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Economic Case for HS2 (Economic Affairs Committee Report) — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:34 pm on 16th September 2015.

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Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities, Decentralisation and the Northern Powerhouse) 4:34 pm, 16th September 2015

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, and I agree with much of what he said, not least about investment in the north and the importance of having a transport investment plan.

I was a member of the Economic Affairs Committee that undertook the HS2 inquiry, and I believe that our report asked a set of pertinent questions that deserve clear answers. The report was supported in a letter at the end of May to the Prime Minister from 35 very senior engineers, transport planners and economists in the UK, which called for a pause to,

“look again at alternative ways of tackling the problems that HS2 is supposed to address, and allow a thoroughgoing review of how best to bring our national rail system holistically into the 21st century”.

I think that they are right to ask for that review, but it should be done during the passage of a hybrid Bill.

I have been a very strong supporter of HS2 for many years, and I remain a supporter in principle because a high-speed rail link that can increase capacity of train paths, reduce journey times and improve connectivity in the UK has to be of benefit. However, I have to admit that some of my preconceptions were challenged by hearing evidence. I have concluded that if such a large sum—and it is a very large sum of public money—is to be committed, we have to be certain that it is spent in the best way to improve our rail network.

Ten years ago, I thought that HS2 would be part of a UK-wide transport infrastructure plan, but that is absent, as our very first conclusion demonstrates. I thought that HS2 would include Scotland. I thought that it would integrate places and modes of travel. I fear that those early expectations are unlikely to be met, and I find that a matter of increasing concern.

The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, mentioned the Northern Way. I was a member of the Northern Way Transport Compact when it looked at northern priorities for HS2. From the perspective of the north-east of England, I expected that HS2 would give links to London much faster than the east coast main line, and that is likely to happen. I expected that the cities and conurbations of the north, the Midlands and Scotland would be linked to each other and to London by high-speed rail, but if you look at the map in the committee’s report, you can see that, mostly, that is not the case—they will not all be interlinked, as I had hoped that they might.

I had thought that there might be high-speed links from the north, Scotland and the Midlands to Heathrow, the UK’s airport hub. There were even suggestions some years ago that passengers would check in on the train and have their baggage moved on arrival at Heathrow. We now have a stop at Old Oak Common, and there are some understandable reasons for that. However, we must be very clear about how access to Heathrow Airport can be made available to people, particularly those who do not have air links to Heathrow.

A few years ago, I thought that we would have a high-speed direct link with Eurostar at St Pancras. Well, we are not going to. I thought that there would be no negative impact on future investment on the east coast main line, most of which will not be served by high-speed rail, either the full HS2 or the classic compatible system—that is, the link between Newcastle and Edinburgh and the line south of York to London. The Secretary of State said to the committee that there would be no negative impact on future investment on the east coast main line, and I hope very much that the Minister will be able to confirm that that still remains the case.

Finally, I thought high-speed rail would integrate properly with local and regional transport services, but our committee discovered that the £50 billion cost of HS2 does not include any connectivity between HS2 stations and the local transport network and that there are no plans for how that provision will be made.

Mention has been made of whether HS2 will take investment money from other rail services. HS2 documentation suggests that a large number of towns and cities will have a worse rail service as a consequence of HS2. In the north, I mentioned Berwick, Carlisle, Durham and Lancaster as examples, but there are others. The TransPennine route has been mentioned. The Government have again said that the delay to what we termed HS3 is temporary and that it will work, but will they confirm that that remains the case and say how HS3 is going to integrate with HS2? I was very struck by the comment the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, made in July. He pointed out that HS2 will go to a station in Sheffield which is four miles away from the station to which HS3 would go.

We then have issues around Euston and whether HS2 should stop at Old Oak Common. And then we have Scotland. There may not be a business case, as

High Speed Two (HS2) Limited has said, for linking Scotland fully to the HS2 system, but my view is that there is a political case for doing that.

In conclusion, I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said. It was noticeable that what his speech omitted was that most of the economic gain from HS2 will go to places with HS2 track and stations, and HS2 track stops halfway up the United Kingdom. My great fear now is that investment which might otherwise go further north and go into Scotland may be made further south. I do not think that would encourage an integrated United Kingdom, so I hope that the report and the issues that we have raised in this debate will be fully considered in the next few months before the hybrid Bill comes before your Lordships’ House.