High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:41 am on 14th April 2016.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Parliamentary Under-Secretary 11:41 am, 14th April 2016

My Lords, our railways are key to our country’s future prosperity and yet, if we look back in time, it is 123 years since we built a main line north of London and 183 years since Parliament approved the west coast main line. Although not intended to be a major artery, the west coast main line has evolved into one. Today it is the busiest mixed traffic railway in the world. Although it continues to serve the country well, it is almost full. We have already upgraded it and seen the benefits, but improvement to what exists, on its own, can no longer provide what the nation needs. Patchwork and sticking plasters will work for a period but are not the answer; it will not help us to create the capacity we need on the railways. It will not improve our country’s connections. It will not maximise the opportunities for our northern cities and cities in Scotland to grow and prosper. To allow our economy to grow and to compete on an international level, we need a step change in capacity. That is why this Government are committed to delivering High Speed 2, a project that will bring our economic centres closer together, allowing the whole country to benefit.

Now is really the time to do it. As I have said, the west coast main line is essentially full and yet more and more people want and need to use the railways. Over the past 20 years passenger journeys have doubled. Demand will continue to rise. Even on moderate forecasts, services will be increasingly full by the mid-2020s. The digital age may have created new ways to interact across distance and made the world smaller, but it has not replaced the need to travel—indeed, it fuels it. We need to deliver the capacity to meet this growing demand. HS2 will do exactly that.

From day one, phase 1 will not only provide additional capacity between London and the West Midlands but also to Manchester and Glasgow via through-running services. It will free up capacity on the west coast main line that can be used for local services or freight. That is only phase 1. HS2 will ultimately be a national network that will create even more capacity and even better links. It will connect our great northern towns and cities, including Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester, with services travelling on to Edinburgh and Glasgow. This is the capacity the country is crying out for. That is why we have brought forward phase 2A to Crewe, so that this can open three years’ earlier.

The full HS2 network will connect eight of the UK’s 10 most populous cities with direct links. The freed up capacity on the existing railway could help to provide improvements in regional connectivity. Combined, these provide a major uplift in the connections of our railways and the options for passengers, and help to rebalance our economy.

But, as the name suggests, High Speed 2 is not just about capacity. We will also see significant reductions in journey times, with phase 1 alone reducing trips between London and Birmingham and London and Manchester by around 35 minutes. These faster journeys will bring our country closer together. They will make travel easier and more efficient, and give businesses and workers access to new markets and options. These are just the transport benefits, but the true benefits of HS2 go well beyond them—the delivery of jobs, skills, development and economic growth.

As announced by the Secretary of State on 23 March, HS2 Ltd has started the procurement process for £11.8 billion-worth of civil engineering contracts. These contracts alone will create more than 14,000 jobs and we will ensure that people have the skills to take up these new opportunities through the HS2 skills college in Birmingham and Doncaster, which will open next year. These are jobs created to deliver the new railway, but the railway will also support wider development opportunities. Planning is already under way by cities and areas—such as through the Mayoral Development Corporation at Old Oak Common and the Birmingham Curzon master plan—to make the most of the opportunities that HS2 will bring. We will support them in their aspirations to make this scheme a success. This is the ultimate value of HS2.

While the benefits of HS2 are significant, this does not mean that I do not understand those who are concerned about the cost or worried that HS2 will divert investment from other transport. I understand those concerns and I wish to respond to them. HS2 will not come at the expense of the existing transport network. As noble Lords will know, we are investing more than £38 billion in the existing rail network between 2014 and 2019, including delivering Crossrail, Thameslink, new Intercity express trains and the electrification of the trans-Pennine, Great Western and Midland main lines. We are trebling the budget for major road schemes to £15 billion between 2015 and 2021, and we are investing £12 billion in local transport between 2015 and 2020. This is all in addition to HS2.

With regard to costs, we are committed to delivering value for money. Noble Lords will know that the November 2015 spending review confirmed a budget for the whole of HS2 of £55.7 billion at 2015 prices. The budget has not gone up, it has simply been updated in line with inflation. To put this in context, the cost of HS2 equates to around 0.14% of UK GDP in the spending review period. HS2 is a major commitment of public money, but it is an investment which Britain must make; we cannot afford not to.

Community and environmental impacts have also been raised, and I understand those who are concerned about HS2’s impact on the environment. It is not possible to build a railway without having some impacts on the environment and communities along the route, and it is clearly essential that we strike the right balance between delivering and operating the railway, and being sensitive to its surroundings. We believe we have struck the right balance. We have undertaken detailed environmental assessments to ensure that we understand and can mitigate the impacts of the railway. The environmental statement which accompanies the Bill is the largest ever undertaken in the United Kingdom.

But these assessments are not the end of our consideration of the environmental effects and impacts on communities. We have continued to listen to communities, environmental groups, statutory bodies and other stakeholders to try to reduce the impacts where reasonable. In addition, the Select Committee in the other place received more than 2,500 petitions against the Bill and additional provisions. Even with many deals made with those impacted and the withdrawal of others where we have provided assurances or clarified issues, the committee sat for 159 days to hear more than 1,500 petitioners and consider their issues. I wish to put on record the Government’s commendation for the dedication, commitment and fair approach undertaken by the members who served on the committee in the other place and those who worked tirelessly in representing their constituents in front of the committee. All their efforts in this area were exceptional.

Through this process and the continued development of the scheme’s design, we have made numerous changes that have led to even greater protections for communities and the environment. We have extended the bored tunnel under the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty by 2.6 kilometres, producing significant improvements for the village of South Heath, and we have removed impacts on Mantles Wood. We have lengthened the green tunnels at Wendover and Burton Green. We have lowered the line in Lichfield from viaduct to cutting, and moved it 200 metres to avoid the Trent and Mersey canal. We will deliver the new HS2 station at Euston in a phased approach to reduce disruption to the existing railway and help better manage impacts on the wider area.

This is but a sample of some of the changes we have made. The result of all of this work is a railway, more than half the route of which is in tunnel or cutting, and for which 75% of the line’s surface sections will be insulated by cuttings, landscaping and noise barriers. This is why we are not demolishing any grade 1 listed buildings; why no grade 1 excellent quality land is affected; and why the scheme has been designed to withstand a major flooding event, the likes of which we would expect only once every 1,000 years. I know there are those who want more—longer tunnels, deeper cuttings, taller noise barriers, and so on. However, we must remember that our duty to protect the environment must be balanced with our duty to protect public money. We believe our work to date has done just that and balanced these two responsibilities appropriately.

Turning to the content of the Bill, while the issues the railway raises are complex, the Bill is actually very straightforward. It is very similar in content and form to the Crossrail and Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bills, which were the last hybrid Bills to be considered by this House. The Bill provides all the powers needed to construct, maintain and operate phase 1 of HS2. It is essentially the planning permission for the railways, and therefore includes the power compulsorily to acquire land for the railway; undertake the works and nominate a person or organisation to do so; undertake modifications to existing legislative controls that are not designed for works that have already been approved by Parliament; provide a framework for the interaction of phase 1 with the classic railway network; and allow persons representing the Secretary of State to gain access to land for surveys relating to future HS2 stages. The Bill also allows the compulsory purchase of land for business relocation and regeneration purposes, so as to minimise business extinguishment and provide a backstop power to ensure that development opportunities created by HS2 are taken up.

Turning to procedures, should this Bill be given its Second Reading, it will move to a Select Committee process in this House. The role of this Select Committee is to hear petitions from those directly and specially affected by the Bill. The period during which petitions can be submitted began on 23 March and will end on 18 April. Noble Lords may want to understand the powers of the Select Committee. Its role is to hear petitions and make recommendations on what, if any, changes are required to address the issues they hear. The process of engagement between the promoter and petitioner means that in many cases, the petitioner’s issue is addressed and there is no need for them to appear before the Select Committee.

For those petitioners who do appear, the committee has wide powers and can, if it thinks fit, seek changes to the scheme that are within the scope of the existing Bill powers. For example, the committee can push for changes to the railway or use of land, within the limits of deviation set out in the Bill and within the environmental limits set out in the environmental statement. This could include changes to the railway itself or the mitigation provided as part of the scheme. The committee could also recommend changes to the way the promoter plans to construct the scheme—for example, how it plans to control noise or dust. It can also make recommendations on matters of compensation and property acquisition. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives an idea of the importance and authority of the committee, and its scope to hear petitions and consider the facts.

HS2, as I am sure many in this House and beyond recognise, is greater than the sum of its parts. It is not just a railway with fast trains. It is not just about capacity and connectivity. It is truly about potential. It is about creating opportunities. It is about what is needed to produce a better and brighter future for our country, our economy and connectivity across the UK. This is what is required if we are to deliver a better, more integrated Britain. I beg to move.