My Lords, I start by declaring an interest in that my home is very close to the proposed route of HS2, albeit at a point that is firmly in a tunnel. I am sure that few will disagree that investing wisely in modern infrastructure is essential to the long-term prosperity of the United Kingdom. By investing wisely, this Government have the opportunity to lay the foundations of tomorrow’s economy and leave a legacy just as important as that of the great Victorian builders. By better connecting the mills, mines, ports and factories of Britain, the Victorians managed to spread wealth to new parts of the country and turn cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow into some of the greatest and wealthiest in the world, much as the northern powerhouse seeks to do today. But while we may admire the scale of their achievements, we must never forget that the Victorian lust for industry ignored the environment, throwing up slag heaps and smoke which have taken generations to clean up. It is much cheaper and easier in the long run to make sure that new projects are environmentally friendly when they are built than to try to patch up the mess afterwards. Like my noble friend Lord Framlingham, I am therefore deeply concerned by the way that HS2 Ltd has handled such matters.
The new railway enjoys strong support in the other place, and offers great opportunities, yet many Members have understandably complained about its impact on their constituents and constituencies. As we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, in our home patch of Chesham and Amersham, HS2 proposes to run 8.8 kilometres of the new line above ground through the Chiltern area of outstanding natural beauty, which has been a designated landscape for more than 50 years. My local MP, the right honourable Cheryl Gillan, has fought vociferously to prevent what she calls a “permanent scar” on the landscape. She is right to point out that few countries are as expert in tunnelling projects as Britain is, and that we are already building a major new subterranean railway in London. Why can we not use the same techniques to preserve our countryside?
I hope that noble Lords will join me in supporting all those MPs who are trying to protect ancient woodlands, pasturelands, and other irreplaceable natural treasures. Once lost, there will be no bringing them back. The legislation underpinning HS2 should provide for the strongest possible environmental mitigation. We must also make sure that we do not neglect the human cost of new development, and ensure that all affected are treated promptly and fairly. Many MPs whose constituencies lie on the route claim that compensation issues are causing much worry and stress to their constituents. There are serious concerns about the valuation process, and many residents are apparently receiving “unacceptably low” offers for their property. These problems cut across party lines, and opposition MPs have spoken about the impact on urban businesses, and of the decades of disruption which threaten if the redevelopment of Euston station is not handled with care.
Advocates of HS2 are right to point out the potential of the new line to unlock economic growth and spread prosperity. However, it is no good if this is accomplished only at great and unfair cost to many thousands of residents and businesses unfortunate enough to be in its way. If HS2 is to be the long-term success that we all want it to be, the Government must ensure that they do not store up problems for later to cut costs today. Fair treatment for those affected by construction, and environmental mitigation that matches the Prime Minister’s commitment to run the “greenest Government ever”, must be set into law and properly enforced. I hope that this Chamber will make further positive changes to this Bill, building on the changes made in the other place. It would be far better to solve these problems today than to be cleaning them up for years to come.