will truly future-proof travel across the north. It is crucial for local services, regional services, national services and international services.
My hon. Friend mentions the station at Manchester airport, but she must beware that the proposed station is actually a quarter of a mile away from the airport, at Davenport Green. Would it not make far more sense to put the airport station at the airport?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. Obviously, a huge amounts of engagement has gone on, and in deciding on the location, extensive optioneering work has also considered connectivity, engineering and environmental matters as well as cost issues. The Manchester airport station is located as close to the airport as possible, given all of those competing factors.
I welcome the airport connectivity, which is brilliant not only for our domestic rail travel but for those connections that we need with the airport. Would my hon. Friend agree that it is also crucial because we want to welcome investment into the north? What effect does she think this new airport link will have on that?
My hon. Friend makes an important point and reminds us of the importance of investment. This investment will bring many new jobs and investments into the area, and that will bring benefits to local communities, local people and local businesses.
I am going to make some progress, then I will take more interventions.
This hybrid Bill is the first one to deal with infrastructure in both England and Scotland. The Bill includes a new depot on the west coast main line in Dumfries and Galloway to ensure that HS2 trains can travel to and be maintained in Scotland. The environment will benefit greatly too. Rail is already the greenest form of public transport in this country, and the most sustainable, carbon-efficient way of moving people and goods quickly over long distances. HS2 will bring further significant reductions in emissions, with new trains and modern tracks helping us to move towards a net zero transport system. This Bill is going even further than previous transport hybrid Bills.
We welcome the reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions, but phase 2b of HS2 without the Golborne spur will actually increase the greenhouse gas emissions. With the Golborne spur, they would be decreased by 750,000 tonnes. Does the Minister not agree, therefore, that the Golborne link should be further considered?
We are looking at alternatives, because it is quite possible that we could come forward with something better. I know this is something that the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle, is looking at very carefully.
The huge economic benefits that HS2 will bring to Scotland are not in question. HS2 services between London and Glasgow are set to be available once the HS2 trains start running on to the conventional rail network. We are also committed to exploring alternatives that deliver similar benefits to the Golborne link within the £96 billion envelope of the integrated rail plan.
I warmly welcome the Government’s decision to scrap the Golborne link. It is a £3 billion white elephant. The opportunity to put HS2 trains into stations such as Warrington is something that I know Warrington Borough Council and Charlotte Nichols would also welcome. Can the Minister tell us if that is something that HS2 is considering?
Within the envelope of the funding, I would like to assure my hon. Friend that we are considering all options.
Going back to the issue of biodiversity, we are aiming to boost biodiversity along the Crewe-to-Manchester route, which will mean greater environmental diversity than existed before construction, thereby continuing HS2’s commitment to leave a green legacy. This Bill will contribute not only to a greener economy but to a more skilled economy. In the two years since the construction of HS2 began between London and Birmingham, significant progress has been made on this milestone project.
I mentioned earlier that this is the third HS2 Bill. It is absolutely incredible to watch the move from the Bills being presented to this House to seeing real spades and tunnel-boring machines in the ground and the unveiling of the staggering 700-tonne bridge-building machine that is set to begin work on a 3.4 km bridge across the Colne Valley. We have also awarded the £2 billion contract for the delivery and maintenance of HS2 trains for phases 1 and 2a, and under budget, I might add.
Further to the point raised by my right hon. Friend Liz Saville Roberts, is it not the case under the current constitutional arrangements that every political party in Wales has concerns about HS2’s funding? Nearly every single politician in Wales, including Ministers in the Wales Office, have concerns about this issue, yet the British Government can ignore their concerns.
We are not ignoring Wales or those concerns. The current plans will see Welsh passengers benefit from the HS2 interchange at Crewe, with shorter journey times to north Wales than are currently possible on the west coast main line. The proposed integrated station at Old Oak Common will be served by HS2, the Elizabeth line and conventional rail, including trains to Wales and the west of England.
The hon. Gentleman is a passionate campaigner for the electrification of that stretch of railway, and he is nothing if not persistent in using every opportunity to raise that issue.
The state-of-the-art HS2 train fleet, capable of up to 225 mph, will be designed and built by a Hitachi-Alstom joint venture located in Newton Aycliffe, Derby and Crewe. It is a truly national endeavour encompassing three regions, each with a proud engineering pedigree. The construction of HS2 is already supporting more than 26,000 jobs, and there will be many more jobs with the coming of this Bill. There will be more apprenticeships, which is great news as we build a workforce with transferable skills that are fit for the future.
Since the Oakervee review and the notice to proceed for phase 1, this Government have remained, and will continue to remain, relentlessly focused on controlling costs. We will ensure that this ambitious new railway delivers its wealth of benefits at value for money for the taxpayer. HS2 is within budget, and we expect to get the job done within budget.
I support what the Minister is saying about bringing HS2 in on budget and keeping a tight control on costs, but we also have to get best value for the taxpayer. On the point raised by my hon. Friend Jeff Smith, the Piccadilly proposals are suboptimal. They will economically damage the growth potential around Piccadilly, and the interrelationship between HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail will be far worse than the Transport for Greater Manchester underground station option. [Interruption.] I see the Minister of State, Andrew Stephenson shaking his head, but Greater Manchester is adamant. We want and need the best option at Piccadilly, and I hope Ministers will think again.
The hon. Gentleman’s suggestion is a suboptimal option, and I am sure my hon. Friend will have more to say about that. I reiterate that we have been working closely with Greater Manchester stakeholders for a long time, since 2013 I think.
I see my hon. Friend nodding. We have been working closely with Greater Manchester stakeholders since 2013 to understand their reasons for supporting the idea of an underground station at Piccadilly, but I will leave it to him to say more.
I am grateful to the Minister for being kind in taking a range of interventions.
I observe from their interventions that Opposition Members’ mindset might best be characterised as making the perfect the enemy of the good. Does the Minister agree that this £96 billion investment will transform Piccadilly station?
Order. I will just clear this up. The hon. Lady means to say “he” and not “you.”
Will the hon. Gentleman let me continue, instead of getting carried away on the Back Benches? If we were to pursue the underground option, it would result in a more than seven-year delay to the HS2 project reaching Manchester Piccadilly; a cost increase of around £5 billion compared with the surface station; and at least 130,000, but realistically up to 350,000, additional HGV journeys in and out of Manchester over the construction period due to much greater quantities of concrete and steel needing to be imported and surface material needing to be exported from the construction site. I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees that the impact on local residents and businesses would be quite unbearable.
I will make some progress.
We are continually improving the design of this railway. This is a hybrid Bill, which means it is both a public Bill and a private Bill. It will have all the normal public Bill stages, but there will be an additional stage in which a specially appointed Select Committee will consider its private aspects.
If this Bill is given a Second Reading, we will commit it to that Select Committee today and, in doing so, ask it to look at the detail of the route and make decisions on the evidence put before it. This process allows for changes to the railway design to take the needs of local communities into account. It also allows for improvements to be made where new information comes to light, which brings me to the Golborne link.
Of course it is right that mitigations are considered during the Bill’s passage. As the Minister of State, my hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson, will be aware, because he kindly visited Eddisbury earlier this year, there are plans that we hope might be changed during the Bill’s passage to build a rolling stock depot, as well as two borrow pits and a significant construction site, in close proximity to Wimboldsley Primary School. The route through Cheshire is also on ground with a complex geological make-up, which will cause difficulties with salt mines and understanding the unknown quantities of salt that still lie beneath the soil. What assurance can the Minister of State, my hon. Friend Wendy Morton, give the House and my constituents that these two issues will be properly resolved before shovels go into the ground?
I am aware that my hon. Friend the Minister of State recently visited Eddisbury. The Crewe North rolling stock depot will support the scheme’s operation, and alternative options for its location were considered and discounted as unsuitable because of their location, size or lack of connection to the existing network.
My hon. Friend Edward Timpson mentions Cheshire’s special environmental conditions, including its salt. HS2 Ltd has taken the special geological conditions in this part of Cheshire into account, and the design of the scheme has been informed by a wide range of information, including from British Geological Survey maps and surveys, salt extraction operators and local action groups.
As I said, the Bill will have all the normal public Bill stages and an additional stage for a specially appointed Select Committee to consider its private aspects. If the Bill is given a Second Reading, we will commit it to that Select Committee today. In doing so, we will ask the Select Committee to look at the detail of the route and make decisions on the evidence put before it. This process allows for changes to the railway design to take into account the needs of local communities. It also allows for improvements to be made where new information has come to light, hence my comments about the Golborne link, to which I now wish to move on.
That section of the line runs from a junction at Hoo Green to the west coast main line south of Wigan. Sir Peter Hendy’s Union connectivity review made it clear that the Golborne link “does not resolve all” the current constraint issues between Crewe and Preston. It recommended that we review alternative options for this section of the line. We have therefore announced our intention to remove the Golborne link from this Bill, so that we can get on with the important work of finding the best solution to deliver the most benefits for passengers, while also ensuring value for the taxpayer. HS2 services to Scotland are not in question; they will continue to serve Wigan and Preston, as well as Lancaster, Cumbria and Scotland. The options to be considered are those that could be delivered within the £96 billion integrated rail plan envelope. So whether to remove this section of track from the Bill is a decision for the House here today. There is a motion that instructs the hybrid Bill Select Committee on the scope of the scheme. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that it is important that we take the time to ensure that every aspect of HS2 is right for this country, so I urge them to support that motion while we consider the options, which will allow the Government to get on with bringing HS2, and faster, greener and more reliable train services, to Manchester as soon as we can.
Of course, the way in which the Government engage with those impacted by the construction of HS2 is vital. Those living along the line of the route may see nothing good in this Bill for them, especially where it directly affects their homes or businesses. That is why the Government appointed my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle to be HS2 Minister and why so much hard work is being done to try to reach all of the communities affected. HS2 Ltd has run in-person events in community hubs up and down the route, telling people about the Bill. In fact, an in-person event is taking place right now in Greater Manchester. These events are telling people about the environmental statement that accompanied the Bill and about the property compensation schemes accompanying this railway, which go above and beyond the statutory framework. HS2 Ltd has run webinars online for those not wanting to attend an in-person event. There is a 24/7 helpline available; it is a freephone number and it is open every day of the year. People can email HS2 Ltd with their queries. For those who need extra help, HS2 Ltd can offer one-to-one appointments. I recognise that some will never support the project, but if people cannot get behind the railway itself, perhaps they can get behind some of the legacy benefits it will bring, which I have spoken about at length here today.
I would be amiss if I did not point out that in my constituency, where HS2 is proposed to go from top to bottom, the experience of consultation, communication and the manner in which it has been handled has been deplorable. My right hon. Friend the late Cheryl Gillan had exactly the same experience in Chesham and Amersham. I strongly recommend that the Minister takes account of the fact that we lost the by-election in very similar circumstances to what will happen elsewhere in other parts of the country as this matter progresses without the degree of consultation that is really required. I have to put that on the record.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue this evening. I can understand why he would want to place his views on the record in this debate, but I know that the HS2 Minister is clear that we continue to listen as we go through this process. That is why I was keen to set out the ways in which HS2 Ltd continues to engage.
Today, I am asking the House to support the next major step in building a national high-speed rail network. But the question for us to answer today is not whether this railway should go ahead, it is: how can this project ensure maximum benefits for as many people and as many businesses as possible, long into the future? That is what this Bill will deliver, and that is what I am asking Members to support. The Bill is not only transforming rail services in the north-west and vastly improving the passenger experience, but providing the foundations for new east-west services on the Northern Powerhouse Rail network and levelling up communities across the north and the midlands that have been poorly served by transport for too long. I commend this Bill to the House.
It is an honour and a privilege to open the Second Reading debate on this Bill on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition. First, let me say that the shadow Transport Secretary, my hon. Friend Louise Haigh, sends her sincere apologies for not being able to attend today’s debate. As the political lead for Wakefield, she has had to make her way back up north, before the Tory rail strikes kick in to add to the misery already faced by Brits when they have to queue at our ports and airports.
Let me restate Labour’s support in principle for HS2, which creates quality jobs, boosts UK construction and engineering, and gets people and freight off the motorways, with fewer lorries clogging our towns and polluting the air. HS2 boosts business, from steel to sports; links communities, families, and markets; boosts rail capacity; provides comfort and convenience to passengers; and helps to deliver a 21st-century rail network for the great British public.
I am going to give the shadow Minister the same opportunity I gave the Minister. Is there a price at which the Opposition would withdraw their support from HS2 or will they support it irrespective of how expensive it becomes? If there is a limit to the price the Opposition are prepared to accept, what is that limit?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I would have expected nothing less. One thing he has helped to highlight with his question is that under a Labour Government we would have control of the finances, unlike what we are seeing with the Tory mismanagement, where there is a ballooning budget. I wanted to come on to that and his intervention is timely, because it is thanks to the usual Tory mismanagement that we are all accustomed to that this is already a watered-down offering, betraying millions and letting down communities across towns and cities in the north and midlands. The continued slashing of HS2, which was born under a Labour Government more than a decade ago, means it is becoming merely a ghost of its former self. So from this Front Bench, we simply urge the Prime Minister and his Transport Ministers to deliver on their promises and ensure that HS2 is built on time and in full.
As a constituency interest for the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. and learned Friend voiced his opinion on behalf of his constituents, but I would not be at the Dispatch Box extolling the virtues of HS2 if the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition was not firmly behind this Bill.
This Bill has come at a poignant moment, where the Government’s inept management of our railways has come to a head. We have Department for Transport cuts to the tune of 10% on rail alone, tens of thousands of vital train services slashed and a national rail strike looming.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; my next-door neighbours in the area around Chester are still battling with Network Rail and Avanti West Coast to get more direct services back on the London to Chester and north Wales line. At the moment, there does not seem to be a definite plan to bring them back. We are hopeful that we might get them by the end of the year. That is surely exactly the point he is making.
My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituents and he has made that point in the House on several occasions when we have faced such significant cuts to services. As a country, we cannot invest in rail if we are in the process, because of this Government, of slashing services, including to Chester.
I am listening with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman is saying, as I did to the Minister. On the question of the financing, I happened to be sitting on the train from Euston to the midlands the other day. A gentleman to my left knew who I was and said, “I’m actually involved in the HS2 project.” I said, “That’s very interesting indeed.” Then he said, “By the way, I think you have been complaining about the vast overspend.” I said, “Yes, I have.” He then said to me, “Well, I know a great deal about it and it won’t cost less than £150 billion—you do know that, don’t you?” Does the hon. Gentleman—or, for that matter, the Government —understand that this white elephant, such as it is, is costing the British people an arm and a leg and is obsolete already?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I hope he has furnished the rail Minister with those figures and that that is not merely an anecdote, because it is important that the cost of the project does not balloon. If whistleblowers are to be believed, the cost is rising. That is why the Labour party has consistently called for the management of the budget, and the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, my hon. Friend Dame Meg Hillier, has done a great deal of work on that.
When it comes to rail, there is sadly a theme of mismanagement, broken promises and missed opportunities. That prompts the question: what is the point of having major infrastructure projects if the Secretary of State is intent on presiding over the managed decline of our railways?
Let me turn to the national Tory rail strike—[Interruption.] I know Conservative Members like that. It is not too late for the Secretary of State for Transport to prevent the national rail strike. We do not want to see strikes. The only people in the country who are frothing at the mouth with excitement at the prospect of strikes are sitting on the Government Benches, because this is a strike cooked up by the Cabinet and driven by Downing Street. Ministers are relishing the prospect of division—anything to distract and take the focus away from their own incompetence, law breaking and infighting.
The Secretary of State should be picking up the phone and convening talks, not throwing petrol on the fire. If I, as the shadow rail Minister, was able to organise and attend separate meetings with the Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines in his office last month, and with the RMT general secretary Mick Lynch today, why can the Secretary of State not do likewise?
The Secretary of State’s handling of this crisis certainly does not bode well for the successful delivery of the largest infrastructure project in Europe. He seems far more focused on harming industrial relations and gunning for a strike than on showing leadership and doing what is best for passengers, rail workers and the industry, so Members should forgive my cynicism when it comes to the Government’s management of this significant project.
Sadly, it seems like the Government are simply not up to the job. They overpromise and underdeliver. For a decade or more, we have been listening to Conservative Transport Secretaries extolling the virtues of HS2 and then reneging on their pledges. In their 2017 election manifesto, the Conservatives promised to
“continue our programme of strategic national investments, including High Speed 2”.
Their 2019 manifesto said:
“Now is the time to invest in Northern Powerhouse Rail”.
They say one thing before a general election and break their promises as soon as the votes are counted.
The cancellation of the eastern leg of HS2 is indeed a betrayal of the north. Upgrades to Leeds station have been scrapped; a new station at Bradford has been scrapped; electrification from Selby to Hull has been scrapped; and extra capacity on the Cumbrian coast line has been scrapped. What have the Secretary of State and this Government got against the north of England? Spending on transport in the north is half the spending for transport in London, and the Government are cutting Transport for the North’s budget by 20%. What an absolute mess.
My hon. Friend the shadow Minister talks about the cuts to Transport for the North budgets; is he aware that the Secretary of State refused to see the acting chairwoman of Transport for the North, Councillor Louise Gittins, when she was in post? He declined to have a meeting with her; surely that shows this Government’s contempt for transport in the north.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Such contempt is what is holding our country back, and that is leading to the mismanagement of our network. Indeed, as I said earlier, that is emblematic of this Government, because with the impending rail strikes their behaviour is going to lead to such disruption for hard-working Brits up and down the country.
I can count more than 60 times when Ministers have promised from that Dispatch Box to deliver HS2 in full. Hopes are raised, then dashed. Promises are made, then broken. Why should anyone believe a word they say? And what of addressing the concerns raised about HS2—on community consultation, as Sir William Cash aptly pointed out; on spiralling costs; on ensuring value for money for taxpayers; and on environmental mitigations, as pointed out by Jim Shannon? It is within the grasp of Ministers to address those concerns today, but I fear we might all be left disappointed.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could answer a straightforward question, because many constituents in Warrington would like to know. Does the Labour party support scrapping the Golborne spur?
As we will discuss later in respect of the amendment, we are in favour of excellent alternative proposals from the Government, because until then we cannot support the scrapping of the Golborne link. We will look in detail at what the Government propose in respect of the link.
As the Bill progresses, Labour is keen to see progress on the northern powerhouse. The Bill must deliver the right infrastructure for the north of England but, rather than levelling-up the country, it could in fact entrench the north-south divide for generations to come. It must deliver a solution for Manchester Piccadilly station that enables a future Labour Government to build Northern Powerhouse Rail to Bradford and Leeds.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend has mentioned Manchester Piccadilly. We were told earlier that the extra costs would be £5 million; we do not know that, because the costings have not been published, but even if that is the case, the added extra economic value will get that money back in around 15 years. Yes, there would be more costs and more disruption and delay, but this is a once-in-a-century economic project and we need to get it right. Is that not why the council, the Mayor, the business leaders—everybody in Manchester —supports the underground option for Manchester Piccadilly?
My hon. Friend has been a firm champion on behalf of his constituents. His views are also echoed by my good friend, the Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, with whom I have discussed this project. Many are exasperated by the Government’s lack of ambition for Manchester and the north, which is why Labour is very much in favour of this. We need a solution for Manchester Piccadilly station that enables a future Labour Government to pick up the pieces and to deliver that Northern Powerhouse Rail in full to Bradford and Leeds.
The hon. Gentleman is being most generous. As much as I enjoy being lectured about the north by Mr Dhesi, I know that this Government are putting £96 billion of integrated rail investment into the north and the midlands, compared with pretty much nothing from the last Labour Government.
Let me return to the point the hon. Gentleman made earlier about the leader of his party having a constituency interest. I find it remarkable that he suggests that if something were inconvenient for a small area of north London, the leader of his party would side with that ahead of the north and the midlands.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is pleased to be lectured by the hon. Member for Slough when it comes to standing up for the north. Indeed, it often seems the case that the hon. Member for Slough stands up more for the constituents of the north than Government Ministers. That is why the hon. Gentleman is so happy. Moreover, it was the previous Labour Government who stood up for the people of the north, with amazing investment not just in our rolling stock, but in the west coast main line—billions of pounds of investment for our northern communities.
It is also important to highlight the fact that Labour is keen to see the Government addressing the rail capacity constraints on the west coast main line, allowing for improved connections to Scotland from the north of England. If the Golborne link, which has been mentioned umpteen times, is not taken forward, any funding saved should be reinvested in local transport projects in the north. Labour will fight to ensure that working people across our country see the benefit of this project in jobs and opportunities. Labour wants to ensure that more public contracts go to British companies, big and small, through our plan to buy, make, and sell more here in Britain. That would boost economic growth, create jobs, and open markets, linking neglected regions and towns to help us meet net zero.
That is why the next Labour Government will complete HS2 in full, including the eastern leg and Northern Powerhouse Rail. We will connect 13 million people across our great northern towns and cities, from coast to coast, and set up an office for value for money to oversee spending on major projects and make sure that they do not run out of control. Ministers must get a grip.
As I have already said, Labour believes in delivering HS2 in full. On the Golborne link, we have said that we want that connection to happen, but the Government have said that they will put forward alternative proposals to make sure that that connection is made. We are waiting for those alternative proposals, so that we can make sure that those communities are connected in that part of the country.
As my hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor has said, we will “buy, make and sell” in Britain. Let me take UK steel as an example. We would support jobs in UK steel and along the whole of the UK supply chain. Why will this Government not commit to buying UK steel and to supporting the 33,000 jobs in our excellent steel industry? Perhaps the Minister would like to give way now, because I know that the Government would very much like to support the steel industry at this time and commit to buying UK steel—[Interruption.] Perhaps not then. HS2 is not only about increased capacity, faster journeys, new stations, more jobs, more apprentices, and a boost for struggling British businesses, but about helping us to deliver net zero.
For decades, rail has produced by far the lowest carbon footprint, compared with cars, coaches and flights. We want national roll-out of electrification. HS2 will use net zero carbon energy from day one, and, as a whole, it will be operationally net zero by 2035.
In conclusion, we all want to see our railways thrive. We want them to be accessible, affordable and green. We need them to connect us all, from villages to towns to cities. We should be striving for a world where the best way to travel is by rail. What we cannot do is to allow the poor leadership of this Government to dampen those ambitions for our country. Time and again, the Tories have proven that they are incapable of delivering on rail and have brought chaos to our network. It is time that they got their act together and delivered for our country.
Mr Dhesi had the brass neck to refer to this strike as a Tory rail strike. I have never seen a rail strike more inspired by the Labour party than any other policy that I have heard of in the last generation.
The Minister will be very well aware of my long-standing reservations about HS2—I have made my point on this already today—and of why I am convinced that the project, as currently proposed, has no chance of achieving the objectives that the Government have set for it in terms of creating improved rail connectivity, increased capacity on the west coast main line, real economic prosperity and value for the many billions of pounds being spent on it.
I am also profoundly disturbed and deeply disappointed that the Government have failed to revisit the collapsing economic case for this project in the light of changing travelling and working practices following the covid pandemic, and to cancel the HS2 project, or at least everything north of Birmingham, in favour of targeting public transport investment to the areas of the country that really need it. Only yesterday, I heard the Secretary of State say, in relation to this rail strike, that fewer people will be using rail because of the amount time that is spent on Zoom calls and because of the changes in business practices. That is an important and relevant point.
I am also dismayed about the haste at which the Phase 2b Bill is being brought before the House for its Second Reading, especially as it has only just been announced that the project will be subject to 20 substantive amendments, including the removal of the Golborne link. My concern is that these changes should be the subject of formal consultation. The public are entitled to be granted sufficient time to formally respond in writing before Second Reading and before the formal petitioning process begins.
I ask the Minister to take the opportunity of making better use of the public investment given to the HS2 project by ensuring that the company responsible for it, together with his departmental officials, adopt the best possible and most cost-effective engineering design solutions for the project. Sadly, from experience, I know that that is not proving to be the case, as HS2 management and Department for Transport officials seem unwilling to fulfil the commitments that the Minister has made to me and my constituents. They are therefore frustrating the promised independent and impartial review of our proposals for an alternative railhead and maintenance base to replace the unworkable and calamitous proposals that HS2 seems hell-bent on imposing on Stone, my constituency, and nearby communities.
Incontrovertible evidence has been compiled by my constituents to demonstrate that their alternative solution would remove tens of thousands of HS2’s construction lorries from the local road network in Staffordshire, North Shropshire and Cheshire, while also eliminating any need to construct the Ashley railhead and the two proposed Phase 2b maintenance facilities at Ashley and the Crewe North rolling stock depot. Not only would my constituents’ proposals save £650 million of public money, but, were less than half of that sum to be reinvested in the reopening of an eight-mile section of the North Staffordshire railway between the west coast main line and Stoke station, it would create the best and most cost-effective levelling-up opportunity in the country.
With the Government now having confirmed their decision to remove the Golborne link from a phase 2 hybrid Bill, the capacity on the west coast main line through and to the north of Crewe station will be significantly reduced. As a consequence, phase 2b will achieve the precise opposite of what is intended. The public therefore ask, “What is the point of phase 2b?”. I have much sympathy with such viewpoints, as do my Cheshire colleagues, whose constituents’ lives will be so blighted by this project.
However, if the Government remain determined to continue with this expensive folly, let us at least get something positive out of it. The only way to do that is to ensure that Crewe station gets the full upgrade it requires to overcome the capacity constraints that will be imposed on it and on the west coast main line by HS2. That will require new platforms to be constructed on the independent lines on the western side of the station.
Combined with the reopening of the North Staffordshire railway, the improvements at Crewe station would for the first time enable multiple train services to cross the west coast main line and enable services from north Wales and the north-west to connect to north Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent and thereafter to link to the east midlands, Yorkshire, East Anglia and the east coast. Such a bold plan would put a huge part of the population of the north of England in direct rail contact with four international airports and create a direct freight line between Liverpool and several east coast ports, while putting both Crewe and the Potteries at the centre of this new transport and economic activity.
Finally, the Minister knows that he has an open invitation to visit my constituency and meet me and my constituents. I urge him to take up that offer as soon as possible so that we can demonstrate to him first-hand how our proposals will provide the unique short, medium and long-term levelling-up benefits that the population of my own and many other constituencies so richly deserve.
Let me first say that we on the SNP Benches and my colleagues in the Scottish Government support HS2, such as it is. We support anything that increases capacity on our rail network and improves the prospects of driving up modal shift for journeys between Scotland and the rest of the UK and Europe, whether for passengers or for freight.
The UK has lagged hugely behind comparable European countries for years—decades, in fact—in rolling out modern, technically advanced high-speed rail networks, but rather than dwell on how late Britain has come to the party, let us welcome the fact that it has turned up at all. I, too, welcome the plans by HS2 to locate a depot at Annandale, creating jobs in the southwest and border regions.
However, as always with this Government, it is not the headlines that give the picture; it is the small print and the details that tell the real story of what their priorities are. We saw that the other week, as has been mentioned several times already, with the cancellation of the Golborne link. We have been told time after time that HS2 would deliver transformational change on our cross-border railways. HS2’s website boasts:
“HS2 will re-balance the country”, while the UK Government tell us that Scotland will,
“receive the best possible HS2 service”.
In reality, now that Golborne has been chucked in the bin, no doubt we can expect another bargain basement bodge job, designed to keep the Tory Back-Benchers happy rather than provide real investment in our transport infrastructure.
Scotland has been told for years that the rationale under which we will benefit from HS2 is reduced journey times and increased capacity. We support HS2 on that basis. Now we are told—or rather an announcement is whispered elsewhere on the day of the Tory leadership boorach—that a crucial connection between the classic network and the high-speed network is to be scrapped, with any prospect of an alternative link delayed indefinitely.
The Government’s own Union Connectivity Review, which has already been mentioned, said plainly,
“Further work is needed to determine the…benefits, costs and deliverability of an alternative connection”.
Or, in other words, “We haven’t a clue how, where and when an alternative to Golborne will be delivered, other than pointing vaguely towards Preston on a map and promising, it will definitely, positively, absolutely be built there—honest.”
I agree with the point the hon. Gentleman is making, but can he clarify the SNP’s position? Is the party in favour of having high-speed lines on both the east and west side of the country, to Edinburgh and Glasgow?
We were in favour of phase 2b’s being constructed all the way to Leeds, which would allow for that development of twin-tracking high-speed lines to the border, but that has been cancelled. The Scottish Government have long supported HS2 and has a memorandum of understanding with the Government for HS2 to be delivered to Scotland, massively improving journey times and helping to drive the modal shift I have spoken about previously.
The decision to cancel the link highlights once again that the UK Government cannot be trusted to lead on levelling up, especially when it comes to Scotland. The move has met near-unanimous objections—despite the protestations of Andy Carter—especially from the rail industry. A combined statement from the Railway Industry Association, the Rail Freight Group, and the High Speed Rail Group said:
“It is hugely disappointing to discover that, on a day when much political attention was focused elsewhere, the Government confirmed that the ‘Golborne Link’ is to be removed from the HS2 project.
Only six months ago, the Golborne Link was included in the Integrated Rail Plan, as well as the HS2 Phase 2b Bill. The Link has been provided for in the budget for HS2 and is needed to allow adequate capacity on the national rail network to fulfil its vital function of handling the nation’s longer distance movements of both passengers and freight. Without this connection, a bottleneck will be created north of Crewe on the West Coast Main Line, which in turn will negatively impact outcomes for passengers, decarbonisation and levelling up.”
The statement went on:
“Such an important, strategic question of how HS2 services connect into Scotland cannot be left open or uncertain.”
The move has been seen as a cynical betrayal of Scottish interests, aimed at placating Tory voters and MPs at the expense of Scots. With levelling-up funds disproportionately invested in Tory seats, a Tory cost of living crisis undermining any possible progress, a Prime Minister who cannot even be bothered to turn up to his own party’s levelling-up conference and now key levelling-up projects cancelled on a whim, this Tory Government cannot be trusted to deliver levelling up. While the UK Government continue to withhold and abuse money that is meant to replace EU funding, Scotland will continue to be undermined by a Tory Government without integrity, honesty, or a plan.
If the UK Government do not want to spend the money needed to properly link up HS2 with the classic network, they should give the money to the Scottish Government, who can do something real and tangible with it. With electrification costs in Scotland less than two thirds, and an aim to get to nearly half, of those in England, Transport Scotland will get a bigger bang for its buck, and ultimately at zero extra cost to the UK, as until two weeks ago it planned to spend the money anyway.
That £3 billion of extra funding for Scotland’s Parliament to spend on Scotland’s transport network would be welcomed by a Government who have been matching big ambition with action, whether on rail electrification, zero emission vehicles or active travel spending that is nearly eight times that of England. The benefits of HS2 will be substantially reduced if, at the end of a Rolls-Royce service through HS2, the rest of the rail network is a clapped-out banger.
Thankfully, in Scotland we have invested in both electrification and new rolling stock, meaning that HS2 arrivals in Glasgow and Edinburgh—should they ever get there—will be met with modern railways. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the north of England, which is again at the back of the queue when it comes to improving the railway that the majority of people will continue to use, and where cities such as Leeds and Bradford are still left in the sidings of what should be a 21st century railway.
I also want to mention Wales, since the Treasury has magically created a railway line serving Wales that has not a single inch of track in Wales—I hope the Ordnance Survey have been notified of the Government’s ground-breaking cartography. Scotland and Northern Ireland will receive Barnett consequentials from HS2 expenditure, as they should, but Wales has been told that HS2 is a joint England and Wales enterprise, despite its being entirely in England, and that not a penny of consequential spending will find its way to Cardiff Bay.
That consequential funding could be invested in one of the Welsh Government’s priorities, like the South Wales Metro or even the Cardiff to Swansea electrification previously binned by the Westminster Government. Instead the Senedd will get nothing. Even the Welsh Affairs Committee, which has an inbuilt Tory majority, called for Barnett to be applied to HS2 to give Wales the fair funding it should receive. The progress of this Bill is an opportunity for the Treasury to think again, do the right thing and ensure Wales gets the money it deserves.
I did not mention it because I knew that the hon. Gentleman would intervene and mention it for me. I wholeheartedly agree with the point that he makes.
Just as Scotland and, in particular, Wales have been short-changed by this Government, so has the north of England. Leeds and Bradford were cut out of HS2, affecting potential services across the east coast. It is shameful that this Bill is going ahead without the equivalent scheme for Yorkshire and the north-east of England. The previously vaunted Y-shaped HS2 network now seems more like a V sign to millions of people in communities who would have been connected to the new network but who, like Scotland and Wales, will rely on crumbs from the UK’s table and vague promises of future improvements.
We need to talk about the rather grubby and suspicious timing of this announcement, which came just minutes before the confidence vote on the Prime Minister on
Despite concocted complaints that the Scottish Government do not co-operate on transport connectivity, the Tories did not even bother discussing cutting the Golborne link with Scottish Ministers before acting. Transport is a devolved matter. The Scottish Government should not just be consulted; Scottish Ministers must give their consent to any projects relating to devolved matters. Despite this, the UK Government’s decision to cancel the Golborne link was unilateral and made without so much as a by-your-leave to the Scottish Government. The UK Government claim that they are working with the Scottish Government on alternatives, but in reality they have shown an utter disregard for the Scottish Government in this process. Scottish Ministers had already aired concerns about the Bill that thus far have gone unanswered, so this latest unilateral move proves beyond doubt that this Government have no intention to respect the Scottish Government on transport issues.
Notwithstanding the fact that this Government have long since abandoned the concept of honouring the Sewel convention, this Bill requires legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament. It is absolutely right that the Scottish Parliament considers in detail the implications around legislative consent resulting from the Bill. The Cabinet Secretary, Michael Matheson, has recommended that consent be given at this time to a number of clauses, but not all clauses, pending further policy discussions. The devolved issues that the Bill seeks to amend that we see as overreach are the water environment in clause 28, building standards in clause 29 and schedule 22, Crown land and the Scottish Crown estate in clauses 51 and 54, and roads and roadworks provisions in schedule 24. Depending on the outcome of any discussions with the Scottish Government in the coming weeks, we may look to amend the Bill on these matters, in addition to the removal of the Golborne link at later stages of the Bill.
The Tories’ mismanagement of rail infrastructure and labour relations highlights the need for Scotland to take full control of its rail network. While Scotland is tied to the UK rail system it will continue to suffer the consequences of UK Government misrule. The Scottish Government’s processes for identifying transport investment priorities are not undertaken in isolation and are in place to allow assessment of cross-Government spending priorities across a whole host of other portfolios. Transport infrastructure investment should focus on projects that improve lives, boost our economy, support communities, and work towards net zero. That is how the Scottish Government are planning Scotland’s future transport infrastructure investment, and they are doing so through the second strategic transport projects review, not the Union connectivity review or any other UK Government plan that does not align with Scotland’s interests.
Since 2007, the Scottish Government has invested more than £9 billion in rail infrastructure in Scotland. Since 2009, the communities of Alloa, Laurencekirk, Armadale, Blackridge, Caldercruix, Conon Bridge, Shawfair, Eskbank, Newtongrange, Gorebridge, Stow, Galashiels, Tweedbank and Kintore have been reconnected to the rail network through a reversal of Beeching cuts and other historic closures. In the next three years, Reston, East Linton, Dalcross, Cameron Bridge and Leven will follow. The SNP is working hard to create a rail service for the 21st century, but meanwhile the UK Government are bungling infrastructure projects, stoking industrial disputes with unions, and proving definitively that the Union cannot and will not deliver for Scotland.
We support HS2 because all of us across these isles have a shared interest in improving connectivity and doing everything possible to drive decarbonisation and the transition to net zero. Renewing existing railway lines and building new ones must be a key part of that ambition, just as it is in Scotland, but the limits of the UK’s ambition are contained through this Bill. We will seek to push those on the Government Benches to extend that ambition before Royal Assent and to demonstrate how they intend to level up the huge swathes of this island who will feel little or no benefit from HS2. It is incumbent on the Government to explain what else they are doing to integrate HS2 into the wider transport network and how they intend to do that over the course of this Bill’s passage.
I rise to oppose the Bill, which is highly contentious, especially for my constituents in Tatton. The Minister will be well aware of my long-standing opposition to this white elephant. In fact, it will come as no surprise when I say that I would like nothing more than for this project to be consigned to the history books where it belongs. It was conceived by the Labour lord, Lord Adonis, back in 2004, which is so long ago to a world that has moved on significantly. Since covid and lockdown, people no longer need to travel hundreds of miles for a meeting when they can do it online, saving both money and time.
HS2 has had a bumpy ride. What was the justification? What was its purpose? When it was devised in 2004, it was about an alternative to airport expansion; it was to connect regional airports to Heathrow. When that case fell, it became all about speed—hence High Speed 2. In fact, in Tatton it is now known as “Low Speed, High Cost”. When that reason fell, it was all about capacity; capacity was what we needed. Now it seems to have moved on from that to job creation. As one business case falls, another is seized on. If it is about job creation, I remind the Minister that we have 1.3 million job vacancies in this country at the moment. Where will we get that workforce from? Let us hear no more justifications for this project. What we need instead is reliable, digital infrastructure and 1 gigabit capability—which would benefit everyone, everywhere—along with better local transport links and an east-west line across the north of England. That would do significantly more for the levelling-up agenda than this out-of-date project.
As a constituent wrote to me only the other week when I asked a question at Prime Minister’s questions—he wrote to me and the Prime Minister—HS2 is nothing other than “political virtue signalling” and it has totally lost its cause and purpose. If something costed at £150 billion has such a great business case, can we have sight of that business case? The cost is breath taking. In reply to my hon. Friend Philip Davies, the Minister said that she and fellow Ministers were keeping a close eye on cost, so let me remind them that the cost, which started off as £37.5 billion, is now up to £150 billion and continues to rise. I am not sure how closely their eyes are on that cost.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for highlighting my intervention on the Minister. Does she agree that given that the Minister said in her opening remarks that there was not a blank cheque for HS2, it would be helpful if the Minister who winds up told us what the cost of HS2 would have to reach before the Government scrap it altogether?
I agree with my hon. Friend. With the pressures on steel and raw materials and rising inflation, the cost is set to soar further. I reiterate his question: is there a price at which HS2 is no longer seen as value for money by the Government, or are they prepared to build it irrespective of cost? If that is the case, for Conservatives who believe in value for money, it is an unjustifiable extravagance and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
A recent petition saw 155,000 people calling for HS2 to be scrapped, and more than 2,000 of the signatories were from across Tatton—the highest number from any constituency opposing phase 2b of the line. I must pay tribute to the excellent work of people and groups in Tatton, including Ashley parish council, Lach Dennis and Lostock Green parish council, Mid Cheshire Against HS2 and geologist Ros Todhunter. They have worked tirelessly to unearth the shortcomings of HS2 with regard to the fundamental concept of the line and its business case.
Ros Todhunter is an expert in her field and made clear the impact that the line will have on the area, given its complex geography. She has provided Ministers and HS2 with high-level technical reports that explain some of the real difficulties that such a line would pose for the area and for the project; the land is unstable with sinkholes and salt mines, yet the Government continue to push ahead.
The line will cause huge devastation across Cheshire, as documented by Mid Cheshire Against HS2, which has described it as a running scar from Crewe to Manchester. It has calculated that, across Cheshire, HS2 will irreparably damage five internationally protected wildlife sites, 639 local wildlife sites, 108 ancient woodlands and 33 legally protected scientific sites. Although the Minister talks about new trees being planted, I am sure that we can all see the difference between saplings and ancient woodland.
We need to dispel the myth that the Department is touting some kind of carbon zero travel of the future. Its figures show that only 1% of travellers will switch from planes to rail, and only 4% will switch from cars to rail, yet the construction of the line alone will add 1.5 million tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere and HS2 will still produce a net increase in carbon emissions 120 years on. I was also curious about how much energy will be needed to power HS2. A former National Grid electrical engineer told me that the power needed per year would be a third of what Hinkley Point produces. As we have all become aware of energy, its cost and where we will get it from, Ministers should pause and think about that.
I must also mention the suffering that many constituents have faced—some have been dealing with this for 12 years. Their properties have been and remain under threat. Many will be hugely affected but do not qualify for any compensation. They have nowhere to move to and they cannot sell their homes. Other constituents have been in conversation with HS2 to try to negotiate terms for their property or for mitigating issues, but I am afraid that they have got nowhere. They describe it as like talking to a brick wall. HS2 Ltd has been a particularly difficult organisation for people to engage with, as the Prime Minister acknowledged in February 2020 when he suggested that it would not be the delivery body for phase 2b. Here we are today, however: it is still representing, so my constituents are still dealing with it and suffering.
For many of us, this trainline has run out of track. The best thing for the project would be to put it out of its misery and scrap it altogether, but if the Government are determined to press on regardless, there are certain things that absolutely need to be done for my constituency and my constituents. As has been mentioned, my constituents need to know the exact location of Manchester airport station, its construction, whether it will be adequately sized and how accessible it will be—will we be able to get there on the mid-Cheshire lines or via the Altrincham Metrolink? Can we make sure that we do not lose the Wilmslow to Euston line that serves people well at the moment? The mid-Cheshire rail line also needs to be put into a cutting.
There is also a question about whether the infrastructure maintenance bases are in the right place and whether suitable consideration has been given to them. Ashley parish council makes it clear that there is no justification for locating a large, incongruous, permanent industrial facility in the heart of a rural community, especially when its function could be more appropriately carried out from Aldersley Rough, which would maintain the entire western leg of HS2 in perpetuity without any need for satellite infrastructure maintenance bases at Ashley or Crewe.
Thought has not been given to how parts of Tatton will be isolated, and I bet that is true for other rural areas too. One example is the planned closure and diversion of Ashley Road—a busy and important road that connects Ashley to Knutsford and the wider rural area. It is regularly used by emergency service vehicles, with people travelling to Manchester airport and Wythenshawe Hospital, but that will be significantly affected with everyone driving through Mobberley.
There is also the construction of a viaduct crossing of the A556 at the Lostock Gralam triangle, which will cut a swathe through Winnington wood and destroy 30% of ancient woodland. We have no information from HS2 on the proposed embankment, but a width at ground level of over 100 metres suggests that it will go up to 30 metres high, which equates to almost the height of Stockport viaduct or more than six double-decker buses.
Ministers should give a thought to the residents of Ascol Drive—I will highlight only one road—who will be subjected to 10 years of noise, dust and light pollution from the main construction compound sited on the field to the south of their road. That will affect them for some time to come, as well as affecting yet another site of special scientific interest.
The land-grab is significant too, and residents cannot understand how the information keeps changing so significantly. The land-grab between the Morrisons roundabout and the Lostock triangle is 150% greater on January 2022 maps than in the October 2018 working draft.
Those are just some of the issues. If I were to relay all of them, we would be here for some time. If that is true of Tatton, it must be true across the country for other places. I want to stand up for those people who are going to be significantly affected at an astronomical cost. It is time that we brought this project to an end. We cannot just keep throwing money at it or giving it another purpose, justification or reason for being. It is time for a Conservative Government to say, “Enough is enough—HS2 must be scrapped.”
It is a pleasure to follow Esther McVey. Although I disagree with her analysis of HS2, she is absolutely right to raise her constituents’ concerns here on the Floor of the House of Commons. I hope that Ministers will listen to some of her constructive suggestions. I hope that HS2 goes forward, but with amendments that mean that the communities affected by the line’s construction get something in return.
I do not consider HS2 to be an out-of-date project. France and Germany have high speed rail; high speed rail is about the future and what country we want to be, and about improving the links between all regions and nations of the United Kingdom. For me, it is not about speed; it is precisely about ensuring that we have adequate rail capacity on the network. Speed happens to be a bonus of building a railway line to 21st-century standards, rather than to 19th-century standards, which nobody in their right mind would do with an infrastructure scheme such as the one proposed.
HS2 will also free up local transport slots on key parts of the current rail network. From my campaign to get more than one train a week on the Stockport to Stalybridge line, which is now part of a Restoring Your Railway study, I know that part of the issue is the crossover from that line on to the west coast main line to access slots at Stockport station. That is impossible at the moment because there are three trains an hour from Manchester to Euston, which take up a lot of the slots that would cross over at Heaton Norris junction. HS2 and a change of the configuration around Manchester would free up a lot of slots coming into and out of Stockport station. It also creates more capacity for freight, which we should also be supporting.
Yes, HS2 creates jobs and brings economic development, which is the bonus of a massive economic infrastructure scheme, but it also creates long-term jobs with the economic development that it brings along the route. That is why I passionately want the Government to get this scheme right—to get it right for the country, but, given my own personal self-interest as a Greater Manchester MP, to get it right for my city region as well.
This is a once-in-a-century opportunity to massively improve the accessibility to Greater Manchester, through Greater Manchester and around Greater Manchester, and I welcome such an opportunity. That is why I really urge the Minister to look again at the issue of Piccadilly station. I know the argument she put forward following the interventions made earlier, and I get that, but the fact is that Piccadilly, if we get this right, will have a huge growth opportunity for Manchester, both in connectivity and economic development in that part of the city centre.
I am really concerned about the blight that the Piccadilly station, as currently proposed, will inflict on the approach into Piccadilly. As the Minister will know, the proposal is to bring the tracks out of the ground near Ardwick and into the new Piccadilly station with a concrete platform on stilts. That will blight about half a million square metres of city centre land, and restrict the economic development around the south of Piccadilly. That is a travesty. Worse than that, it will create the situation that, almost from day one, the new Piccadilly station will be at capacity. If we are planning for the next century, let us get the infrastructure right for the next century, and that means getting Piccadilly station right.
We also have to have better connectivity between Metrolink, HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail—I hope with Northern Powerhouse Rail in its fullest design at some stage in the future. That does mean having the connectivity of the through route under Piccadilly station. Without it, I think the opportunities for Manchester would be greatly missed.
My hon. Friend is giving a fantastic exposition of the effects in Manchester, but does he agree that this is largely a regional issue as well? I cannot get more trains to Manchester for my constituents because of the congestion that exists, particularly around Manchester Piccadilly and on the line through Castlefield. If he is talking about more capacity, that would also benefit my constituents.
Oh, it absolutely would. We are in a Second Reading debate on HS2 and I appreciate that we can veer away from the subject, so it is very tempting to go into a rant about the lack of capacity through Deansgate, Oxford Road and into the current Piccadilly station. That is a huge issue that this does not resolve.
However, what will be resolved is that some of the east-west links, if they can be tunnelled under Manchester into the new Piccadilly station and beyond into Yorkshire, will free up some capacity in the rail network around Manchester, although it does not fundamentally solve the problem between Deansgate and the existing Piccadilly station, despite lots of promises we have had over a very long period of time that we would increase capacity through the Piccadilly corridor.
On my hon. Friend’s final point, only platforms 15 and 16 at Piccadilly will deal with that issue. On the major thrust of his arguments, he will not be surprised to know that I agree with him. We are often told by Ministers about the success of the regeneration at King’s Cross, where the land next to King’s Cross was used to bring enormous economic benefits to that part of London. Does he agree that what is happening at Manchester Piccadilly is that Manchester is being denied those benefits because of blight caused by ill-thought-through proposals?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I will let the House know that we both went on a walk around Piccadilly, with Transport for Greater Manchester officers and combined authority officers, to have a look at what is being proposed and what could be developed there—indeed, Robert Largan attended the tour as well—and the tour was illuminating.
For a start, keeping the ugly monstrosity of Gateway House on Station Approach in its place means that when people come out of the new Piccadilly station, as proposed by the Government and HS2, they will be at the delivery bay of Greggs. It is just not the welcome we want for Manchester. It is not even the shopfront of Greggs; it is the back door, with the bins and the ovens. Let us have a bit of vision here, and let us free up the front. Let us have a nice piazza, and a nice welcome to Manchester.
More than that, let us get the economic development in place behind Piccadilly station, and do not just take my word for it. Business leaders in the Financial Times today are urging Ministers to revise what they call—not my words—a “hugely shortsighted” design. They say—not me—that the economic development around Piccadilly would bring in the equivalent of £333 million a year of additional economic benefit if we get this right. That is why I do say to Ministers: let us look again at getting a better solution for Manchester and a better solution for the north to Piccadilly station.
I have spent many an hour in the environs of Piccadilly station that the hon. Member mentions. Can he remind the House which political party was in control when that socialist concrete monstrosity was constructed, and can he also remind the House what powers the current Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has over streetscaping and investment in the town centre?
I would caution the hon. Lady about making a silly political point, because I think Gateway House was probably built in the late 1960s. I certainly know that, for a period of time before local government reorganisation, Manchester City Council was actually a Conservative-controlled council, so she may well find that Gateway House was built under her party’s watch, if she is not too careful. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend Graham Stringer, who was the leader of Manchester City Council for a very long time, says, for four years Manchester, in the 1960s, was indeed a Conservative council. That is a silly point about a building built over 40 or 50 years ago, but it needs to go.
I think the hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. The point about having a lovely piazza and welcoming people into Manchester is a very good one. Would he agree with me that we also want to see long-awaited improvements at Piccadilly Gardens? We would love to see Manchester City Council pull its finger out and sort out what really lets down my home city. It is an amazing city, and if that is fixed as well, it could make the welcome to Manchester even better.
Again, I am straying far off the issue of High Speed 2, but I actually agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think the current Piccadilly Gardens do nothing to enhance the vision of Manchester, and—as a small-c conservative, I suppose—I would actually like to go back to the old sunken gardens with flowers, as we used to have in those pictures Lowry painted, but we are where we are. Absolutely, I want to see Piccadilly being the gateway to the great city of Manchester, with the kind of street scene we are now seeing around Albert Square and the town hall, which is absolutely what can be done with really good streetscaping and landscaping.
To return to HS2, as I say, business leaders in the FT do not accept the £4 billion extra cost that HS2 has put in. Look, I was a local councillor, so I know what officers do when they do not want to do something—they give you a million and one reasons why you cannot do it rather than one reason why you should—and I am sure that it is the same with civil servants and those in the Department for Transport. They will give Ministers a million and one reasons why they should not do the right thing by Manchester. We need someone to stand up to them and say, “Think again. There is a better way forwards.”
I turn to one of the unintended consequences of HS2’s construction. It would be remiss of me not to mention the closure of the Ashton-under-Lyne Metrolink line for a period of at least two years while HS2 is developed around Piccadilly. For those who are not aware, that Metrolink line is an essential piece of transport infrastructure for people right across Tameside. It connects communities from Ashton-under-Lyne through to Audenshaw in my constituency, east Manchester and right into Piccadilly, where it connects with the rest of the Metrolink network through the city centre to Eccles via MediaCityUK. It provides transport links to the 60,000-capacity Etihad stadium at Sportcity and the massive Co-op Live arena currently being built at the Etihad campus.
I find it unacceptable that the Bill plans to mothball the Ashton line and fob off residents with replacement bus services. The Ashton New Road route is already well served by double-decker buses, and people who want to use buses are using them. The beauty of the Metrolink system is that it has attracted people who would not use buses out of their cars and on to public transport, and my fear is that they will go back into their motor cars for the period when the line is mothballed.
I will give a logistical argument. Three double-decker buses are required to give the same capacity as one tram, and to replace a Metrolink service of 10 trams an hour between Ashton and Piccadilly—a tram every six minutes, which by London standards is appalling but by northern standards is remarkable—needs an awful lot of extra double-decker buses in addition to those already using that route. Some of the infrastructure in place—the tracks, the overhead lines and the island stations—may have to be taken out temporarily, at great cost to the public purse, to give extra road capacity. I will give the example of Droylsden, which the Minister will be aware of, because his family’s solicitor’s office is there. The Droylsden tram stop, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend Angela Rayner, is a pinch point because it is slap-bang in the middle of a busy road at a crossroad junction in Droylsden town centre and the vehicular part of the road is pinched down to one lane only. It queues back now. If we put all those extra buses along that route without taking out the tram stop altogether, we will have traffic chaos through Droylsden. That is why we will not be fobbed off with a replacement bus service.
I am grateful to the Minister for meeting me last month to discuss my concerns and those of Transport for Greater Manchester, Tameside council and Manchester City Council. However, I am afraid to say that he and the Department for Transport fundamentally underestimate the extent of the damage that the suspension will cause and are stubbornly refusing to explore any alternative solutions.
In addition to massively inconveniencing residents, there are three areas where the Government’s plan to suspend the line falls short. First, we have decarbonisation and green investment. Suspending the Ashton Metrolink line will, as I said, increase congestion from buses in an already urbanised part of Greater Manchester, incentivise individuals to travel by private car rather than by zero-emission Metrolink trams, and undermine the Government’s own transport decarbonisation plan.
The second area of concern is economic. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority, alongside Tameside council, recently identified the Ashton mayoral development zone as one of its priority areas to deliver growth in the region. The combined authority has clear and bold ambitions for Ashton and surrounding areas. Tameside council has significantly invested in Ashton town centre, having delivered the new Ashton interchange, learning facilities and new council head offices. Ashton Moss, which is in my constituency, has been identified as a major strategic employment site, with a significant scale of employment and residential growth expected to accelerate the area’s economic development. Transport connectivity is essential for that development to succeed, and the suspension of the line would wholly undermine that.
The third area of concern relates to long-term planning. Transport for Greater Manchester has a simple approach to infrastructure and a mantra that I hope the Minister will take on board for HS2: build it once and build it right. The suspension would ride roughshod over that principle. The Government are planning to commit taxpayer money to temporary mitigation works instead of contributing to a permanent solution that would benefit the people of Tameside and east Manchester for generations to come.
I want to be clear that we in Greater Manchester want improved connectivity and investment in transport infrastructure. However, that must be done right and in consultation with the local authorities and Transport for Greater Manchester. Fobbing us off with paper-thin replacement bus services is not going to crack it.
There is a solution—the Minister knows this—because Transport for Greater Manchester has a plan that would allow for the development of HS2 without penalising the people of Tameside and east Manchester. TfGM has proposed the operation of a Metrolink shuttle service from Ashton to New Islington—the station before Piccadilly —during the period of construction. That would necessitate the development of a depot at Ashton Moss to accommodate the fleet as well as the addition of a crossover at the New Islington Metrolink stop. The Minister has cited a cost of £200 million for that work. That is a figure that I dispute and that TfGM and Tameside council strongly dispute. I remind him that construction of the entire Metrolink line from Piccadilly to Ashton-under-Lyne, including the moving of all the public utilities out of the road and into the pavement, the construction of the line and the stations, and the procurement of the trams to run on the line and to the stations, cost less than what he says a depot would cost.
The Minister also cited as a reason for the cost being extortionate that a high-pressure gas main would need to be relocated. That very same gas main was relocated when the Metrolink line was built and that was included in the overall cost that I just cited—and, 120 metres or so from where the depot would be built, the tramline crosses over that gas main. If it does not seem to be an issue 120 metres away, it should not be an issue for the depot.
In closing, I say to the Minister that, please, we have a solution, and that solution has a legacy benefit. If we built that depot on Ashton Moss, not only could we keep a shuttle service to Manchester going on the Metrolink line, but, in future, tram-train operations in eastern Greater Manchester could make use of that same depot, given that the railway line to Stockport via Denton and Reddish South, which I have been campaigning for, runs alongside Ashton Moss and the depot, so it could be used for generations to come.
The best outcome can be achieved only if the Government agree to implement Transport for Greater Manchester’s recommendations in full, and work collaboratively with local leaders to ensure that we get this right. I fear that we will be in petition mode, and that there will be a petition from Greater Manchester if the Government do not change tack. I hope not, because I do not want this massive infrastructure upgrade for my city region to be delayed. Let’s crack on, let’s get it right, and let’s build it right first time round.
It is a pleasure to follow Andrew Gwynne, and I hope he does not mind if I am bold enough to reassure the nation, on his behalf, that although he might have a problem with where Greggs is located, I am sure he remains a passionate fan of its hot goods.
It is fantastic to welcome another big milestone for HS2 in Parliament, and I have spoken frequently about how important the project is for my constituency. This will be levelling up in action as it brings jobs, investment, and opportunities to Crewe and the surrounding area. Let me challenge some of the misconceptions about what is most important about the project. Although speeding up journeys from Manchester or Crewe to London is positive, the real issue this project tackles is capacity. Importantly, given concerns about activity because of the pandemic, this is about not just short-term capacity but futureproofing our railways for decades to come.
A congested railway line is limiting our freight capacity, reducing reliability because it is run so tightly that it does not take much for it to unravel, and limiting local journeys because everything is squashed on to the main intercity routes. That does not means that speed is not important, but one of the challenges that levelling up has to tackle is young people leaving our towns to find opportunities in big cities. If we want to keep bright, young successful people who want to build their careers, we do not want them having to travel to live in big cities to do that. I know many people in Crewe and Nantwich who would like to stay in the places where they were born and grew up, in the community they contribute to, and where their friends and family are. This leg of HS2 will give them even more quicker, more reliable journey options for Manchester, and encourage them to make a choice to stay living locally and commute.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this especially promotes the opportunities of engineering to the next generation, which we as a country need far more of? We have projects such as nuclear and HS2, and there are other projects in which young people can see their futures as engineers.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have spoken to people in the Alstom factory in Crewe, which has been the homeplace of industrial activity related to trains in the town. Speaking to the current generation of workers, companies in the rail industry are clear that their ability to provide a succession of future jobs and opportunities relies on decades more work that would be derived from HS2.
Better train services will enable young people to stay in a town, and in contrast to what people think the pandemic has done and what virtual working might do, I suspect that for some groups such services will encourage more commuting, not less. If someone is going to be in Manchester, Birmingham or London only two or three times a week, the choice to stay living in Crewe, and places like it, will be even easier when they do not have to make the journey so often. Reduced journey times from Crewe and places that connect to it, and onward to the big cities, as well as more reliable services, will allow us to level up by letting young people stay and raise a family in the towns and villages they come from.
Railways are at the heart of Crewe’s history. Indeed, the town came after the railway, because until the station and rail works were built, Crewe had been just a village. Although we do not have the same dependence on the railway industry that we used to, it remains a key part of our local business sector and a proud part of our history. Major investment in the railways, in whatever form, can only be good news for Crewe. The fact that Crewe is at the heart of these plans means that it will benefit directly from the single biggest investment in the railways ever in the north and midlands.
What we are doing with HS2 feeds into our wider investment in the railways. It is not just journey times that are improving. Across the north and midlands, capacity on the busiest routes is being doubled, tripled, and in some cases quadrupled, as part of the integrated rail plan. Contrast that with how under Labour, the Northern Rail franchise was let on the basis of zero passenger growth and zero investment. The Opposition like to talk big, but their record is not so impressive when it comes to passengers in the north.
Many companies in Crewe and Nantwich contribute to the building and maintenance of trains and railway lines in all sorts of different ways. Crewe has 7% of the rail workforce in England, despite having just 0.1% of the population. HS2 is already creating jobs and investment locally. For example, as part of a conglomerate bid Alstom, which runs the site I mentioned earlier, has won a contract to build bogies that sit beneath train carriages. Crewe is back to building trains for the first time in decades—I know how happy the town was, as well as the workers on that site, to hear that.
I recently held a meeting with the support of HS2, which I am grateful for, to enable local businesses to hear about how they can win contracts and opportunities. Those opportunities are vast, and go beyond big construction companies. A huge workforce is mobilising on various sites, including in Crewe, to deliver construction, and local businesses will have opportunities to do everything from housing that workforce to feeding them and even cutting their hair. It was great to see the enthusiasm displayed at the event, and I am keen for local SMEs to gain more contracts from phase 2. There is a great track record in the number of local UK businesses and SMEs that have won contracts to date.
Crewe will be a flagship connector station, connecting high-speed services and the existing railway network. I want—I would like the Minister to listen closely to these remarks—the station and the surrounds to reflect that status, and to get the investment that is needed to match up to the likes of London, Birmingham and Manchester. The Minister knows well that I have been pressing him and Minister responsible for levelling up to work closely with Cheshire East Council and our local enterprise partnership, to get the funding we need to ensure that we are not the poor relation on the route. The Government are right to want local government to invest as well, and to leverage other opportunities. Cheshire East is committed to providing land and investment, and I hope the Government can play their part.
In the near term, the Secretary of State for Levelling up, Housing and Communities will receive a bid for levelling up funding to transform the car, pedestrian and cycle infrastructure around the station, to prepare it for the arrival of HS2. I hope the HS2 Minister, who I am sure will be asked to give his views, will give the bid his full support as a first step towards all arms of national and local government working collaboratively to deliver a station that matches the ambitions for the residents and businesses of Crewe.
With the Minister of State, my hon. Friend Wendy Morton in her place, it would be remiss of me not to mention that the centrality of Crewe to HS2 is just one of many reasons why Crewe is the best possible candidate for the headquarters of Great British Railways. I know we have support for that across the Chamber from MPs from Stoke, Chester and around Cheshire, advocating for Crewe’s uniquely placed role in freight, the existing railway network, and the high-speed future of the railway. Crewe is at the heart of our railways and railways are at the heart of Crewe. Our community is raring to go when it comes to the public vote, and I hope we hear good news about the shortlist soon. Crewe has a bright future ahead of it beyond just HS2. We have a £22.9 million town deal that we are working hard to bring to life, £14 million of future high streets funding, and £5 million invested in the Institute of Technology at South Cheshire College. However, HS2 will help us to supercharge all those opportunities and deliver the best possible future for my constituents. That is why I am happy to speak in support of the Bill today.
It is a pleasure to speak in such an important debate, and to follow Dr Mullan. I was fascinated to hear his points about his town. I represent a town that also grew dramatically due to the railways. Indeed, the whole spread of southern England, from west London through Slough, Reading and smaller places such as Didcot, Swindon and over to Bristol, benefited hugely from that historic railway investment. We look forward to further investment and benefits from Crossrail and the Elizabeth line, and I send the hon. Gentleman good wishes, and hope that his constituency benefits in the same way.
I have a few important points in general support of HS2. This is a crucial piece of national rail infrastructure, and even though it does not directly relate to the part of the country I represent, I believe it is a national priority for us all. I will also mention the overall benefits of rail investment as a mode of transport, the need for further investment, and the need for more sensitivity and thought from the Government on some of the finer points. In particular, we should learn lessons from Crossrail, which is a fantastic project and piece of investment that we should all be proud of in this country. Hopefully, the lessons of that huge infrastructure project can be learned for HS2.
Starting with the wider point about national infrastructure, it has been fascinating to hear the speeches tonight. One or two Members have mentioned how our country has sadly lagged behind other western countries and, indeed, some emerging economies in investment in high-speed rail. The economic case for investment at scale is clear, and HS2 is a huge national priority. I am proud that the last Labour Government began the process that has continued under the current Government. There is cross-party agreement and it is a national priority.
HS2’s benefits are about capacity, as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich rightly pointed out, but also reducing time and, as others have mentioned, the regeneration of major cities and smaller towns around the country and the overall benefit to British industry and engineering prowess. We should all be very proud of that and support it. I hope that those who have reservations about HS2 can see the benefits, and I thought my hon. Friend Mr Dhesi was right when he challenged one of the strident opponents to think about some of the benefits. The Minister, Wendy Morton, made the same point.
On supporting rail investment as a whole, HS2 fits within a wider range of investment in rail as a mode of transport. Rail has so many advantages over other modes of transport, particularly on our highly congested island, where we suffer from enormous amounts of car pollution. There are physical limits to capacity for car travel in most British cities and towns, and through rural areas. We all have residents who are concerned about traffic, congestion and parking from the number of cars we have in the country. We need to think more about using rail, which in many ways is an under-utilised national resource, yet is so wonderful in its economic and environmental benefits.
I want to pick up on a couple of examples to illustrate the need for wider rail investment and its benefits to the country as a whole. We have discussed the benefits in connectivity and time on many fronts, but it is also worth considering the significant advantages of rail in reducing carbon emissions in the UK. Even rail that uses fossil fuels as a fuel has a far lower level of emissions per capita than other modes of transport. It is a much more effective means of transport in that way, and electrification and using renewable, low-carbon or zero-carbon energy has huge benefits to this country and will help us to meet our ambitious carbon reduction targets in a way that is difficult to envisage for other modes of transport.
We need to see investment in rail in the broad sense as a huge national benefit, both economically and environmentally on a big scale. It can help the local environment in our constituencies by getting people out of car commuting and into rail commuting and easing the pressure on neighbourhoods, which can be blighted by car travel. Obviously some people need to use roads for work if public transport is not available, but the two things can be complementary. In my town and the surrounding suburban areas, there are huge benefits when people use public transport. It frees up road space—that is at a premium, and it is extremely difficult to create any more in urban areas—for people who have to travel, such as those who have a trade or an urgent need to drive or are using a route not provided by public transport. On balance and in general, we need to think about the overall benefits of rail investment, and on that basis I am pleased to support the Bill.
I would like to challenge the Minister and the Government on a number of ways in which they are falling short at the moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough is right that we should deliver HS2 in full. It is a very ambitious line, but comparable countries have had much greater investments in high-speed rail over a long time. I remember travelling on the Eurostar from Geneva to Paris in the early 1990s as a student and being staggered by the speed at which I could get across France. That was 30 years ago; we need to invest properly in this link for the whole of England so that the whole route is properly delivered, as was originally envisaged, to provide the benefits we would all like to see for communities across the country—the kind of benefits that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich rightly highlighted in his own area.
The Government need to be careful to listen to MPs and local councils in the north of England, many of whom are rightly holding them to account and expressing serious concerns about how the current proposals are selling local communities short. In particular, the failure in the east midlands is significant. The failure to complete the eastern part of the HS2 network is a huge shortfall to large parts of the north and midlands. If I were representing that region, and particularly if I were a Government MP, I would be disappointed in my colleagues that that change is being put forward.
I will move on to some brief lessons from Crossrail and in particular some local ones from our area in the Thames valley that apply nationally. We need to see significant infrastructure projects not as an end in themselves, but as a resource for future projects. The team that delivered Crossrail have achieved amazing things. It was the biggest infrastructure programme in Europe for many years, and the emphasis is now shifting on to HS2, which will become the greatest exercise of its kind in the continent. We need to learn from the technology and the project management skills.
Getting things back on track when they go wrong with a complicated project of this type is extremely difficult, as I have learned on two visits to Crossrail and the Elizabeth line. I am sure there will be times when there are issues with HS2; we need to address those and learn the lessons of other major infrastructure projects. Problems with delays or teething problems are not just a British phenomenon; the long-delayed new airport in Berlin has taken seven years over its original planned time to be rolled out. I am sure the Minister, Andrew Stephenson knows that only too well, but I urge him to work closely with the team that delivered Crossrail to learn the full lessons on project and programme management, engineering advances, the skills and training that were delivered and the interconnection with local communities and local business needs.
In our area, we would have seen Maidenhead as the western terminus of Crossrail, had there not been heavy lobbying within Berkshire and the wider Thames valley for Reading to be that terminus. Obviously, I have a slight bias towards my own home town being the terminus, but arguably there were bigger economic cases to be made. Every council in the Thames valley area, whether Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat, supported Reading becoming the western terminus. Parties worked together to get the good for the whole area, and in the same way we worked together on other projects and programmes, including the western rail link and other enhancements to our region.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to learn the lessons of major infrastructure programmes. Does he agree that one of the lessons we should learn is that if we get major infrastructure right, it lasts for hundreds of years? We are still benefiting from the Victorian investment 200 years ago and 150 years ago in railways. The current methodology for assessing the benefit of HS2 belongs in the 18th century, not the 21st century. The Department for Transport is not really trying to capture the economic regeneration effect and the fundamental change in the structure of transport in this country with the way that it assesses it.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and he is right that we need a wider look at the methodology. It is extremely complicated to make long-term economic predictions at this time, but back in the first phase of the rail revolution in this country in the 19th century, visionary engineers did amazing things that we still benefit from, as he rightly mentioned. Imagine how much potential we are yet to tap into with HS2. We should think of this as a once-in-a-century project, as he rightly says. It benefits all of us across the House, whatever party or area we represent.
In terms of other lessons from Crossrail, I once again urge Ministers to work closely with colleagues from the Government and the Opposition, local councils and, above all, business. We were able to reap the benefits in our area with this huge inward investment to Reading town centre. Companies relocated from within the south-east and from car-dependent developments in such places as Surrey. For example, Ericsson’s European and British head office has moved from an industrial estate in Surrey, which was poorly connected to sources of graduates and highly skilled people and physically to other locations such as London, Swindon or Slough. It came to Reading town centre because of that rail connectivity. We need to think in those terms with business and in a much broader sense across party. We need to think about relocating attractive new business opportunities into the transport hubs that have long-term sustainable connections, that do not suffer from delays and congestion like road transport and that are much quicker and more flexible. I am grateful for the Minister acknowledging those points.
Finally, before I sum up, I would like to reiterate the economic and environmental benefits. We need to see them in tandem rather than in contrast to one another, particularly the economic benefits for advanced manufacturing and the regeneration of cities, and the environmental benefits of reducing carbon emissions. Regenerating cities as liveable and walkable places is important in itself, and of huge environmental benefit in reducing suburban congestion from cars.
To sum up, I support the Bill and I am grateful for the cross-party co-operation. We need to have a very long-term approach, as a number of hon. Members have mentioned. The Government could do more to engage with local political representatives and business. I look forward to them doing that.
It is a pleasure to follow Matt Rodda, who made some very interesting and worthwhile points about how HS2 will be delivered and especially on talking to the team behind Crossrail. Crossrail had its own teething problems, as has HS2, so if we can learn some of those lessons, that would be excellent.
It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Dr Mullan, who made some excellent points. He has been a doughty champion on this issue for a long time, although unfortunately he did misspeak when he said that Crewe and not Heywood should be the home of Great British Railways. I will forgive him.
I completely understand the concerns expressed by Andrew Gwynne about the effect of suspending Metrolink. I have been having my own battle to get it to my constituency, so I definitely understand why he does not want it to go anytime soon.
This is a very timely, some might say slightly overdue, Bill and I welcome it very warmly. For some of us, getting HS2 to Manchester has been a labour of love for well over a decade. I think back to my time in Salford town hall, having these debates and talking about, “Oh, it’s only a couple of years down the track.” Of course, then it was a couple more years and then a couple more years, so it is very nice to be here debating this Bill in this Chamber.
At the heart of the Government’s manifesto at the last general election was the commitment to level up the UK. The Bill is evidence of that commitment. The industrial revolution began in Manchester. It was the world’s first industrial city and it should be at the heart of the next industrial revolution and the industrial revolution after that. Of course, the unspoken truth is that for a very, very long time investment in this country was tilted very heavily towards the south, creating the perverse situation where what was once the cradle of this country’s productivity was dependent on handouts from the part of the country that we dragged kicking and screaming into first the 19th century and then the 20th century. HS2 is an investment in infrastructure that the north of England desperately needs. We are not talking about the old “teach a man to fish” argument. We know how to do that. We basically invented fishing in this scenario. We just want our fishing rod back.
One of the most spurious arguments against the project is that the time it takes to get from Manchester to London is already a little over two hours and that HS2 will not really make a big difference. That, of course, spectacularly, and often deliberately, misses the point. This is about capacity, not just speed. The demand to do business up north far outpaces our ability to deliver, because we are choked off from the vital infrastructure we need to compete. It is a fact that HS2 will not just enable better north-south connectivity; by doubling capacity between London and Manchester, regional lines will also be freed up for more east-west and local services, too.
My hon. Friend is making a very good speech and his point on north-south is very well made. He will know that there is to be a new high-speed line which will pass through Warrington, through Warrington Bank Quay, into Manchester. The value of creating north-south, east-west in the north of England is the big picture we should be considering. We are talking about an HS2 Bill, but we should look at the full picture with the £96 billion investment that the Government are making in the north of England. When we add all those things together, it really is a phenomenal investment in rail in the north of England.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. In fact, this is the biggest investment in rail, I believe, in the history of this country and it is certainly more than the sum of its parts. That £96 billion will multiply and multiply again. Warrington is already a hub of both commercial and industrial activity. It is not properly connected to Manchester. It is a bit of a mission to get from A to B, as it is to get from Warrington to Liverpool. To get from Liverpool to Manchester is like pulling teeth. The very first seat I contested, in 2015, was Wallasey. I had to start very, very early in the morning on a Saturday to get there in time for my first canvassing session. I would welcome more connectivity, especially the high-speed rail link my hon. Friend talks about.
This Bill is more evidence that the Government are delivering on the integrated rail plan for the north. The Crewe-Manchester scheme will also provide the basis on which much of Northern Powerhouse Rail can be developed. I hope that eventually it will provide connectivity from Liverpool in the west to Hull in the east.
On connectivity and levelling up the north, my constituency includes Northwich, not far from Manchester and certainly not far from Crewe. HS2 is wonderful in terms of the job opportunities it will create in Crewe and the surrounding area, but on average it takes one hour 40 minutes to get from Northwich to Crewe, which the hon. Member will know is not actually that far up the road. Those who are disabled or immobile and who need to use a buggy cannot go in one direction, because there is no disabled access. He paints a wonderful picture on investment, but does he agree that there is a considerable way to go?
I paint a wonderful picture because there are so many wonderful things to work with, but I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point. Accessibility to public transport is hugely important. I have the same problem with the stations in my constituency. I only have two and one of them is completely inaccessible for those with even the slightest of mobility issues, so we have a lot more to do. Investment in local services will be driven by the fact that there will be more demand for them once we free up capacity, but I absolutely take the hon. Gentleman’s point. I know his part of the world very well and for somewhere so well located it is surprisingly poorly connected.
I hope that providing connectivity from east to west will be a vital part of our long-term competitiveness as a region. I strongly urge Ministers to keep up the pressure on that part of the project. East-west will be as important, if not more so, than north-south in the long run.
I am pleased that Ministers from the Department for Transport have been engaging with local government to make sure they can build on the opportunities of HS2 and spread the benefits of this public investment in levelling up across the region. It will not just be the centre of Manchester that will benefit. Those on the outskirts will also see the rewards. It will bring more investment into our area and into other areas of the north-west, too. It will spread the good around.
That is not to say there are not some sticking points. My hon. Friend the Minister, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson will have heard from most Greater Manchester MPs at one point or another. Obviously, there will be some snagging issues, but I am pleased to say that in the round when I have had questions or concerns, I have been able to have a frank and open conversation with him and have received honest answers, even if they are not always the ones I wanted.
I understand that the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has a number of concerns about the Bill in its current form, the largest of which is how Manchester Piccadilly will be developed and configured to accommodate HS2. Its preference is for an underground through-station, rather than the proposed new six-platform overground station next to the existing one. I am pretty agnostic about that—I can see arguments for both—but I took the time to do a bit of homework on the underground option. My concerns, essentially, are that the project calls for a huge tunnel to be built under the station which is larger than anything that has ever been drilled before. We would end up with the same situation as Euston, where we have to build a giant box underground. That, in turn, means it cannot be situated under the existing station, so it needs to be either alongside it, as is the case with the overground station anyway, or somewhere else altogether, which is largely pointless.
As the GMCA wants a through station, we will need to have very bendy tunnels, which will slow down the trains on their approach and increase journey time, or we will have to build the station at a right angle to the existing station, which will mean it will be an absolute nightmare for people to get from A to B, again negating its value. Added to that is the fact that we will have a hole in the ground for a period of about seven years, which will basically be an opencast mine, with trucks making thousands of movements a year to take spoil through the centre of Manchester.
My hon. Friend knows that I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Public Order Bill. To be fair, if we could get the protesters to do the tunnelling for us, it might save us 5 billion quid. That might be a way of doing it—get a few Swampy types in and get the job done.
We have regenerated the centre of Manchester many times, certainly in my adult lifetime, but this is not the kind of regeneration that we particularly want. It will undo a huge amount of good. Digging up a square mile of the city centre will certainly not deliver the value for money that we want. Having said that, may I encourage the Minister to publish in the Library the cost-benefit analysis of both versions of the station? That would enable a fuller debate, especially when the Bill comes before the Select Committee. The subject needs to be discussed further.
If an underground station is good enough for London, why not Manchester? The scale of this investment will benefit generations to come. We have to get this right. What is good enough for London certainly should be good enough for Manchester.
As a proud northerner, I do not think there is any bit of London that cannot be improved by digging it up. I do not think that the same is true of the centre of Manchester.
As for the cancellation of the Golborne spur, I join my hon. Friends the Members for Leigh (James Grundy) and for Warrington South (Andy Carter) in welcoming the reconsideration of that ludicrous white elephant. As hon. Members well know, it was originally included only as a sop to the former Member for Leigh, who is now the Mayor of Greater Manchester. That money could be much better deployed elsewhere, including on integrating our public transport properly.
That point brings me to my favourite subject: public transport. One area on which I can make common cause with the GMCA is that the project needs to be fully integrated into whatever network the Mayor gets around to implementing. I particularly note the call for a new Metrolink station, Piccadilly Central, to be included in the project. I support that call fully, although I will be less than chuffed if central Manchester gets yet another metro station before either Heywood or Middleton is connected to the network.
I urge the GMCA and Transport for Greater Manchester to get their collective digits out of wherever they are, and get on with the feasibility studies that are supposed to deliver these projects. Obviously, levelling up needs to be more than just a railway, but building HS2 is a vital first step towards drawing wider investment into Greater Manchester and the wider north-west. Building this scheme will help to bring businesses, jobs and prosperity to our region.
We have heard in interventions from Opposition Members the idea that somehow this is not enough. Has my hon. Friend considered how many generations of neglect the north of England has had to put up with in its transport and rail infrastructure? Does he welcome, as I do, the fact that it is this Conservative Government who are sorting it out?
I absolutely do. For generations, we have had our faces pressed against the glass of economic opportunity, only to be told that it is too expensive for us or that it is not the sort of thing our part of the world needs. It is always an over-investment; then, of course, as soon as we are the ones spending the money, we are not spending enough. It is the Andy Burnham textbook—but people seem to like that, so who knows?
The region, which a couple of centuries ago levelled up this country, and consequently the rest of the world, will be our link to a new economic horizon for the north-west and for the entire country. It will allow us to connect our world-class businesses, our world-class universities and our innovation in science and technology to the rest of the country and beyond. HS2 between Crewe and Manchester is a major step towards rebalancing regional discrepancies in investment, and I expect it to have a similar positive effect on economic development elsewhere.
We need to get on with the project now. The longer it takes, the more opportunities are lost. As I have said, it is not just about speed; it is about capacity.
It is a pleasure to speak on the Bill’s Second Reading and to follow my hon. Friend Chris Clarkson. It goes without saying that improving connectivity across the whole UK is fundamental to the Government’s levelling-up agenda. HS2 can promote growth across the country, open up new employment opportunities and enable more efficient travel for millions, all while supporting net zero by 2050.
Even the most ardent supporters of HS2 must accept that it does not command ringing endorsement from all quarters. Many of my constituents, understandably, question its cost in particular. Personally, however, I believe that a 21st-century Britain needs a modern rail link such as is proposed. We have fallen behind our continental neighbours, making do with dated infrastructure.
The overriding reason for the development of HS2 has not been reducing journey times to and from London, but creating much-needed new capacity on a crowded network. That is important for all of us, but from the perspective of north Wales, this national infrastructure project can do more. First, in combination with Northern Powerhouse Rail, it can much improve our connections to the cities of Manchester and Liverpool and their airports, as well as beyond.
Secondly, the project can and must prompt investment in the north Wales coast main line to Crewe and Warrington. Electrifying and upgrading the north Wales main line in the manner proposed by Sir Peter Hendy in his Union connectivity review would result in fit-for-purpose regional connections and could allow through-running of HS2 trains, both southbound and northbound. All this would be transformative. It is a No. 1 priority for regional MPs and for the all-party parliamentary group on Mersey Dee North Wales, which I chair.
One of the things that so excite me about Crossrail is that local authorities and businesses are already thinking about the next stage—about spurs off it, other uses and so on. It is wonderful to hear that the hon. Member and his colleagues are thinking about taking HS2 along the coast into north Wales. I wish him well.
I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. A huge amount of work has certainly been done with the campaign organisation Growth Track 360, which is looking at that. There is an amazing graphical interpretation to be found online of how it might look, with the train passing Conwy castle; it was developed by a Ukrainian, in fact. It is fantastic.
Today, Manchester and Liverpool can be reached in just over an hour by road, on average, from Rhyl in my constituency. In comparison, existing rail services take about two hours, yet a similar distance by rail in the south-east of this country takes as little as 40 minutes.
I have family there: my nain and taid—well, not mine, but I borrowed them—came from Rhyl. They always used to talk about the income lost to the tourism industries of the beautiful north Welsh hills because the public transport connections were not what they could be. Has my hon. Friend done any assessment of the scale of the economic improvement that could be made?
Yes, work has been done by Growth Track 360 and others to look at improvements that could be made to the regional economy. Tourism, as my hon. Friend says, is right at the top. So many people in the north-west, the west midlands and further afield would visit north Wales if they could get there more quickly.
Poor regional rail services stifle economic growth, including in our vital tourism sector. They suppress efforts to reduce higher-than-average unemployment and result in just 2% of commutes to the north-west of England being made by rail, which is about 80% less than the national average.
I strongly urge the Minister to ensure that when the updated rail network enhancements pipeline is due, it includes an ambitious programme for the north Wales coast main line. Signalling improvements, line speed enhancements, infrastructure to allow express trains to overtake slow trains and capacity improvements in and around Chester station are all required to deliver that programme, as is electrification. Electrification will ultimately be required regardless, of course, to fulfil the decarbonisation agenda, but it needs to be prioritised. Placing all those improvements at the formal RNEP decision-to-develop stage now will allow north Wales and west Cheshire to properly benefit from HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.
My hon. Friend is making a very good speech indeed. He talks about north Wales and the north-west, but a very obvious benefit of improving the main line along the north Wales coast is that it would also improve connections to Northern Ireland, because of the ferries from Holyhead to Dublin. The opportunity to connect all parts of the UK by improving rail is critical for the north Wales coast.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is what Sir Peter Hendy looked at in his Union connectivity review, which makes that point about the links across the UK, to Ireland and to the continent.
By investing in the improvements that I have outlined, we can prepare the ground to bring much of north Wales within a two-hour journey of London once the London to Crewe 2a section of HS2 is completed. Work on some elements of that agenda has already been conducted, or is due to be undertaken shortly, meaning that initial works could get under way sooner rather than later. I look forward to meeting the Chief Secretary to the Treasury shortly, alongside my colleagues in north Wales, to discuss further the soon-to-be-updated RNEP.
HS2 is an important British engineering and infrastructure project, which, like the M6, will be located in England but will benefit north Wales. There are those who say that HS2 should be considered an England-only project with Barnett consequentials arising for Wales. Journeys to and from north Wales overwhelmingly run on an east-west axis, and in my view there is absolutely no value in engaging in separatism and seeking to pretend otherwise. However, after many decades of underinvestment, the time for a significant financial commitment to the Crewe to Holyhead line has well and truly arrived. With such investment, HS2 will bring greater benefits to north Wales and thereby help to bring the Union closer together. With that in mind, I hope the Minister can give some clarity about when we might anticipate the Government’s full response to the Union connectivity review.
The inclusion in the Bill of a Crewe northern junction joining the west coast main line and HS2 north of Crewe is important for north Wales in ensuring an adequate throughput of northbound services at Crewe, and therefore sufficient connecting services for my region. I was pleased to help to lobby for this northern junction some years ago, alongside colleagues at the north Wales and Mersey Dee rail taskforce, who lead the Growth Track 360 campaign that I have mentioned. However, it is vital that funding be found for a fit-for-purpose Crewe hub station building and infrastructure, and that the design be future-proofed to allow rapid connections and HS2 through services to north Wales.
I move on to the recent announcement that the Golborne link will no longer be constructed. That brings with it potentially good news for north Wales, assuming that the route northbound via Warrington is to be upgraded accordingly. I encourage the Minister to examine that possibility carefully.
I recently met the head of public affairs for Manchester airport, Andy Clarke, who outlined to me the airport’s enthusiasm for HS2 but emphasised the need for several matters to be properly examined in the near future, including the likely impact of construction, the concern over the requirement for a local funding contribution towards the new airport HS2 station and the need to ensure that public transport links between the new station, the existing station and terminal buildings are up and running from day one. Once again, I hope the Minister will take that on board.
On the point about Manchester airport, does the hon. Gentleman think it is discriminatory, and that it certainly does not help the levelling-up agenda, for Manchester airport to be expected to make a financial contribution to the station at the airport, when none of the other airports along the line are expected to do so?
That is a valid point. I do not have the detail of other airports and the value that they are destined to derive from HS2. Clearly, Manchester international airport is a busy and successful one, and perhaps it can contribute towards the costs. It needs to be closely involved in the precise design and costings of the proposals.
This Bill will provide significant opportunities to level up across the UK, while protecting and strengthening the Union. It will also create very many well paid jobs during the construction phase and beyond. I urge the Minister to ensure that the potential opportunities for north Wales from HS2 are seized upon, in part by confirming and ensuring that the future through running of HS2 trains from Crewe on to an electrified north Wales coast main line is a serious aspiration for the Government.
My opposition to HS2 has been expressed somewhat forcefully in this House over the two and a half years for which I have had the privilege of representing the Buckingham constituency. I note with some sadness, and certainly bewilderment, that we continue to debate this relic from the Blair-Brown Labour Government; and, worse than that, to extend it yet further with this Bill, bringing to more parts of the country, and more lives, the human misery that my constituents have experienced since enabling works and construction started. We have heard some commentary about the Leader of the Opposition’s previous stance, and perhaps this is one occasion on which Captain Hindsight got it right the first time.
It is not lost on me that this debate comes on the eve of the hard left and the unions bringing our railways to a halt, and preventing hard-working British people, schoolchildren and people who want to go out for the day from getting on the railways that we do have. I was struck by what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport said in his earlier statement, which provides important context to our debate:
“The railway is in a fight…not just competing with other forms of public and private transport but competing with Teams, Zoom and other forms of remote working. Today, many commuters who three years ago had no alternative but to travel by train have…the option of not travelling at all. Rail has lost a fifth of its passengers.”
In the light of the Secretary of State’s words, it has to be asked why on earth we continue to plough in excess of £100 billion into a railway project that blights the British countryside and delivers none of the real or quantifiable benefits that some—including, and I say this with great respect, hon. and right hon. Members who spoke before me—believe it does. I welcome the cancelling of the eastern leg and the cancelling of the Golborne spur, but even before those bits were chopped off, the benefit-cost ratio was only 0.6:1.7. We are yet to see from the Government where that BCR sits today with a scaled-back HS2.
I want to focus on two things. First, why on earth are we continuing to plough money into this thing? Secondly, from my constituency experience, I say to hon. and right hon. Members who support the Bill and want to extend HS2 further that they should be careful what they wish for. But before I get on to that, I want to explore a point that others have raised today about the ongoing HS2 debate.
At the start, HS2 was all about speed; it was all about how fast we could get to Birmingham or Manchester, which are fantastic parts of our United Kingdom. Personally, I have never had a problem with the time it has taken to get by rail to Birmingham, to Manchester or, for that matter, up to Glasgow, where I had clients when I ran my business. The debate very quickly became about capacity, and we have heard that word a lot today. As the Secretary of State said in his statement, however, rail has lost a fifth of its passengers, so presumably we no longer have that capacity problem. Earlier this year, we even saw suggestions reported in the press in relation to the Transport Committee and others that HS2 had become about propping up the construction industry. As my right hon. Friend Esther McVey said in her excellent speech earlier, with 1.3 million vacancies in the economy, I do not think that the taxpayer should be propping up anything at all in the construction industry. At present, it is almost impossible to find a builder for either a big or a small project. It is almost impossible to work to a tight timescale.
I challenge my hon. Friend the Minister, when he sums up the debate, to give us an answer to this question. Is it about speed, is it about capacity, is it about propping up the building industry? There is a further question that should worry all those on this side of the House, all those with a free-market, low-tax, small-state viewpoint: how it can be that we are building this thing entirely at cost to the taxpayer? If there really is such high demand for HS2, if it really is the great railway, the golden bullet, that will solve all the north-south transport problems in the country, why does no one in the private sector want to risk their own pounds and pence in real investment? Why does no one have the confidence to put their own money into this project? That is a massive alarm bell that should sound in the minds of certainly every Conservative, if not every Member in the House.
As we look at extending high-speed rail yet further, from Crewe to Manchester, I say again that those who support this should be careful what they wish for. I extend an open invitation to any Member to visit my constituency, and to travel through villages and hamlets such as Terrick, Butlers Cross, Ellesborough, Little Kimble and Great Kimble, Marsh, Stone, Fleet Marston, Waddesdon, Quainton, Edgcott and Grendon Underwood, Steeple Claydon, Twyford, Charndon, Chetwode, Westbury, Turweston—and there are more. I invite Members to come and see the scale of not just the devastation caused to the Buckinghamshire countryside, but the real human misery that goes with that. There are the endless road closures, often taking place at a moment’s notice. In a rural environment, that does not mean a five-minute diversion to get the kids to school, to get to work, or to go wherever else people wish to go; it is often a half-hour or a 45-minute diversion.
Let me give the House a tangible example of where that can really strike. The Princes Centre is a daycare centre in Princes Risborough, quite a long way from the trace of HS2, but serving clients from all over the county of Buckinghamshire. It has had to pay 75% more in overtime rates for its employees to account for the time for which those carers are stuck in traffic—for no good reason, other than the HS2 road closures and endless traffic lights and diversions—while trying to reach the people who rely on their care. We have all seen the price of fuel rise in recent months, but the centre’s fuel consumption has increased by more than a quarter because of those diversions. This is an independent daycare centre, a charity, suffering severe financial penalties because of all the road closures and other disruptions that HS2 has brought to the county of Buckinghamshire.
Let us travel a little further up the road, to Fleet Marston on the edge of the town of Aylesbury, where the Hunters farm land all around the A41. HS2 has acquired a significant proportion of their land—farmland, arable land—and as a result of the way in which it has treated that land, it has become entirely waterlogged. No proper drainage has been put in place, and where the Hunters still have land to farm, their crops are completely ruined. No signs have been put up around the farm, and HS2 HGVs are constantly driving through the farmyard, finding it almost impossible to do three-point turns to get out again. This has also created an extremely dangerous stretch of the A41, the main road that runs through my constituency from Aylesbury to Bicester, where every day hundreds of HGVs come very close to people who are trying to go about their daily business. There have been many near misses on that stretch of road, and, sadly, there have been fatalities.
I could give countless examples of other farmers across the constituency who have been messed about time after time. They have, for instance, been subject to poor timescales for crop loss compensation, when they have not been able to farm their land or grow the crops or graze the cattle. In some cases, it has taken two harvests for farmers to receive the compensation.
Great Moor Sailing Club, just outside Calvert, has experienced massive construction disruption, which has almost prevented it from carrying out its activities. Agreements made between contractors and the club have constantly failed to be met and honoured. A good neighbour High Speed Two Ltd is categorically not.
Let us go a little further up the road to Steeple Claydon, where the bus company Langston & Tasker operates. That company has one of the main home-to-school contracts in the county of Buckinghamshire. Andy and Dan Price, who own the business, are having to deal not only with the increase in overheads that the cost of living pressures and the global oil price have brought to them, but massive increases in overheads because of the diversions that are affecting their school buses, and the damage to their vehicles caused by the crumbling roads that have been unable to cope with the thousands of daily HGV movements. Tyres have been torn off the company’s buses because the edge of the road has become like a bread knife as those thousands of HGVs have been forced out on to the verge, causing huge damage.
There are cases of landowners being messed around by not being offered a fair price for their land, or having land taken only to be told, “We have taken too much” or “We have taken too little and will have to take a bit more, but we are not going to tell you when you will get it back, or if you will get it back”. There was one tragic case of a farmer in my constituency who suffered a fatal heart attack. It is certainly the family’s view that the strains and the pressures and the stresses of the way in which he was treated by High Speed 2 Ltd were in part, if not wholly, to blame.
Construction projects like this bring real misery to communities. They will bring that same misery along the stretch from Crewe to Manchester. They will bring that same misery wherever big state infrastructure is put in place.
I am grateful to the HS2 Minister, my hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson, who has visited the constituency and always been available to discuss concerns. I am grateful to the new residents commissioner, Stewart Jackson, for spending two and a half hours in my car on Friday morning as I personally drove him round all the sites where roads have been damaged and showed him the inexplicable contradictions between what HS2 said it would do and what it has actually done. I showed him some of the farms that have been so badly messed about, and the homes have been boarded up and taken. I am also grateful to the construction commissioner, Sir Mark Worthington, for the time he has spent in the constituency and in engaging with me.
However, as my hon. Friend Philip Davies said earlier, there are still no answers about the price that has to be hit before anyone says, “Enough!” The reality is that when these big projects set off, with their huge commitments and unlimited budgets, they take on a life of their own. Completing these projects becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the contractors are out of control, no matter how much goodwill and fantastic effort goes into trying to rein them in.
To put this into perspective, let me say that I doubt that any other right hon. or hon. Member has a member of staff working full time just on the construction of this railway and East West Rail in their constituency. Such is the scale of the workload—the incoming—on HS2-related matters in my constituency.
No matter how much goodwill and engagement there is, and no matter how much the issues are looked at and properly interrogated, the contractors will carry on regardless. HS2 Ltd will carry on regardless. They see it as building this railway, full stop. We often get warm words. We often get roadshows at which they say they are listening, but the problem is that nothing changes. I give this to the House as a warning: this is the reality that underpins some of these infrastructure projects, particularly this one. I live in hope that one day sense will be seen and this project can be scrapped for good, but in the meantime we need a massive change of attitude from HS2 Ltd, from the contractors and from all who work for them, so that they start to put communities first.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Greg Smith, who I have known for nearly 15 years. He is a great friend of mine and I know he is a fantastic champion for his constituents. He spoke passionately about how he is standing up for them and how this project has impacted them. On his wider points opposing HS2, what he said was almost entirely nonsensical and I look forward to demolishing it in a moment.
In the long run we are all dead, according to John Maynard Keynes, and that attitude has been wholeheartedly embraced by many politicians throughout the years. That is understandable, because it is all too easy and tempting to focus on short-term urgent political gains and it is always difficult to spend all our political and financial capital on long-term strategic decisions for which we will get no credit and whose benefit will not be felt for decades to come. We are seeing this short-termism hurt our country in many ways, most acutely through the failure of the Blair Government to renew our nuclear power stations, which we are really feeling now, so I think this Government deserve a lot of credit for going ahead with high-speed rail.
There might be a contrary view that people in this place sometimes decide on these nice shiny things—for example, George Osborne and his super-duper high-speed trains—knowing full well that they will not have to be there to implement them. The Government might say that in 50 years’ time they want net zero or whatever it is, but they are not going to be there. That is what has happened in this case: it is a white elephant. Come on!
As I was saying, I believe that the Government deserve significant credit for taking a very long-term decision that will be of huge benefit to the country, although they will not get any credit for it for a long time to come. Let us contrast that with the Leader of the Opposition, who spent his first four years in Parliament focusing on two objectives. The first was to block High Speed 2 and the billions of investment in the north of England. The second was to try to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister.
I could not have put it better myself. When I flagged this point earlier, Opposition Members said it is a constituency interest, which is very revealing. A Member of Parliament’s list of priorities is supposed to be country, constituency, party and then self. It is slightly worrying that, when the interests of the country come up against the interests of a narrow corner of north London, the leader of the Labour party opts for self, party, constituency and then country last, which is very revealing about his priorities.
HS2 is an important infrastructure project, so I take great pleasure in busting some of the myths we have heard this evening. A series of myths about high-speed rail have been perpetuated over the last decade by a combination of muddled thinking and well-financed interest groups, and I will take them one by one.
As we have heard tonight, this is all about time. Who needs an extra 30 minutes off rail journeys down to London? First, this has never been primarily about journey times and speed; this has always been about capacity.
My hon. Friend and I never fell out when we took opposite sides in the Brexit referendum, and we will not fall out over this. He says HS2 has always been about capacity, so why did it have to be built as a high-speed line so dead straight that it had to go through the middle of ancient woodland and the Calvert Jubilee nature reserve? If it were about capacity, the line could have been slower from the outset and could therefore have gone around ancient woodland and nature reserves.
If we are going to spend billions of pounds on a new railway line, we want to make it a fast line. If we were to give in to my hon. Friend’s demands and scrap HS2 tomorrow, we would quickly run up against gridlock on the west coast main line, which is almost at complete capacity already.
The internet is a wonderful thing, and I have just looked at trains from Wellingborough into central London and at trains from Preston into central Manchester, a not dissimilar distance. Should my hon. Friend Mr Bone be in his wonderful constituency, he could get three trains before the trains close even on a day of disruption.
I have just checked. And from Preston to Manchester, a similar distance, there is one train because the capacity is not there. Although my hon. Friend Greg Smith made a wonderful speech, people need to understand what it feels like to be a rail user in the south-east of England. Does my hon. Friend Robert Largan agree that capacity is the key point?
As my hon. Friend Katherine Fletcher obviously knows more about Wellingborough than I do, she might mention that the cattle trucks they are now using, as we cannot spend proper money because it is being wasted on HS2, are of great detriment to my constituents. By the way, a person cannot get on at Wellingborough and go north. It is a total waste, totally wrong. If there was any argument not to pass this nonsense tonight, she should come to Wellingborough and then she would be on my side. Does my hon. Friend Robert Largan agree?
One of the most frequent tropes used by opponents of HS2 is, “We don’t need to invest in rail because we have high-speed broadband. Everyone will be working from home and having remote meetings, so it is not a problem at all.” How would we deliver freight via Zoom? It is not possible to deliver millions of tonnes of freight a year over the internet, and those who argue otherwise are completely missing the point. We desperately need to move away from road haulage and on to rail freight, which is one of the big benefits of HS2. It opens up capacity not only for passengers but for rail freight, too. I am very proud to represent a large number of quarries, and I chair the all-party group on mining and quarrying. One big challenge is getting all the aggregate out of our quarries and on to site. At the moment, a huge volume of that is done by road, by HGVs, which causes huge problems across the Peak district. Being able to increase that capacity is a big benefit of high-speed rail.
I next come on to address the point about cost, which has always been mentioned. People say that the cost of high-speed rail is “astronomical” and “completely ridiculous”, and that this is “a white elephant”. Let us consider the opponents of HS2’s worst-case-scenario cost figures—I think they are massively inflated, but let us take them at their word. How much would that actually cost when we spread it out over the lifetime of the project, which is decades? Even on the worst-case scenario, we are looking at about £5 billion a year, which is half of what we spend on overseas aid every year. When we are talking about a huge investment to upgrade the most important railway line in the country, spending 0.25% of our GDP a year over several decades does not seem to be a disproportionate amount of money.
Another of my favourite myths is, “HS2 is bad for the environment.” I recall that in the last one of these debates Caroline Lucas referred to HS2 as “environmental annihilation”. I am not sure whether she has ever been to Kent, where HS1 exists; it is still the garden of England. One wonders whether some of the opponents of HS2 have ever seen a railway line. We are not talking about eight-lane superhighways; we are talking about a relatively narrow footprint and about beautiful pieces of infrastructure. I would happily take all those people to places such as New Mills and Chapel Milton, where stunning viaducts criss-cross a national park, no less, and are beloved parts of the landscape.
Next, people say, “It’s a false choice. We should be investing in local lines, not spending billions on this big infrastructure project.” That is just a completely false narrative. A big part of opening up this capacity is that it helps existing commuter lines, with High Peak being the perfect example of that. Commuters on the Buxton line heading into Manchester from places such as Whaley Bridge, New Mills, Chapel-en-le-Frith and Buxton are on a really poor service. Why is that? It is because it has to go through the Stockport-Piccadilly corridor, which is one of the most congested lines anywhere in the country. There is not enough space on that line to get a more frequent or more reliable service into Manchester. HS2 opens up the Stockport corridor and will allow for a more reliable and more frequent service for my constituents.
We are also doing all the investment in the local lines too. The £137 million upgrade of the Hope Valley line in my constituency is under construction already; the HS2 Minister recently came with me to see the construction progress. That is also going to have a huge positive impact on commuters in my constituency and, again, it is going to open up freight capacity to help get goods out of the quarries in the Peak District and through into market.
Yes, I would like us to go even further. I would love to see us upgrade the Glossop line as well, as there are interesting proposals to go for a double track beyond Broadbottom to Glossop and to improve signalling on the way into Manchester Piccadilly, which could open up even more improvements on one of the fastest growing and busiest commuter lines anywhere in the country. That would be fantastic too.
Having gone through a number of the myths in relatively quick fashion, let us have a look at what we are talking about tonight, which is this Crewe to Manchester Piccadilly leg. It is really important that we get this right. A number of Opposition Members have talked about Manchester Piccadilly station, and I agree that it is essential that we get this right. Huge sums of money will be involved and this is an opportunity to dramatically improve one of the key stations not just for Manchester or for people in High Peak who commute in there, but for people across the entire north of England. This needs fixing and it is important that we explore all the options, including an underground line.
It is good to hear that we have some consensus on that issue. As the hon. Member powerfully said, it is not a trade-off between a national project and local services and facilities. My constituents in the Northwich part of my constituency would love to have the promised two trains an hour, but because of the lack of capacity in and around Manchester it just cannot happen. That is where Ministers need to focus a little more energy and to invest to ensure that this project lasts for generations.
I know Northwich very well—in fact, I used to work there—and HS2 will open up huge opportunities for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.
I am pleased that, after my discussions with the HS2 Minister, the instructions to the Select Committee on the Bill allow it to look into all options at Piccadilly. That is really important. The Committee also needs to look into all options at Manchester airport. A few people have already talked about making certain that we get that right, with the proper Metrolink, rail and bus links. There is lots of work to be done in the Bill’s next stage.
Let me conclude by saying that high-speed rail and the Government’s wider £96 billion investment in rail in the north of England is good not just for the environment, the economy, jobs and the High Peak; it is good for the whole of the north of England and for the whole country. Let us get on and build it.
First, I declare my interest: the Golborne spur affects the Grundy family farm, as it affects thousands of other families and businesses in Lowton and Golborne in my Leigh constituency. It has been fascinating to hear so many people talk about Golborne today. I do not think Golborne has ever been mentioned in Parliament so much since Colonel Blood, who came from Golborne, stole the crown jewels from the Tower of London. The people of Golborne are getting all their mentions in Parliament all at once today.
I strongly welcome the decision to scrap the Golborne spur of HS2. My local community and I have campaigned on the issue for 10 years. The news has been almost universally welcomed not just in Lowton and Golborne in my constituency but by the communities affected all along the line. Indeed, so popular was the decision to scrap the spur that when the HS2 Minister and I attended a charity event in neighbouring Culcheth in Warrington shortly after the announcement, not just Conservative councillors but Labour ones were keen to have their photograph taken with him.
The Golborne spur would have had a devastating impact on my constituency. It would have harmed the King’s Avenue estate, Pocket Nook Lane, Newton Road, the Oaklands and Meadows estate, the Braithwaite Road and Garton Drive estates, Slag Lane and the Scott Road estate. It would have demolished the Enterprise Way industrial estate, costing hundreds of local jobs that are always vital in a former mining community such as mine but especially important in the current economic climate. It would have also destroyed both Byron wood and Lowton civic field—much-loved green spaces and recreation areas.
I have sympathy with all whose homes and land are impacted, but is the hon. Gentleman not prepared to look at the mitigation measures—such as the green tunnel at Lowton—that TfGM has suggested to mitigate the effects on the constituents in Leigh?
I thank the hon. Member for mentioning that. It is interesting, because for pretty much the past 10 years I and other community representatives from Lowton were arguing for that kind of mitigation and we kept being told no. Then, all of a sudden, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, rocks up a week before the decision is made saying, “D’you know, we’re very interested all of a sudden in this mitigation.” I turned round and said to the Mayor, “The only form of mitigation that I’m interested in at this point is it not coming through my community at all.” We have suffered for long enough throughout this process and for the Mayor to come along at the last minute saying, “Oh, mitigation, mitigation”—no, thank you.
I remember—to digress from my written speech—when the Mayor of Greater Manchester and I stood on a stage together at Lowton Labour Club and promised our constituents, me as the councillor for Lowton East and him as the MP for Leigh, that we would fight the Golborne spur. I am happy to tell the Chamber today that one of us has kept that promise.
It is astounding what has been happening. Wigan Council has made noises off about the Golborne spur. I understand why Yvonne Fovargue wants to represent what she thinks is in the best interests of her constituents. None the less, it sticks in my throat that, during the recent local elections, a very short time ago, the Labour candidate for Lowton East and the sitting Labour councillor for Golborne Lowton West told us that Labour was against the proposal—and one of those people is a cabinet member on Wigan Council. All of a sudden we find out that that is not the case and that, perhaps, it never has been the case. It is incredibly infuriating to see this kind of politics where people stand in elections and say one thing, and then we find out that they actually stand for the exact opposite. It is the worst kind of politics. It is absolutely infuriating.
I am delighted that this amendment has been tabled tonight. Finally, the Opposition cannot hide where they stand on this issue. It has been like Schrödinger’s Opposition. Their view depends on whom they are talking to—whether people are for it or against it. Oh, they are always on your side. Well, that is no longer the case.
The hon. Gentleman is describing a situation in which some Labour Members are in favour and some are against, but does he not have exactly the same situation on his own Benches? We have heard some excellent speeches tonight against and in favour of HS2. It is just a situation that some support and that some do not.
Sometimes that happens: different boroughs have different opinions, as one might expect. But it is a bit rich for party members at one end of the borough to be saying one thing, and, others at the other end, to be saying another. That is outrageous. That is the job of the Liberal Democrats.
That kind of double standard is totally and utterly insufferable. I am very glad that, tonight, the colour of the Opposition’s money will be on the record. I give credit to Charlotte Nichols because she stood up and said that she welcomes this proposal, and I think that she was right to do so, because everyone along the section of the line has done so, including, my hon. Friend Andy Carter, the hon. Member for Warrington North, myself, and my hon. Friend Sir Graham Brady, many of whom have long-standing records on this.
I think the hon. Member for Warrington North, who is no longer in her place, will be greatly disappointed by the actions of her colleagues. Labour cannot hide anymore behind this equivocation of being both for it and against it. I am very pleased that we finally know the colour of people’s money on this issue.
I shall now return to my written notes. I feel that I have made my position pretty clear on this issue—pretty clear. There will be thousands of residents affected, hundreds of jobs at risk, and untold environment damage, and that is in my constituency alone. Is it any wonder that the Golborne spur has attracted near universal and cross-party opposition except from Wigan Council, which cannot see a bad project ever without backing it enthusiastically.
I should like to pay tribute to the thousands and thousands of local residents who have backed the campaign to scrap the Golborne spur over the past 10 years. Many of them must now feel like pen pals to some Ministers in DFT, so often have they written in to object. We could not have done this without their stalwart support. The community has been overwhelmingly onside. I should mention a few of the groups: Lowton East Neighbourhood Development Forum, Lowton West Residents, Lane Head Residents and Golborne Voice, and a couple of individuals. I have mentioned them before in the Chamber, but I would like to mention them again.
One of those individuals is Ted Thwaite, who sadly passed away six months before the decision was made. I remember his great friend Bob Hamilton saying at his funeral, “If the Almighty’s looking down on us with favour, then before too long Ted will have his way and we’ll have rid of the Golborne spur.” Most people spend their 70s with their feet up in a caravan somewhere. Ted decided that he was not going to let this stand, and spent the entirety of his 70s fighting like hell to ensure it did not happen. I am so sorry he is not here today to see the result—he was a great man—but I hope the decision will stand as a testament to his efforts.
The second person is Linda Graham, who used to be Andy Burnham’s office manager, and whose house was very close to the route of the spur. Some hon. Members may have seen me on the BBC’s “Sunday Politics” last weekend; we were at Linda’s house. Her house backs on to Byrom Hall Wood, which would have been destroyed. Linda was delighted, and there were a huge number of people there from around the local area. She fought and she fought, and she did not care that I was a Conservative and she had been a strong supporter of Andy Burnham. We fought together to get this result, along with all those other people. Especially since Ted passed away, she has been the heart and soul of keeping the community behind the campaign.
For Ted and Linda, the fact that 100 or 500 years from now Hansard will record their efforts, when I had never expected in my born days to be standing here, is terribly important. I love the fact that they have been put into the records and the history books for future historians to look at as the kind of people who fight for their communities and win against all the odds.
It was against all the odds, because I remember when the campaign started we had to fight literally everyone. Every political party was in favour of Golborne spur; there were so many institutions and the rest that it seemed like insurmountable odds. I was the only Conservative on Wigan Council at the time the spur was first proposed, and the fact that over 10 years later we have finally got this end result is simply unbelievable. I am delighted that we have done so, and I genuinely hope that this decision will not be reversed by some sort of procedural chicanery later on.
I would be interested to know whether, if the situation was reversed and several villages in Scotland were being destroyed to send a railway line to a large city in England, the hon. Gentleman would be so sanguine, or whether things would be very different. I suspect things might be very different, to put it that way.
To round up, this is the right decision. The communities that were affected by the spur are firmly on board, unanimously delighted, and we will be having a party to celebrate. I welcome the decision with open arms and I am immensely grateful, as are my constituents.
Back in November last year, we saw the release of the long-awaited integrated rail plan, which set out the Government’s intentions for delivering and sequencing major rail investment across the north of England. That was something I warmly welcomed at the time. On the day of the release, the Prime Minister visited Warrington Bank Quay station. I stood on the platform with him and the Secretary of State and we talked about Warrington being at the heart of the country’s rail network, with the potential to be the best-connected town in the north of England. I am pleased to say that they were both absolutely right. Warrington is being helped by the addition of a high-speed line through Bank Quay station taking us east to west—but I do not want us to stop there. I want a high-speed line to go through Bank Quay station taking us north to south to deliver on the Prime Minister’s statement that we will become the best-connected town in the north of England.
The new high-speed line from Warrington to Manchester and on into Yorkshire will also make use of the Fidlers Ferry goods line to Liverpool. This will create opportunities by releasing capacity on the existing network for commuter trains and freight, meaning that a new station hub can be created at Warrington Bank Quay right in the heart of Warrington town centre.
To give an example of the need to release capacity, just three years ago Warrington Borough Council and the Government spent about £20 million on building a new station, Warrington West, to service the more than 10,000 new homes built in Chapelford and Great Sankey. At the time, it was promised that three trains an hour would pass through that station, taking commuters who chose to live in Warrington into Liverpool and Manchester. Today, one train an hour stops at that station because there is not the capacity into Manchester to be able to accommodate more. As my hon. Friend Katherine Fletcher mentioned, if this were in the south of England, we would see many more trains per hour travelling through those stations. The north of England needs to be levelled up, and that capacity is really fundamental.
My hon. Friend is arguably the best MP Warrington South has had for about 40 years. I have constituents in Leyland who want to come to the thriving economic hub that is Warrington, but at the moment there is no public transport option available to them, so the Department for Work and Pensions is supporting them in gaining car or bike transport to take up the economic opportunities from being near Warrington. Will the integrated rail plan and this change to HS2 make it easier to get the capacity in so that Warrington’s growth is growth for the whole of the north-west of England, including Leyland?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It will be a catalyst for development not just in Warrington or in Lancashire and Cheshire but for the whole of the north-west of England. That is why the integrated rail plan, with its sequencing and rail investment, is so fundamental for the north of England.
While I was standing on Warrington Bank Quay station, I listened to Opposition spokespeople talking down the £96 billion plan being put forward by Government. There was no recognition of the fact that this Government are putting investment into trains in a way that has never happened before in the north of England—that was completely overlooked by the Opposition parties. There is now an opportunity to deliver on the levelling-up promises and allow people to travel around the north-west of England in a way that they have never done before.
The eastern leg of HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail at the time, was cancelled. That took out billions of pounds and actually levelled down the north. We cannot rewrite history; that is a fact. It is also a fact that there are people in constituencies such as mine who are waiting an hour or an hour and 40 minutes for a train. It is still just not good enough.
I accept that train services from the hon. Member’s constituency are not as good as they should be, but the Government’s plan is about addressing those issues by investing in the north of England. I have to ask him: when did the last Labour Government invest in trains in the way that this Conservative Government are doing in the north of England? I do not think they ever did.
I remember knocking on doors at the general election and talking to constituents across Warrington about their priorities. They were really clear that they wanted better opportunities to commute into the principal cities of Manchester and Liverpool, but when they arrived at the station in Manchester on a Monday morning to try to catch a train, there was no capacity—the two carriages were absolutely full. The Government’s investment will address that and resolve those issues, and I know that my constituents welcome the proposal to build a new line far more quickly than was previously proposed.
When I was standing on Warrington Bank Quay station with the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, the fly in the ointment was the HS2 Golborne spur, which would have meant that trains from London bypassed Warrington. It would have been a £2 billion to £3 billion rail investment that would have caused nothing but pain for my constituents in Heatley and Lymm, and for constituents along the line in neighbouring constituencies in Warburton and, crossing the Manchester ship canal, in Rixton and Glazebury, in Culcheth in Warrington North, and in Leigh.
For once, there was an outbreak of unity between me and the leader of Warrington Borough Council. We both opposed the scheme and, finally, the Government have listened and taken steps to put it on hold. On Saturday, I met one of the families who were expecting to lose their house. They had lived under the cloud of the Golborne spur for more than 10 years. I visited their lovely farm on Wet Gate Lane, Lymm and met some of the family who live there. They said to me, “Thank you.” They thanked the rail Minister, the HS2 Minister and the Prime Minister for listening to their pleas. Finally, the Government are listening to local people, but the clear message was that we now urgently need to review the safeguarding measures that are in place because, although there is a clear intention to move forward, they still live under the cloud that HS2 could be built in their area.
This is not just about HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail; it is also about investment in public transport through buses. I am incredibly grateful to the Government for the £42 million that is coming to Warrington to level up public transport through buses. An entire new transport fleet is going to Warrington’s Own Buses’ zero-emission buses, and £16 million of support will help to improve the frequency of buses and ensure that fares are kept low. That will make a massive difference to people living in my constituency, and I am grateful that this Conservative Government are levelling up in the north of England.
With the leave of the House, I will close this HS2 debate on behalf of Her Majesty’s official Opposition. I am sincerely grateful to all hon. Members who have contributed today and made eloquent points. They have sometimes opposed one another, but they have been eloquent on behalf of their constituents.
The hon. Members for Stone (Sir William Cash) and for Buckingham (Greg Smith) and Esther McVey spoke eloquently in opposition to High Speed 2. They spoke about the need for consultation and for more reliable and better local transport links. It is right that they did so on behalf of their constituents, who are vociferously opposed to the high speed link.
I thank Dr Mullan, who spoke in favour of High Speed 2 and about the huge benefits for his constituents and the increased number of engineering and other jobs available. I also thank Chris Clarkson, who rightly said that it is not about speed, but about capacity, and that it will help to bridge the north-south divide.
Dr Davies spoke about the need for electrification of north-west rail lines and the need to improve east-to-west connectivity with HS2, because that is the only way his constituents and many others in Wales can benefit from HS2. He also spoke about the need finally to publish the rail network enhancements pipeline, and I hope that the Minister was listening. That is in addition to the various written parliamentary questions that I have written to him about that.
Robert Largan also spoke in favour of HS2, and about the lack of capacity in the Manchester corridor and the need to improve that. James Grundy welcomed the scrapping of the Golborne link, as did Andy Carter. Indeed, I know from my hon. Friend Charlotte Nichols speaking to me that there is a lot of cross-party support for that in their area, although there is not consensus, as we will soon find out, given the amendments put forward by my hon. Friend Yvonne Fovargue.
My hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne spoke extremely passionately about the need to get on with High Speed 2, and about the need to free up and increase local transport links and increase rail freight. He spoke at length about Manchester Piccadilly station, as did other Manchester colleagues. I ask the Minister to look again at the proposals, particularly with reference to the blight that they would inflict on Manchester and the growth opportunities that would be forgone as a consequence.
My right hon. Friend Angela Rayner has spoken to me on various occasions about her opposition to the closing of the tram Metrolink for two years. That is completely unacceptable, as my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish also referred to. We need to rethink this proposal, rather than fob off local residents, particularly those in Tameside and the east Manchester conurbation.
My hon. Friend Matt Rodda spoke about the need to look on this as a national infrastructure priority for all of us, and he also dwelled on the need to learn lessons from the incredible Crossrail project. He spoke about the need to catch up with our European neighbours and those in other parts of the world on high-speed rail.
My hon. Friend Mike Amesbury made numerous interventions in the debate and, collated together, they would have more than sufficed to make a speech. He spoke eloquently about the need to get basics right. It is important, in particular, to solve issues such as the collapsed station roof in his constituency as well as the local transport links before we embark on further major infrastructure projects.
I appreciate that, across the House, this Bill can be very divisive, but what is not controversial is wanting to see solid and fair investment across our communities, which I know the whole House can stand behind. I support investment in our great northern and midlands towns and cities, but I cannot in good faith say that, as it stands, this Bill delivers the right infrastructure to long-suffering passengers. I want to see real ambition from Ministers and Government, but, sadly, all I see is broken promises and excuses. While we should be building a shiny new future for rail, we have, unfortunately, already started on the wrong foot. As we progress through the passing of this Bill, we need to see better, and I hope that the rail Minister has made note of the important contributions today.
The good people of our country deserve better—much better—and we in the Labour party will continue to press Ministers throughout the passage of this Bill on key areas. For example, we will look for: a commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail being delivered rather than seeing promises reneged upon; a solution to Manchester Piccadilly station that minimises disruption and enables future connectivity to Bradford and Leeds; a solution for the Ashton Metrolink rather than fobbing off local MPs and residents; and for capacity constraints on the west coast main line to be addressed, as referenced by my hon. Friend Christian Matheson, allowing for improved connections to Scotland from the north of England. If the Golborne link is also not to be taken forward, any funding saved should be reinvested in local transport projects.
The people of our country deserve a Government who are serious about improving our transport network no matter where one lives or works. We need not just an improvement in route planning and engagement with local leaders and communities but better procurement and employment opportunities for the Great British people. I stand committed to ensuring that people across our country see the benefit of the project in jobs and opportunities, especially having seen the talented young apprentices and engineers during my recent visit to the HS2 Old Oak Common station organised by the all-party parliamentary group for women in transport. We simply cannot stand by when, for example, only one UK-based firm has been shortlisted for £2.5 billion-worth of track and tunnel systems. We must ensure that the bidding process for HS2 contracts takes a holistic approach, looking at the net economic benefit of proposals and the companies who complete them. Labour would ensure that more public contracts went to British companies, from small construction businesses to national corporations. Buying, making and selling more in Britain benefits us all.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Does he agree that railway towns across the country, whether in the north, the south, the midlands, Wales or Scotland, would all benefit from such strategic procurement and that it is incumbent on the Government to look at exactly what he talks about?
I fully agree. Indeed, those benefits should not come at a disproportionate financial cost. HS2 should ensure value for money for taxpayers. In 2020, the National Audit Office noted that HS2 was over budget and behind schedule due to an underestimation of its complexity and risk by the Department for Transport, HS2 and the Government. Where is the leadership that the project desperately needs? It urgently needs to get back on track.
Fundamentally, the project’s potential is being missed and the only thing that Ministers have brought to the table is a lack of ambition. I hope that, as we move forward with the Bill, key areas of concern will be addressed. Promises made must be kept, including on the completion of HS2 in full. The Labour party and I will hold the Government keenly to account to ensure that that transpires.
HS2 is a substantial investment in our railways. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who spoke in the debate. All contributions demonstrated the need for us to continue to listen to those who know their local communities best. Both I and my officials will continue to engage with local residents and communities to improve the scheme, to ensure that it is part of building vibrant communities and to support the Government’s ambitions to deliver net zero.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I work regularly with the leaders of both councils, and on visits to HS2 line-of-route constituencies I have met local campaign groups. HS2 Ltd has taken into account special considerations of the geology in that part of Cheshire, and the design of the scheme has been informed by a wide range of information, including the British Geological Survey’s maps and surveys, salt extraction operations, and the locations of mines. We will continue to carry out significant ground investigations as we progress the scheme.
Before I turn to the contributions made during the debate, I will briefly set out some of the motions that we will be seeking to move formally, following Second Reading. The committal motion passes the Bill to a specially appointed Select Committee. It will be tasked with looking into the detail of the route, and hearing any petitions on different aspects of the Bill. I thank the Committee in advance for the work it is about to do. A separate instruction motion is designed to allow the Committee to have a full understanding of the work. That includes an instruction to the Committee to remove the Golborne link from the Bill. If the House passes that motion, the Government will make an additional provision to remove those powers from the Bill. I recognise that the Labour party has tabled an amendment that opposes our motion to remove the Golborne link, but I urge it to give the Government time to consider all the different options to deliver maximum benefits to Scotland, and to deliver Scotland the transport solution it deserves. To maximise those benefits to Scotland and the north, it is right that we remove the Golborne link at this stage, because the principle of the Bill is agreed on Second Reading.
Potentially there is no detriment whatsoever to Scotland, because we have said that we are only removing that link to look at alternatives. One alternative is to upgrade the existing west coast main line, and other alternatives will be considered as part of the study. It is entirely possible that we could deliver a better and faster journey time to Scotland as part of the removal of the Golborne link—something I am sure the hon. Gentleman would welcome, because the Scottish Government and the UK Government have a shared ambition to reduce journey times between London, and Glasgow and Edinburgh.
There is a motion on how habitats regulations should be dealt with in the Bill, and it would apply the requirements of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 to the parliamentary process. The Government’s view is that there has already been extensive consultation on the environmental statement that accompanied the Bill. There were more than 6,000 responses to the consultation. That is reflected in the instruction to the Select Committee, which makes clear that it does not need to hold a further consultation specifically in relation to the habitats regulations. It is my view that the requirement has been satisfied in relation both to the Bill and to further consultations on any additional provisions.
I draw particular attention to the carry-over motion. This is a more extensive motion than the House is used to seeing. That is because hybrid Bills take much longer than normal Public Bills, and the aim is to save parliamentary time. I trust that the House will give its support to all those motions this evening.
I thank the Minister for inviting me to view the HS2 site at Old Oak Common last week, where I was able to see first hand how HS2 Ltd and its contractors are learning lessons as they go along. There is every chance that when we come to the Crewe to Manchester leg, it will be more impressive, reliable and sustainable than phase 1. Will the Minister outline what conversations are happening about proceeding with an eastern leg of HS2, which would greatly benefit my constituents in Broxtowe?
My hon. Friend remains a strong champion for his constituency and region. As he will know, as part of the integrated rail plan we said that we will build a first phase of the eastern leg from the west midlands to East Midlands Parkway, and we will then consult on how we are taking trains from East Midlands Parkway to Leeds. That is in addition to the study we are undertaking on the Toton site in his constituency, looking at maximising regeneration and development opportunities in that area to supply the maximum number of jobs and benefits for his constituents.
I turn to the points made in the substantive speeches in the debate, starting with Mr Dhesi. I welcome Labour’s ongoing support for the Bill. I remain keen to continue to work with him and his colleagues to ensure that as the Bill passes through this House, we continue to make the right decisions to deliver maximum levelling-up benefits across the country. He says that the project has been watered down so much that it has become a ghost, but I am not sure how many ghosts employ 26,000 people. We are keen to get on with delivering this project, which started under Labour, but which we have gripped and started to make real progress on. There is not a choice here—it is not either/or; we are investing in the conventional rail network at the same time as investing in high-speed rail services. The trans-Pennine route upgrade is the biggest investment across the whole country in the conventional network, and it is taking place in the north of England.
Does it not trouble the Minister that he is getting such wholehearted support from the spendthrifts on the Opposition Benches? Does the fact that they are so happy to see taxpayer money thrown about with gay abandon not worry him, and does it not make him think that actually this is not a Conservative thing to be proceeding with?
My hon. Friend remains consistent in his views on the HS2 programme, but I would be happy to remind the House that in addition to that cross-party support, the Second Readings of the legislation for phases 1 and 2a secured some of the biggest majorities this House has seen in recent years. The project has significant support on the Conservative Benches and the Opposition Benches.
Excellent. I could not make the point better myself.
My hon. Friend Sir William Cash talked about the business case and whether there was still demand for the HS2 programme. It is worth emphasising that the delivery into service for the Crewe to Manchester section is 2035 to 2041. We have a lot of time for post-pandemic recovery in demand for our rail services. He also talked about the debate around the location of the railhead and the Stone infrastructure maintenance base. I am keen to continue to work with him and his constituents on that issue, and I look forward to visiting his constituency soon to meet some of those residents and to see what more we can do.
The SNP spokesman, Gavin Newlands also spoke. I welcome the SNP’s continuing support for the HS2 programme. This Bill is the first Bill that will create infrastructure in Scotland, and 100 permanent jobs will be created at the new depot in Dumfries and Galloway. The Golborne decision is certainly not a betrayal of Scotland, and the shared ambition remains for us to reduce journey times between London, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
My right hon. Friend Esther McVey has been a consistent critic of the project and its business case, which I appreciate will have significant impacts on her constituency. In terms of cost increases, the budget for HS2 was set following the Oakervee review in February 2020. Since then we have remained within budget. My hon. Friend Philip Davies asked when HS2 would cost so much that it would be scrapped. I simply say this: we keep the project costs under constant review. We are constantly looking to make cost savings and efficiencies, and I report not just on the budget but on any emerging cost pressures in my six-monthly reports to Parliament. We are fully open and transparent about cost pressures emerging on the project.
I understand that there are many line-of-route constituencies where MPs are concerned about the benefits they will receive. I am pleased to announce that we will be increasing the amount of community funding available by £10 million to the HS2 community and environment fund and the HS2 business and local economy fund. That extra funding will help renew community facilities used by residents between Crewe and Manchester, contribute to vital community services to help improve community health and wellbeing, and support local environmental projects.
The Minister will be aware of the construction work going on in the beautiful village of Balsall Common in my constituency. For many years, HS2 Ltd’s contact has left a lot to be desired. It ignored my constituents’ requests to minimise disruption to the point that a country lane normally used by school kids and families will now be used for hundreds of lorry movements. Does he agree that the residents of Balsall Common deserve greater respect? Will he agree to meet me to discuss how we can get through this problem together?
My hon. Friend and I have met several times on this issue. I am keen to meet him again and continue to work with him to address the challenge of respecting the challenges local residents face while delivering this transformational project.
It is worth me focusing on Manchester Piccadilly underground station, as the hon. Members for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), and my hon. Friends the Members for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) and for High Peak (Robert Largan) all mentioned this one issue. There has been extensive engagement with stakeholders on the underground station. Following three years of engagement between HS2 Ltd and Greater Manchester stakeholders, the Secretary of State proposed a four-platform overground station in January 2013. That was followed by a formal consultation in January 2013 and in 2016 a further design refinement consultation on proposed changes around Piccadilly was also announced. As the same time as the 2016 consultation, the Government provided funding for Greater Manchester to create a growth strategy for the Piccadilly area. Between 2017 and 2018, the Government again worked extensively with Greater Manchester partners to refine the options.
The Government have always been clear that there needed to be a strong business case to justify the extra spending on an underground station, because we always believed that it would be the more expensive option. The Bechtel report, commissioned by Manchester City Council, was one example of making the case for an underground station. The Government, however, felt that there was no new information in the 2019 Bechtel report, with nothing to change the Government’s fundamental conclusion that a surface station design can cope with the full capacity of the HS2 line and that the underground station option remained hugely more expensive to deliver. In June 2020, I commissioned HS2 to investigate further options on the underground alternative.
I am grateful that the Minister has listened attentively and is answering some of the points, although not to my satisfaction. Will he do two things? Will he meet a delegation of the Greater Manchester MPs who have spoken in this debate to discuss the matter further? Secondly, I think he dismisses the Bechtel report too quickly. Will he agree, after a discussion, to commission a report that looks at the cost of the opportunities lost by not having an underground station?
I thank the hon. Member for that point. We did not believe that the Bechtel report was convincing, but I was happy to do further work and have done further work since then. I will briefly mention the further study I commissioned at the request of the Mayor and others, because I believe that is important information, and then we can perhaps talk about a way forward.
In June 2020, I commissioned HS2 to investigate. By September 2020, HS2 Ltd, the Department for Transport, Transport for the North, Transport for Greater Manchester and Manchester City Council had agreed the scope for the work to look at a like-for-like comparison between a surface station and an underground alternative. In summer 2021, HS2 Ltd was commissioned to undertake that like-for-like study to compare the underground station alternatives to the surface station. HS2 looked at not only one alternative, but three possible alternative solutions for an underground station. HS2 Ltd worked closely with Transport for Greater Manchester, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Transport for the North at every stage of the study. From developing the scope of the work to selecting the underground options they considered, they ensured that they represented the best alternative underground designs. That study concluded in August 2021. It recommended that the Government proceed with the surface station for the HS2 Crewe to Manchester scheme. We confirmed our intention for a six-platform surface station when we deposited the Bill in January.
Based on the report’s findings, I am absolutely confident that a surface station design will deliver what Manchester needs at a lower cost and with a lower construction impact than underground alternatives. The study has been shared with Manchester stakeholders. The Government intend to publish the report shortly, to allow everyone to have sight of the work undertaken and compare the alternative underground design options with the surface station. My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton asked whether I could put a copy in the Library; I am more than happy to commit to doing so.
We are at an impasse here, because Greater Manchester MPs disagree fundamentally with the Minister, the Greater Manchester Mayor disagrees fundamentally with the Minister, and the 10 councils of Greater Manchester disagree fundamentally with the Minister. My hon. Friend Graham Stringer suggested a meeting to try to break the impasse. Will the Minister agree to that meeting?
I am more than happy to agree to that meeting. I am sure that the Select Committee will also want to look at all the options for Piccadilly and the proposals put forward by stakeholders. I am more than happy to meet, but I am sure that this debate will continue. Given the shortness of time, I will jump over the hon. Member’s contribution about Metrolink, but we have met several times and I am happy to continue to work with him to ensure that we deliver this in a sensible fashion.
My hon. Friend Dr Mullan made some incredibly supportive comments about the Bill. He can be especially proud that the historic railway works in his constituency will help to deliver the HS2 rolling stock contract.
I thank Matt Rodda for his support and for speaking so eloquently in favour of more investment in rail infrastructure. We are learning lessons from Crossrail about project management and various other things; one of the first meetings that I had in the Department was with the outgoing chairman of Crossrail.
I am very happy to commit to that meeting. We have to continue to learn lessons from Crossrail and other major transport investments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton made some great comments about focusing on capacity, and about the benefits that will come from doubling the capacity between Manchester and London. I welcome his support for removing Golborne from the Bill.
My hon. Friend Dr Davies spoke about the benefits to Wales, particularly north Wales, and about Growth Track 360. I can tell him that we hope that RNEP will be published soon, and that the response to the Union connectivity review will be published soon. I am happy to continue to work with him on all the issues.
My hon. Friend Greg Smith has been a consistent opponent of HS2 and has spent a huge amount of his time raising his constituents’ concerns. I thank him again for the time that he took to raise those issues directly with me when I visited his constituency. I am keen to follow up on many of the issues that he raised today. I am also pleased that the new residents’ commissioner, Stewart Jackson, recently visited my hon. Friend’s seat.
My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak spoke about the need to focus on long-term investment. He is completely right: we must not underestimate the importance of freight. HS2 will free up existing rail lines to deliver greater freight capacity across the country.
My hon. Friend James Grundy has without doubt been the strongest opponent of the Golborne link over many years. I pay tribute to his campaigning work on the issue. Given his support for the action that we have taken to remove the Golborne link from the Bill, I hope that he will support the Bill’s Second Reading tonight.
My hon. Friend Andy Carter talked about the benefits to Warrington of the £96 billion integrated rail plan. It is important to remind the House that that is the biggest ever Government investment in our railways. I also thank him for his support for removing the Golborne link from the Bill.
I am very proud to have been born in Manchester, and I am very proud of the railway history of Manchester. Almost two centuries ago, the first train locomotive ran from Manchester. We have come a long way since those days of the early steam trains. It is only right that now, 193 years later, we make progress to bring high-speed rail to the people of that great city.
Through the Bill, we will strengthen the connectivity between Manchester and Birmingham, more than halving the time by rail. Capacity will be increased, improving journey times on rail routes across the north. Above all, the Bill will bring prosperity and growth to the north, helping to deliver our commitment to level up the country. I commend it to the House.
Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.