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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:19 pm on 14th April 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Valentine Baroness Valentine Crossbench 1:19 pm, 14th April 2016

My Lords, I declare that I am a non-executive director of HS2 and chief executive of London First.

I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Mair, on his excellent and interesting maiden speech. I am delighted to have someone who knows about tunnels in the Lords, in the case of both HS2 and, possibly, Crossrail 2 in the future. World-class institutions, with their very sensitive scientific instruments, were referred to earlier. I would welcome the noble Lord’s expertise on how we can deal with vibrations in the area around Euston. I also hope that we in the Lords will have more tunnels to consider as we sort out connectivity in the north, and, I fear, in London as we sort out our current roads gridlock, where we may need to turn to tunnels.

I move on to say why I have always supported HS2. First, it adds capacity on the congested lines coming into London and provides opportunity and connectivity further north. Secondly, as can be seen in London, investment in big infrastructure projects provides development potential. For example, there is the Northern line extension to Battersea power station, the Olympics and the development of Stratford and Crossrail and the opportunity to the east of London.

HS2 is one of the biggest infrastructure investments in the world. It is both complicated and potentially game-changing. But, to maximise the opportunity, HS2, transport authorities and wider government need to grasp nettles rather than accept lowest common denominator solutions. We need to act with strategic intent. So what is the opportunity? HS2 needs to provide a 21st century passenger travel experience and contribute to the country’s economic, environmental and social development.

I start with the passenger. We know that there is more to do to sort out end-to-end passenger journeys. Why are rail tickets still on bits of paper? If I am elderly and carrying luggage, how do I feel about the walk from King’s Cross St Pancras to the Victoria line, or through the cattle pen beneath Waterloo? More specifically for HS2, will my onward journey from Euston to my meeting in London take as long as my journey from Birmingham? Will I feel uplifted by my experience of Curzon Street station? Can my children rag around on the train? Will my luggage fall over? Will the mobile phone and wi-fi have dead spots? Will I be able to make a videoconference call without being annoying or annoyed? Will there be a business lounge at every station? What about a crèche? Will someone take my luggage from me and deliver it straight to the hotel? How do I get the few yards from Euston to King’s Cross at surface level? Will my driverless car or Uber be there to pick me up?

I hope that HS2, with the help of its excellent design panel, will be a model for how to start with the passenger experience and finish with stations and trains, rather than the other way round. In sync with that, I urge our long-lived Secretary of State for Transport to batter away at those interfaces where Network Rail meets HS2, or a train-operating company meets Transport for London, where the passenger is too often, in practice, last on the list.

But there is the yet-larger challenge of delivering the wider benefits. In the current spirit of devolution and regeneration, what can the Government do to help local authorities—including with money—develop plans for how to make the most of our stations? There is opportunity for hotels, offices and leisure facilities around all of the stations. And, if we are aspiring to highest common factor, how can it be that we are developing the HS2 station at Euston like putting lipstick on a pig, rather than planning the overhaul of the whole station area, including Crossrail 2? Could the Department for Transport, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Treasury not step up to the plate and turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse—if I do not overmix my metaphors?

I finish on a topic close to my heart. HS2 is both an opportunity and an irritation for the immediate community along the line. It is beholden on HS2 to treat that community with respect, but more than that, HS2 needs to get ahead of the game and offer solutions. If we need to remove someone’s playground, make sure we offer a better one elsewhere. If we need to cut down trees, create a linear park along the railway instead. HS2 should enhance, rather than hinder, the world-class institutions around Euston. I know that the organisation has taken to heart criticism of its community engagement and it plans to do better. When we move from phase 1 to phase 2, I encourage all of government and HS2 to learn from the push-back in the phase 1 petitioning. Across government, we have signed up to a set of principles for wider benefits. Let us use these to guide our response to petitioning and, as a result, be sure of investing not only in a railway but in the communities around it.