HS2 Update - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 3:22 pm on 15th November 2016.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:22 pm, 15th November 2016

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about HS2. One of my first steps as the new Secretary of State for Transport was to reiterate the Government’s backing for HS2. I did so from the conviction that HS2 is essential in delivering a modern, vibrant economy for the UK.

This is a Government who deliver the infrastructure projects that the economy needs. That is core to delivering a country that works for everyone, wherever in the country they live. Just last month we announced support for a new runway at Heathrow, showing that Britain is a dynamic country which is open to the world. Today, I am announcing the Government’s preferred route for HS2 lines from Crewe to Manchester and from the West Midlands to Leeds—known as phase 2B—helping to rebalance our economy beyond London and the south-east, ensuring economic prosperity and opportunities are shared throughout the country.

It means that, following on from the 2013 consultation and work we have done since, I am today confirming the majority of the route. There are also a number of cases, including the proposed route through South Yorkshire recommended by Sir David Higgins in a report earlier this year, where I am proposing substantial refinements. I am launching a consultation to seek the views of communities and other interested parties before reaching a decision on those sections next year.

The first phase of HS2, from London to the West Midlands, is just over 100 miles long, but phase 2 is significantly longer at 174 miles. The route I am confirming today represents a huge commitment to the Midlands and to the north. HS2 is not just about a faster connection between the south-east, the Midlands and the north; it represents a bold vision for connecting up the great cities of the north of England and the Midlands, both east and west.

Connectivity is central to HS2. Poor connectivity between the cities and regions of the Midlands and the north has restrained their economic growth. High-quality transport allows businesses to grow, work together and access a wide range of customers, suppliers and skilled labour markets. By improving connections between our great cities, HS2 will generate jobs, skills and economic growth and help us build an economy that works for all.

Today, only 4% of people who travel between Birmingham and Manchester do so by train. That is hardly surprising, when the journey takes around 90 minutes. But on HS2, it will take less than half that time—just 41 minutes. At a stroke, those two regional capitals will be much more closely linked and able to deliver increased economic prosperity. The flow of people, ideas and opportunity will follow those new connections.

Work is also progressing to see how HS2 could help deliver parts of a fast, frequent northern powerhouse rail network for Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Hull and Newcastle. Where necessary, we will include passive provision for those services in a phase 2B hybrid Bill, subject to agreement of funding and the supporting business case.

Just as important as connectivity is the uplift that HS2 will deliver to our transport system. HS2 will not be a separate, stand-alone railway but an integral part of our nation’s future rail network and overall transport infrastructure. It will add to the overall capacity of our congested railways.

Even if you never travel on HS2, you stand to feel its benefits. By providing new routes for intercity services, HS2 will free up space on our existing railways for new commuter, regional and freight services, while also taking lorries off our roads. It will provide new options for services to towns which currently do not have a direct connection to London.

Tomorrow’s HS2, east and west coast main lines could have 48 trains per hour to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds—up from 29 today. Even if you never travel by rail at all, you stand to benefit from the thousands of local jobs and apprenticeships created by the better connections that HS2 will bring. The project will generate around 25,000 jobs during construction as well as 2,000 apprenticeships. It will also support growth in the wider economy, worth an additional 100,000 jobs.

I recently visited the site of the new National College for High Speed Rail in Birmingham. Together with its sister college in Doncaster, it will open its doors next year to provide Britain’s workforce with specialist training, skills and qualifications to build HS2 and future rail projects. It will deliver highly skilled, highly motivated people who have the opportunity of a great career in a vital industry.

Today’s announcement represents an important step forward in delivering HS2 and, with it, the transport infrastructure essential to the economy of 21st-century Britain. However, I am well aware that there are those with the firmly held view that HS2 should not go ahead—those who doubt whether the case has been made satisfactorily. Indeed, I know that many Members of this House have strong convictions on this issue.

I am under no illusions: this is no easy undertaking. But I believe it is the right thing to do. The easy thing to do would have been to keep patching up the existing railways; making do and mending with a railway that the Victorian pioneers would still recognise; hoping to fit ever-increasing passenger and freight growth in the same pint pot. That is not what the people of this country deserve, nor what our economy requires.

In addition to publishing today a Command Paper and accompanying maps setting out full detail of my preferred route for the HS2 phase 2B route, I have also written to those Members whose constituencies are affected. My ministerial colleague the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State will also make himself available to Members who wish to meet him later today.

To ensure that our case is robust, and in line with the requirements of Her Majesty’s Treasury’s Green Book, we have of course considered alternatives to the phase 2B scheme. We have found no alternative that would deliver the same level of benefit for the country, stand the test of time and provide the same level of capacity, connectivity and service that phase 2B does. Indeed, over the last few months I have had the chance to visit most places along the HS2 route. I have seen and heard all the issues for myself and remain convinced that we are delivering the right solution to the country’s transport needs through this project.

I assure the House that I recognise that building major infrastructure will always be disruptive and disturbing for those living nearby and I am very mindful of the concerns of many of the constituents of many Members of this House. In proposing this route I have listened to the views expressed in the consultation of 2013 as well as those of HS2 Ltd’s engineering and environmental specialists. I am issuing safeguarding directions for the whole of the preferred phase 2B route today, which protects it from conflicting development. It also means that those people who are most affected by the plans will now be able to access statutory compensation straightaway.

In addition, I will be consulting on discretionary property schemes. These will go over and above what is required by law and give assistance to those who will be adversely affected by the railway. These schemes are the same as those currently in operation for people living along the phase 1 route and I aim to be able to confirm next year the schemes on which I am consulting today. Two of the schemes that will enter into operation from today are the express purchase scheme and the need to sell scheme. Express purchase allows owner-occupiers to apply to the Government to buy their home sooner than would be possible under statutory schemes. The Government will buy properties at their unblighted open-market value, as if HS2 were not going to be built. We will provide a “home loss” payment of 10% of the property’s open-market value up to £58,000 and pay reasonable moving costs. Need to sell is a purchase scheme for people who have a compelling reason to sell their property but cannot do so, other than at a significantly reduced price, because of HS2. There is no geographical boundary for this scheme. The Government will agree to buy a property for 100% of the open-market value if an application is successful.

As I say, I am mindful of the impacts HS2 has on communities. I assure every Member of this House that my department and HS2 Ltd will continue to work with affected communities and local authorities up and down the line of the route. I very clearly expect people to be treated in that process with fairness, compassion and respect. Today marks the end of a long period of uncertainty for communities, councils and businesses along the route of phase 2B. These have been complex and difficult decisions to take, but I make no apology for taking the time to get it right and making sure that the route we are proposing offers the best possible outcomes for passengers, communities, the environment and the economy.

I need also to report that phase 1 of the railway, from Birmingham to London, is progressing well. Construction work is due to start next year, subject to Royal Assent. Phase 1 will open in 2026. In a clear signal of how work is progressing, this morning I have also announced the companies that have been awarded the phase 1 enabling works contracts. These works include archaeology, site clearance and setting up construction compounds ahead of the start of the main engineering work. These contracts are worth up to £900 million and cover the whole of phase 1, from London to Birmingham, and the connection to the west coast main line at Handsacre. Work is due to begin in the spring.

Another aspect of the preparatory work on phase 1 is the considerable engagement with those on the line of the route, some of whom have taken up our express purchase compensation scheme. We are continuing this offer of support and will be writing to those people whose homes or businesses may be directly affected by construction. We have a general obligation to continue to seek further reductions to adverse impacts during the design, construction and operation of the scheme. I am personally watching this closely. In keeping with that obligation, HS2 Ltd has continued to look at possible mitigation measures around Euston station, where existing rail lines converge. This could significantly reduce impacts on rail passengers and the local community. Any decision on the adoption of these possible mitigations would be taken closer to the letting of the main contracts next year, and I will update the House at that time. This is part of a wider design process which will continue to add detail to our proposals for phase 1 well into next year and beyond. I would expect that similar mitigations might come forward elsewhere along the route as the detailed design stage starts in earnest after Royal Assent.

HS2 is an ambitious and exciting project and we must seize the opportunity it offers to transform our country for future generations. Local authorities and local enterprise partnerships are gearing up for HS2 and developing growth strategies, supported by United Kingdom Government growth strategy funding, to maximise the benefits of HS2 in their areas. I am pleased to announce further funding today for Manchester, the Northern Gateway partnership, Leeds and the East Midlands, and the first tranche of funding for Sheffield, to support this important work.

This Government are planning for the future. We are taking the big decisions and investing in world-class transport infrastructure. We are ensuring that the UK can seize opportunities and compete on the global stage. We are also delivering more capacity on our overcrowded railway, which could see a 65% increase in the number of trains on this part of the network. The route decision I have published today takes us an important step closer to realising the full potential of HS2. It means better transport connections and capacity, and more jobs and training opportunities. Just as importantly, HS2 will link centres of innovation and opportunity in the cities and regions of the Midlands and the north and of our knowledge economy. I commend this Statement to the House”.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 3:36 pm, 15th November 2016

I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made earlier today in the House of Commons. We support HS2 and thus welcome this further announcement of phase 2b on more but not yet all of the route. We welcome the intention that HS2 outside London will have connections to the existing network. We do not welcome the fact that the Government appear determined to see HS2 run in the private rather than the public sector, bearing in mind the amount of taxpayers’ money that will be invested, the success of the public sector in running the east coast main line twice following the withdrawal of two different private sector operators, and the continuing success of the public sector in running the London Underground, with its heavy traffic flows.

We will need to look at the details of the proposed route just announced and the extent to which legitimate concerns have or have not been addressed, as well as the compensation and mitigation proposals, but perhaps the Minister can say now how the compensation compares with that for those affected by a new runway at Heathrow. For how long will the further consultation mentioned in the Statement last, and by when do the Government expect to announce their decisions in the light of that consultation? The Government have not yet given a timescale on that. Likewise, when next year do the Government expect to announce the rest of the route of HS2? The National Audit Office stated earlier this year that HS2 had an “unrealistic timetable” and faced major cost pressures. What is now the timetable for the completion of HS2 and what is the latest accurate projected total cost figure, bearing in mind what has happened time-wise and cost-wise to what is presumably the much simpler Great Western electrification?

The Statement says that HS2 links up the cities of the north of England and the east and west Midlands. When do the Government intend to make firm announcements about improved rail links between the cities of the north? The Statement says in the context of a rail network for Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Hull and Newcastle that the Government will, where necessary,

“include passive provision for these services in the Phase 2b hybrid Bill, subject to agreement of funding and the supporting business case”.

In this context what exactly does passive provision mean—as opposed, presumably, to non-passive provision?

The Statement also says that,

“HS2 will free up space on our existing railways for new commuter, regional and freight services”,

and,

“will provide new options for services to towns which currently do not have a direct connection to London”.

What new commuter, regional and freight services do the Government have in mind, and what towns do the Government consider would have the option of a direct connection to London—or is that statement one simply of hope and expectation rather than fact?

The Statement refers to tomorrow’s HS2, east and west coast main lines being able to have,

“48 trains per hour to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds”,

and that this would be up from 29 today. Perhaps the Minister could give me a breakdown of those two figures. On the face of it, they do not appear to include existing services from Marylebone to Birmingham; neither is it clear whether the existing services are only those to and from London or include those running between Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

The Statement also refers to phase 1, from Birmingham to London, and the award of some contracts. What percentage of those contracts, in number and value, are going to British firms? What percentage of any materials used will be imported from elsewhere and what percentage will come from within the United Kingdom? Reference has also been made to Euston station. To what extent has agreement been reached with the London Borough of Camden over the development of HS2 at Euston and its impact on the surrounding area?

Finally, I wish to raise two other points about phase 1 and need to declare an interest, as I have a home within a mile or so of the route of HS2 in the London Borough of Hillingdon. I make these two points in the context of what is stated on page 6 of the Statement:

“We have a general obligation to continue to seek further reductions to adverse impacts during the design, construction and operation of the scheme”.

Just prior to the London mayoral election the Government announced, following a meeting with the Secretary of State at which the Conservative candidate in that election was present, that they would ensure another look was taken at the case for extending the tunnelling of the route in the west Ruislip area. Can the Government tell us what the outcome of that further look is and the reason for any decision, now that the mayoral election is safely out of the way? Can the Government also say what has happened in respect of the relocation of the Hillingdon Outdoor Activities Centre, used by significant numbers of young people in particular? I have visited the site on two occasions in the company of two different Ministers—sympathetic noises were made, particularly on the second occasion. Has a suitable alternative site been found for the outdoor activities centre, since HS2 still appears to be going right across the existing site on a viaduct?

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, I started today in Marseille and travelled here by TGV, which is fast, efficient, very comfortable and has low emissions. I mention this not because I think that your Lordships will be interested in my holiday photos but because France is decades ahead of us in the provision of a network of fast, efficient rail services. On these Benches, we are firm supporters of HS2 and we welcome this announcement and the details provided today, as far as they go. We also welcome the jobs whose potential creation has been outlined but we have concerns, which I wish to raise here.

First, HS1 was opened in 2007 and it will be at least 20 years between its opening and that of the first phase of HS2. I know that the Minister has given us an indication of the timescale for the second phase of HS2 but I wish to push him on whether there is any scope for faster completion, because the great cities of the Midlands and the North need this connectivity very much faster than what is outlined. While the Government make the very valid point in their Statement that HS2 will take pressure off existing lines, it is worth pointing out at this stage that those lines are already groaning under the pressure of the number of passengers and the frequency of services that have to be provided. Therefore, when one extrapolates into the future, one finds it very difficult to believe that the system will not have cracked apart by the time HS2 phase 2 is opened. My main concern is that HS2 phase 2 will drain resources, which are so badly needed, from the rest of the network. Investment is urgently required now. Last week, the Government announced that four electrification projects were being put on permanent hold. There is a shadow over some aspects of the Great Western electrification. The east coast main line is desperately in need of investment. The ORR’s statistics show how badly that line is suffering. Previous promises of investment on that line have been put on hold. I urge the Government to give us more detail about their plans for investment in existing services to reassure us that HS2 is not just a highly polished priority project being operated at the expense of the rest of the rail network. Stimulating investment in the Midlands and the north depends on very much more than HS2. It has to link into an efficient, integrated public transport service.

Finally, the mitigation measures and the detail on them are very welcome, but I ask for a more open and straightforward approach from HS2 Ltd in future. Residents and local councils report that they have often found it less than easy to deal with. I shall not repeat many of the detailed questions put to the Minister by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, but I emphasise that I am concerned to have more detailed information, particularly on what “provision” means and on the number of services that currently run and the future expansion of those services.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for their comments. I am slightly confused by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I take it that while he has raised certain questions they in no way suggest that Her Majesty’s Opposition are going lukewarm on the idea of HS2. Some of the questions are perfectly valid.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised issues relating to the consultation. It starts today and will last for 16 weeks, so it will end around 9 March. The Secretary of State will take a decision on the remaining part of the route next year. The noble Lord asked about specific competition dates. As I said in the Statement, I believe phase 1 will be subject to Royal Assent. We are looking to complete by 2026 and for the second phase of the project to be completed by 2033.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said we must ensure that we deliver this important project as soon as possible. I assure her and the whole House that that is the Government’s intention. As the Secretary of State said in his Statement earlier today and repeated in his answers to questions, it is important that we take a considered view on the alternatives. We reflected on the 2013 consultation and on Sir David Higgins’s report on certain aspects of the project, and that has been reflected in the announcement made today.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about the statutory compensation. I alluded to mitigation and 10% of the unblighted cost. We have also announced the details of two schemes today, and if the noble Lord has further questions once he has reviewed those schemes, I will of course be pleased to answer those in detail.

Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about investment in other areas aside from HS2. As I am sure noble Lords are aware, the Government are undertaking one of the biggest infrastructure investment programmes, and rail is no exception. Around £40 billion is being invested elsewhere. In terms of ensuring HS2’s connectivity to other routes, the word “passive” was used in the Statement, and both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked further questions on that. We are seeking to ensure that the HS2 route and the actual building of it are future-proofed so that, for example, any integration issues which arise within the context of northern powerhouse rail can be fully catered for in the construction of HS2.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also asked about the additional work being done with Camden. We continue to work with all local authorities on the issues around Euston. Indeed, this applies across the whole network. The noble Lord will also be interested to know that, underlining the point about communication, 270,000 letters are going out today specifically to people impacted by the route. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also asked about the tunnelling at west Ruislip and the Hillingdon centre, which I know he has raised before. I will seek to get the latest updated situation on those two issues and write to the noble Lord accordingly.

Photo of Lord Framlingham Lord Framlingham Conservative 3:51 pm, 15th November 2016

My Lords, I am sorry to introduce a slightly discordant note, but is it not really a question of priorities? At a time when the National Health Service had a deficit, last year, of £1.8 billion, and we are asking it to save £22 billion by 2020-21, does it not seem a bit ridiculous to be spending £55 billion-plus on what is a non-essential project that is going to be hugely disruptive?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My noble friend draws a comparison with other areas, but in no way does our investment in HS2 take away from the importance of the National Health Service. I would counter his suggestion by not just looking at the project in terms of the cost. The whole project, once up and running, seeks to deliver over £103 billion of economic benefits to the country as a whole. I alluded to connectivity in my Statement, and the noble Lords who have already asked questions raised important issues about it. This is not just about connecting parts of London to the Midlands or elsewhere but about connecting the whole country. This is an important project. It is one of the biggest rail infrastructure projects, and the first major one outside London, since the Victorian age, and we now need to move forward and get HS2 built.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my declaration of interest as a member of Sheffield City Council. In light of the fact that putting the Sheffield station in the city centre would save £768 million as compared to putting it at Meadowhall, as well as create 24% more daily passengers, £2.5 billion more GVA and 6,500 more jobs, why is more consultation needed? Why could the Government not make a decision today on where the station should go, to give certainty to both passengers and businesses in the area seeking that certainty?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

As I said in the Statement, we have made certain changes on the actual route, which are based on the feedback we have been getting through different consultations and on the reports that we have had on the previous route in 2013. It is right that we take some time, because there are some major changes to certain elements of the Y route as it is. The consultation on that will not take an indefinite period of time: we are talking about up to March of next year. The noble Lord raises the important issue of the link into the city centre. I am sure he will acknowledge and respect the fact that the Government have listened and have sought to accommodate exactly the amendment that he sought previously.

Photo of Lord Smith of Leigh Lord Smith of Leigh Labour

My Lords, I welcome the Statement made this afternoon and the Minister’s commitment to phase 2B of HS2. The economic benefits are in fact more than he said. He concentrated on the main regional centres but the recent publication from HS2 showed that the benefits will be wider than that and journey times will be improved. In fact the economic benefits will improve health in the north because people in work tend to be healthier. I want to press him on future investments and ask him to ensure that as the HS2 line will hit the west coast main line at Wigan, we will get improvements and an upgrade to that line. We do not want a 21st-century journey up to Wigan followed by a 19th-century journey to Glasgow.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I think we all want to see a 21st-century experience across the whole network. I appreciate the noble Lord’s support for the project. In terms of journey times generally, we should compare the existing current routes. The noble Lord talked about Scotland. Once HS2 is up and running, we will be talking about journey times from London to Glasgow going from four hours and 31 minutes to three hours and 40 minutes, and to Edinburgh from four hours and 22 minutes to three hours and 40 minutes. I appreciate the noble Lord’s point about existing lines, but I assure him that the Secretary of State is determined to ensure that where the route connects with other parts of the existing network, as I have alluded to already, we are looking at making major investments in other parts of the rail network as well.

Photo of Lord Birt Lord Birt Crossbench

My Lords, I wholly welcome this long overdue investment in our national infrastructure, while also wishing that we were able to build our infrastructure as quickly as some other countries have demonstrated they can. Can the Minister explain the rationale for connecting HS2 to Leeds and Manchester but not to the city of my birth, Liverpool?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I suppose that is a question that I as a Liverpool fan should also raise; perhaps my accent does not quite give away the team that I support. The noble Lord talks about the importance of connectivity across regions. The Government are working—I referred earlier to northern powerhouse rail as well—on how to ensure that, with the new body that has been set up, we can look to improve connectivity not just between the cities that I have just mentioned but across various parts of the north-east and the north-west to link up the northern part of the country more effectively. I also assure the noble Lord that, as I mentioned previously, HS2 is being made safe and will accommodate any other changes or accommodations that we will need to make on additional line investment across different parts of the north-east and the north-west.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

I warmly welcome the Minister’s Statement. Will he at least reflect that it is a question not just of how swiftly other countries manage to do these things in comparison with ourselves but of how we do them these days compared with how we managed to do them in the 1840s? Then we built thousands of miles of railway with picks and shovels but we have been told for some time that this link, which is ultimately maybe 300 miles of railway, cannot be completed until 2033. What did the Victorians have that we do not have today, and is there any possibility of this being speeded up?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

What we probably have now is ensuring that there is proper consultation. I suggest to the noble Lord that planning laws have moved on since the Victorian age. The issue of airports was raised previously. I remember travelling to other parts of the world where they were building six runways, and it was suggested to me that we had had a challenge over the last 40 years in building a single runway. I am acutely aware, as are the Government, of the importance of pressing ahead with these infrastructure projects while ensuring that we effectively consult and adhere to the planning requirements presented by such large infrastructure projects.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I support my noble friend on the question of Sheffield. On most parts of the continent, high-speed railways go on the conventional railway for the last bit of their journey, often a small bit. By so doing, they reinforce all the connections that that railway has with other railways, and with buses, where people actually want to go. We should take very seriously the point that Sheffield will be infinitely better off with a station in the city centre, even if it means that the journey will be a minute or two slower—after all, that is what we are talking about.

Secondly, having listened to the discussion, I bring to the Minister’s attention that the east coast main line is unreliable and it will become more so because of the increased pressure on it. At present the Government are in the process of purchasing a new fleet of trains. These are all electric trains, other than the bits that go to Scotland and places such as Hull. The main artery between Newcastle, Leeds and London is going to have trains that cannot be diverted on to diversionary routes when the inevitable infrastructure failures occur or when repairs have to be done. For the sake of the north of England, I ask him to go back and talk to his officials about the good sense of the decision they have made, and whether the decision can be revised to produce on the east coast main line more bi-mode trains.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I will certainly come back to the noble Lord on his point about the east coast main line, but on his earlier point about Sheffield, I reiterate that the Government are minded to accept David Higgins’s recommendation that HS2 should serve Sheffield city centre. We have also had several meetings about this with the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, who I do not think is in his place, and we share the noble Lord’s opinion about the importance of providing that city link; the Government are certainly minded to do so.

Photo of Lord Woolmer of Leeds Lord Woolmer of Leeds Labour

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that in Leeds and West Yorkshire, today’s announcements will be very warmly welcomed? I look wryly at the comparison of spending on the NHS in a year with a project that will take 17 years before it is completed. Seventeen years is an awful long time, so while I welcome the strategic decision—many of the underlying details will be very beneficial in Leeds—can the Minister give the House two assurances? First, is funding of HS2 to Leeds robust and clearly thought through, and will it support the delivery of the strategy? Secondly, will the east-west connection, which we called HS3 at one time, not be held up until HS2 is completed, which is in 2033? Heaven forbid that there is no major improvement across the Pennines before 17 years is up.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

First, on the noble Lord’s second point, let me assure him that discussions are already under way with Transport for the North and the appropriate councils on HS3. The importance of today’s decision is that it accommodates the fact that HS3 will be built. It is not an option, it is a question of ensuring that as HS2 is built, it makes appropriate accommodations. The cost remains at £55 billion for HS2 as a project as a whole, which the Government are keeping under close guard and watch to ensure delivery of the programme according not just to budget but to the timelines that have been established.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Liberal Democrat

My Lords, it will be very welcome to reduce journey times from London to both Glasgow and Edinburgh as a result of HS2 linking with the present network. Can the Minister clarify government policy on the extension of HS2 to Scotland and the likely timescale for any such development?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I cannot give any further detail of plans—I am sure the noble and learned Lord is aware of that fact—but linking up Scotland in the most efficient way possible as part of a united United Kingdom is, I think, an important priority for us all.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Housing), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, I declare an interest as a citizen of Newcastle and a member of its city council but, as I am approaching my 72nd birthday, I suspect it will be a posthumous interest in the HS2 programme. As we have heard, it will be 17 years before the network reaches Sheffield—we hope, the city centre. Is there any indication of how long it will take before the gap between Sheffield or Leeds and Newcastle will be met? It seems to me likely to be another 17 years. My children may be facing a posthumous interest in this matter at this rate.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I shall certainly endeavour to write to the noble Lord before his 72nd birthday, telling him what that timeline is—but in doing so may I also wish him a long and healthy life?