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Transport Infrastructure - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 11th February 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:08 pm, 11th February 2020

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, there are all sorts of reasons why the city in which we now sit is the most productive region in the whole of Europe—the time zone, the language, the agglomeration of talents and, above all, the mass transit system that every day conveys millions of people efficiently and affordably, with tubes and 8,600 buses, into the central activities zone in the morning and out in the evening, like the respiration of some vast undersea coelenterate.

As that public transport network has expanded in the last 150 years it has brought hope and opportunity and job prospects to people growing up in every part of this city and beyond, and it is the ambition of this Government to employ that same utensil—fantastic transport infrastructure—to unite and level up across the country. Of course there is far more to do in London—frankly, the present mayor needs to be shaken from his complacency—but there is even more to do across the nation as a whole. Whether you are stuck in a jam on the A303 or on the outskirts of Lincoln, whether you are trying to get from Warrington to Manchester or toiling across the Pennines by rail, you know that this country is being held back by our inadequate infrastructure.

So in the next few weeks this Government will be setting out more details of a transport revolution, because we all know the potential of transport to change your life and the life of your town or city, and we know that efficient transport can clean the air and cut pollution and get cars off the road. We can simultaneously reach our ambition of net zero by 2050, shorten your commute and give you more time with your family, increase productivity and bring business and investment to left-behind communities. That is why we are embarking on a massive programme of investment in local transport, starting with a record-breaking £5 billion of new investment in buses and bicycles.

That investment will mean bus passengers across the country seeing a dramatic improvement in their daily journeys, with more than 4,000 brand-new buses—zero-carbon British-built buses—on the roads of places like Ashfield, Barnstaple, Southampton, Manchester and many more towns and cities besides. There will be more services, especially in the evenings and weekends, simpler, cheaper and more convenient ticketing, and properly designed priority schemes to speed passengers past the traffic jams. It is an investment that will also mean cyclists enjoying hundreds of miles of brand-new separated lanes, with ‘mini-Hollands’ blooming like so many tulips in towns and cities right across the country.

That £5 billion is just the start. My very good friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be making a full announcement on this in next month’s Budget, and I have no desire to steal his thunder, but I can signal today that we are taking forward transformative investments: road improvements from Cornwall to the A1 north of Newcastle; from south Salisbury to south Ribble; from Cheadle to Chiverton; dual carriageways, roundabouts, bypasses, underpasses—and those are just the roads.

We have already set out plans to explore new investments in the rail network across the north—developing proposals to reopen the Fleetwood line in Lancashire and the Ashington-Blyth rail line in the north-east, improving track and platform capacity at Middlesbrough station, and installing new signalling at Harrogate, one of North Yorkshire’s busiest stations. Further south, I can today announce that we will be upgrading the Bristol East junction—a major pinch point in the rail network of the south-west that limits access to the Brunel-designed Victorian splendour of Bristol Temple Meads station.

This transport revolution is local, because it must be local. We can unite and level up across the country, with fantastic local improvements—better rail and less congested roads, beautiful British-made buses that are cleaner, greener, quieter, safer and more frequent, and above all, we can improve the quality of life and improve productivity, and make places more attractive to live in and to invest in. But we cannot make these improvements in isolation from one another, because we will only be doing half the job. We will not fix the great musculoskeletal problem of UK transport.

Yes, we must fix the joint between the knee bone and the thigh bone—and the shin bone and the ankle bone. And yes, we must fix the arthritis in the fingers and the toes. But we also have to fix the spine. Our generation faces a historic choice: we can try to get by with the existing routes from north to south and consign the next generation to overcrowding and standing up in the carriages, or we can have the guts to take a decision, no matter how difficult and controversial, that will deliver prosperity to every part of the country. This will take 50 minutes off the time to Glasgow.

When it comes to advocating HS2, it must be said that the task is not made easier by HS2 Ltd, the company concerned. Speaking as a Member of Parliament whose constituency is on the route, I cannot say that HS2 Ltd has distinguished itself in its handling of local communities and, as everyone knows, the cost forecasts have exploded. However, the poor management to date has not detracted from the fundamental value of the project.

The review recently conducted by Douglas Oakervee, copies of which will be placed in the Library of the House, leaves no doubt of the clinching case for high-speed rail. A vast increase in capacity, with hundreds of thousands of extra seats, making it so much easier for travellers to move up down our long, narrow country, means not just more capacity but extraordinarily faster journey times. Passengers arriving at Birmingham Airport will be able to get to central London by train in 38 minutes, which compares favourably with the time that it takes to get from Heathrow by taxi, a point that I just draw to the attention of the House. But this is not just about getting from London to Birmingham and back considerably faster than the Piccadilly line. It is about finally making a rapid connection from the West Midlands to the northern powerhouse to Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds while simultaneously permitting us to go forward with Northern Powerhouse Rail across the Pennines, finally giving the home of the railways the fast connections that it needs—and none of this makes any sense without HS2.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority considers that this first phase can be delivered for its current projected cost of £35 billion to £45 billion in today’s prices. The designs have been improved immeasurably thanks to the tireless contributions of campaigners, including the right honourable Member for Chesham and Amersham, who I do not think is in her place. If we start now, services could be running by the end of the decade.

So today the Cabinet has given high-speed rail the green signal. We are going to get this done and, to ensure that we do so without further blowouts on either cost or schedule, we are today taking decisive action to restore discipline to the programme. I will be appointing a Minister whose full-time job will be to oversee the project. A new ministerial oversight group will be tasked with taking strategic decisions about it. There will be changes to the way that HS2 Ltd is managed. In line with Mr Oakervee’s recommendations, we will be interrogating the current costs to identify where savings can be made on phase 1 without the costs and delays associated with a detailed redesign. So that the company can focus solely on getting phases 1 and 2a built on something approaching time and budget, I will be creating new delivery vehicles for both the grossly behind-schedule Euston terminus and phase 2b of the wider project.

However, before those designs are finalised and legislation introduced, we will also present an integrated plan for rail in the north. Informed by an assessment from the National Infrastructure Commission, it will, in line with the findings of the Oakervee review, look at how we can best design and integrate rail investments across the north, including Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester. I have just spoken to the Mayor of Greater Manchester, who has warmly welcomed this project, which I committed to supporting, I seem to remember, during my first days in office.

I want the plan to identify the most effective design and sequencing of all relevant investments in the north. For example, with many in the north crying out for better east-west links instead of improved north-south ones, which we have heard many times in this House, some have suggested delaying or even cancelling HS2 in order to get Northern Powerhouse Rail done more quickly. I want to say to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House that this is not an either/or proposition. Both are needed, and both will be built as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. To ensure that this happens, we will—working closely with northern leaders—explore options for creating a new delivery vehicle for Northern Powerhouse Rail. We will also start treating HS2 north of Birmingham, Northern Powerhouse Rail and other local rail improvements as part of one integrated masterplan: high-speed north.

Something has to change. Those who deny this, who say that we should simply build 2b and Northern Powerhouse Rail according to the plans currently on the table, are effectively condemning the north to get nothing for 20 years. That would be intolerable. As we draw up this plan, therefore, we are not asking whether it is phase 2b or not 2b—

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

That is not the question. The question is how we can bring a transport revolution to the north sooner. Together, this revolution in both local and national transport has the potential to be truly transformative for the entire country. Yes, it is ambitious—but ambition is what we have lacked for too long. Two centuries ago, our ancestors could have been content with breeding faster horses. Instead, they invented the railways. They created the transport network on which the United Kingdom rose to economic pre-eminence. They looked to the future of transport and made it happen, and today it is our duty today to do the same. Let us bring about a future where high-speed trains glide between our great cities; where electric buses convey us cleanly around our towns; where self-driving cars roam along roads that are free of the congestion that causes so much pollution; and where a new generation of cyclists pedal safely and happily to school and work in tree-dappled sunlight—

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

—in tree-dappled sunlight on their own network of fully segregated cycle lanes, as we did in London.

This Government will deliver a new anatomy of British transport—a revolution in this nation’s public transport provision and a sign to the world that, in the 21st century, this United Kingdom still has the vision to dream big dreams and the courage to bring those dreams about. I commend this Statement to the House.” [Applause.]

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:22 pm, 11th February 2020

My Lords, that has rather spoilt my opening lines. I was of course going to thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, and also to suggest that if it were not for the conventions of the House I could congratulate her, knowing that there would be a natural instinct to follow that with a round of applause. The trouble is, there was actually a round of applause. I am afraid that my response will be nothing like as entertaining.

Noble Lords:

Oh.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

No, it is an impossible bar. Perhaps the noble Baroness would consider writing for the Spectator.

I welcome the Statement—not for what it says, which I will go through with some care—but for what it does not say, because the essence of this Statement is that it does not say “HS2 is cancelled”. That is, frankly, the only substantial point it makes. I want to make it very clear—to avoid all doubt—that Labour supports HS2, Labour supports northern rail and Labour supports the whole concept of a fully integrated, nationally owned railway system owned by the public and operated for the whole nation.

I will try to point out where the hard commitments are in this Statement—so it will not be a very long speech. I was involved in the improvements at London Transport and subsequently TfL, from the King’s Cross tragedy in 1987 until today. I am very proud of my involvement in that and of the people who worked with me. I did not expect to be praised by the Prime Minister in a Statement about northern rail, but I thank him very much. As one who has spent most waking moments over the past 12 years trying to screw more money out of the Government, I am very pleased that the Prime Minister has not forgotten his London roots and ends up saying not only how wonderful the mass transit system is but that there is more to do in London. Can I take that as a commitment for more money and, if so, how much and when? I find no other possible interpretation given the general speech.

The next commitment is, like most of the commitments in the Statement, pretty fluffy. The Prime Minister goes on to say that we are

“being held back by our inadequate infrastructure and so in the next few weeks this government will be setting out more details of a transport revolution”

When is the “next few weeks”? I thought about that phrase. A few weeks is sooner than a few months and more than a few days. Could we settle, say, on the end of March? Can the Minister give us a commitment on when this will happen? We know in this House that Ministers sometimes slip from commitments unless they are very clear, so I hope that she will be able to give us a date.

The first spending commitment is the record-breaking £5 billion of new investment in buses and bicycles. Can the Minister indicate a timeframe for that? It could be anything from a year to 50 years; it has to be set against the fact that, since 2010, the Government have inflicted cuts of £645 million a year in real terms on bus services, with 3,300 routes cut or withdrawn and fares soaring by two and a half times average wages. Just how immediate a commitment is this? Is it over 10 years? Is it over five years? Is it over an even shorter time?

I then ploughed on to see whether there was anything of substance and found nothing more until I got to page 5 of the printed version of the Statement, at which point the Prime Minister said that

“that £5 billion is just the start”.

I love these phrases: “just the start” means there is more. Does the Minister agree that that means that there is more than £5 billion? Will this be set out in the Budget?

The Statement then goes into a whole series of road improvements—you will notice that there is no commitment to any particular project; there is no money; there is no deadline. On the next page, it talks about

“new investments in the rail network across the North” and then repeats three schemes which have already been announced, once again with no deadlines and no budget. The paragraph concludes with one of the singular commitments in the Statement:

“I can today announce that we will be upgrading the Bristol East junction”.

What a delight that that is picked out to be in the midst of this splendid speech.

I could not find anything of substance on pages 7 or 8, but then I got to page 9. There, the Prime Minister slags off the management of HS2:

“Speaking as an MP whose constituency is on the route I cannot say that the company has distinguished itself in its handling of local communities. The cost forecasts have exploded. But the poor management to date has not detracted from the fundamental value of the project.”

What is he going to do about the management? At no point in the speech that I read does he make any recommendations about that.

Page 10, once again, contains absolutely nothing in terms of commitments. When we get to page 11, we are beginning to creep up to a commitment. It starts in the middle of the page:

“The Infrastructure and Projects Authority considers that this first phase can be delivered for its current projected cost of £35 billion to £45 billion in today’s prices … if we start now, services could be running by the end of the decade.”

Then, on the next page, he says:

“So I am giving high speed rail the green signal.”

That might reasonably be interpreted as a commitment to deliver the first phase, for between £35 billion and £45 billion, by 2030. Will the Minister please confirm that that is a hard commitment?

Further on, on page 12, we now know what the decisive action is going to be to bring this project to boot: we are going to appoint a Minister. Let us hope that he or she is a near relative of the Almighty. There will be a

“Ministerial oversight group … tasked with taking strategic decisions”.

At least we will know who to blame if it all goes wrong.

The Statement goes on to say:

“There will be changes in the way HS2 Ltd is managed”, and from page 13 we know what these are: the company will be divided in two—at least that is what I think it says. It says,

“so that the company can focus solely on getting phases 1 and 2A built on something approaching on time and on budget, I will be creating new delivery arrangements for both the grossly behind-schedule Euston terminus, and phase 2B of the wider project.”

Am I right in assuming that HS2 Ltd will be divided in two?

Now we come on to the really important question: are these hints and words an equal commitment for the whole project? Is this Statement a commitment for the whole project—phase 1, phase 2 and the northern rail? There is a little hint at the end of page 13 where the Prime Minister says,

Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester, which I committed to supporting during my first days in office.”

Once again I ask: is this Statement a commitment to all of HS2 and the northern rail project?

The Statement often says very little, except that,

“we will … explore options for creating a new delivery vehicle for Northern Powerhouse Rail. And we will start treating HS2”—

At that point, I think that the Statement changed things slightly from what has been said previously. I think it suggested that the two halves of HS2, north and south, phase a and phase b, have been divided into two but will now be in one company called High Speed North. I hope that the Minister is capable of working out how that is going to streamline the project and deliver it.

The next two pages are blank of comment. Then the Statement ends with:

“This government will deliver a new anatomy of British transport”.

But what do they actually commit to? Five billion pounds for buses and bicycles, with no programme or timetable; a commitment to build phases 1 and 2a at between £35 billion and £45 billion by 2030; at best an implied promise to do phase 2 and northern rail, with no figures, no timescale and no detail; and upgrading Bristol East junction. This is the most vacuous Statement I have ever heard repeated in this House. To thrive, the north needs a hard, measurable commitment; this Statement does not meet that test.

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

My Lords, I feel sorry for the Minister, having to repeat all that. But what the Statement boasted in juvenile, rhetorical flourishes it lacked in detail on all fronts. It reminded me of one of those exercises that teachers give primary school children to expand their vocabulary. But it lacked detail, and transport is all about detail.

Like the noble Lord, I went through the Statement carefully and was struck by the fact that the first thing this Government apparently committed to was net zero by 2050, and the first thing they are going to do is build lots of new roads. Everyone who knows about transport knows that if you build a road, it gets full of cars immediately. We will still have cars from today on the roads in 20 years’ time. The electric vehicle revolution will not come that quickly and we cannot reach net zero if we go on with large-scale road-building projects.

What was said about east-west rail links is good, but it needs to go way beyond the few examples here. There is a lack of detail on buses beyond a nice big, shiny figure. I ask the Minister to provide us with more detail on the buses, because we can have the bus revolution a great deal more quickly than we can have the railway revolution. We could revolutionise our buses within a couple of years if we had the money and the legislative framework to do it.

I was very pleased, of course, to hear that HS2 is not going to be cancelled, but again disappointed and really frustrated by the fact that there are just a few hints of how this will go ahead in the future—a couple of avenues have been closed off, but there is no detail on how it will work or how the future will be better than the past. “We are going to change it, we are going to have a Minister”—with all due respect, it is not ministerial control that has been lacking, but good, solid day-to-day project management. However, we will obviously have to wait patiently for some time still to get the detail that we need.

I say to the Minister that this is a very grandiose series of visions but, in reality, people need certainty and consistency. They need to know the details of what will happen and, given the scale of the ambition in this announcement, it is way beyond the capacity of the Department for Transport to deal with. Work will have to be done across government. I will give just one example of what needs thinking about. If you are to have all these new buses—one hopes they will be electric or hydrogen, but in the short term we are probably talking about electric—we will need to totally reinvent the electricity grid to cope in certain parts of the country. The Minister looks doubtful: I have just come from a lunchtime event where experts in the field confirmed that we need a massive increase in our electricity capacity in parts of the country. There are lots of questions for her to answer.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My Lords, I have four minutes to answer as many of those questions as possible.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

If the Minister consults the Companion she will see that she can extend the 20 minutes as necessary to reply fully.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

With the leave of the House, I will certainly do that to answer the questions as fully as I can at this stage. I was slightly disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, felt that there were not enough hard commitments: I felt that the Statement was full of very hard commitments. The commitment to HS2 draws a line in the sand and removes any doubt about whether the project will go ahead. It means that phase 1 can continue at pace and that the Bill for phase 2a can come back to your Lordships’ House, because I know there is work to be done on it. We will be pushing the western leg towards Manchester and look at the eastern leg and other northern areas, where we are looking at connections into Northern Powerhouse Rail too. A very quick infrastructure plan for rail in the north will be carried out to make sure that that entire structure works well together. If it does not, clearly HS2 will not be as beneficial as it would otherwise be.

I shall stay with HS2 and then move on to buses in due course. The noble Lord mentioned governance and accountability. That is key to the way we approach HS2 and the way we interact with HS2 Ltd in future. This is not necessarily to denigrate the current management of HS2 Ltd: over successive managements there have been a series of failings, as I am sure a number of noble Lords will agree. We want to draw a line under this and start a new relationship between it and the department, representing the taxpayer to make sure that we get the best result.

This new Minister—poor thing—will have an incredibly important role to play. They will hold HS2 to account and report to Parliament every six months on its progress. Furthermore, we will encourage a culture of transparency and accountability, as stated by the Secretary of State some time ago. That is particularly important. There will be members on the board of HS2 Ltd from both the DfT and the Treasury to make sure that taxpayers’ money is spent as effectively as it possibly can be. We will also ask the IPA to report on progress every year. There will be a step change in the governance of HS2 going forward.

I apologise if I did not explain the delivery arrangements well enough. HS2 Ltd will continue as currently on phases 1 and 2a and there will be separate delivery arrangements for Euston and phase 2b. The schedule for phase 1 is 2029 to 2033; the ambition is to get trains on the track by the end of the decade.

Beyond HS2, there is the issue of buses. I have a personal love of buses. Being the Buses Minister, I obviously welcome this funding of £5 billion over five years. Noble Lords have said that there is no detail. There is a reason for that: we wanted to show local authorities and bus operators the scale of our ambition for buses. Historically, buses have known roughly what they were going to get, but this is a step change in ambition. We wanted to get that message across so that our national bus strategy, which we will develop at pace over the coming months, will set out how this investment can best be spent. There will be investment in capital and in revenue but until we have the national bus strategy I cannot say for certain exactly where all this money will go.

Another reason I cannot say this for certain is that, as we look at integrated transport systems going forward, the most important thing to think about is place-based funding. Often funding based on places is not single-modal. There might be some bus funding from one pot and some cycling funding from another pot, but a certain place will bid and, rather like with the TCF, it will offer a cohesive and integrated plan for improving local transport. We cannot just say, “Here you go, Barnsley, have an extra £1 million.” It must be more thought through than that. That will come out of how we look at the framework for the national bus strategy and how we integrate the strategy with getting local authorities to step up in partnership with their bus operators, which is essential, to make the best use of the money.

I wanted to talk about this very important issue and that same partnership. We do not need new legislation to do this. We already have the Bus Services Act, which has partnerships in it. Where partnerships exist, the ridership of buses goes up significantly. Bristol has seen amazing gains, as has South Gloucestershire, because the local authority has a really good partnership with the bus operator. The local authority puts in place bus priority measures, steps up and says, “I will give you your buses and services.” That will come to fruition over the coming months. We will work closely, as we have already started to do, with local authorities and bus operators to make sure that they are ready to seize this level of ambition. It must be collaborative.

Cycling is at a very similar stage to the bus strategy in that we need to consider the means by which we can get it to the most needed places, alongside other funding, if that makes sense.

I think I have answered all the questions. If not, I will write.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Conservative 3:44 pm, 11th February 2020

My Lords, I was Secretary of State for Transport in 1996, when we gave the go-ahead for HS1—the fast link between St Pancras and the Channel Tunnel. It was opposed by local MPs and challenged through the courts. People said it was too expensive and it was challenged on environmental grounds. People said we should spend the money on local lines instead. Today, not a single Member of your Lordships’ House would argue that HS1 was not the right decision to take. Will it not be the same in 25 years’ time about HS2?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank my noble friend for his question, which was not a plant. Last Friday I went on HS1 and had the honour of being in the cab. It was amazing, although they did not let me drive the train. I drove the simulator afterwards. It was striking that when you are in the cab and looking down the track, it is beautiful, it is straight and it works. There is little clutter and you can see that it is modern. Barrelling along at 140 miles per hour, you think, “I could go a bit faster, actually”. I went from St Pancras to Ashford, an area that has been revolutionised. The development there has been amazing. I agree with my noble friend; HS1 was a great boon and HS2 will be, too.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Labour

My Lords, there has been comment on the lack of detail and substance in the Statement. If a little less time had been expended on corny analogies and flowery phrases, there might have been a bit more space for some of the core issues that need to be addressed. One is the speed proposed for HS2. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Young, that HS1’s speed is hugely slower than that proposed for HS2, which is far faster than any other high-speed rail system, apart from that in China. Can the Minister comment on why this important issue has been omitted from the Statement, particularly given that the cost of the proposed speed is so high? If it was somewhat slower, the savings could be used for some of the other projects set out in the Statement.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The noble Baroness will be well aware that we had an extensive debate on HS2, its speed and all the various elements. These issues have been well debated and the Government agree with the spirit of Oakervee. His report discusses speed among many other things. Indeed, there were 60 conclusions in the report, and it would have been impossible for the Government to discuss every issue in it. We will respond in full in due course and that will cover the issue of speed. However, we are not minded to slow the train down. Phase 1 has been designed with speed in mind and it is not going to be redesigned. There is therefore no need to reduce the speed.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, the problem was that the Statement was the least professional and most hyperbolic pile of nonsense from a government spokesperson—not the noble Baroness. It was an appalling abuse. It read like a Telegraph column, so we know who might have written some of it. There are two big problems with HS2. First, it is extremely damaging to our environment. We are losing 108 ancient woodlands, five wildlife refuges, 39 nature reserves and 33 protected sites. The project is also a huge emitter of CO2 . Does the Minister agree that, as a result of that and the extra road extensions and plans proposed in the Statement, the Government will be unable to meet their CO2 reduction targets?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The Minister does not agree. I take it that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is not a fan of the Prime Minister, but the sort of words she uses are somewhat inappropriate. On the substance of her question about the environment and ancient woodlands, noble Lords have had the opportunity to discuss those issues in significant detail. HS2 is committed to no net loss of biodiversity. We believe that it is an important part of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Lost wildlife habitat will be replaced and, as I have said in your Lordships’ House, on the stretch from London to Crewe 43 ancient woodlands will be affected, but only 20% of each. That is out of a total of 52,000 ancient woodlands. I see the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who will say, “But that is salami slicing”. That is the thinnest slice of salami, which will not make even half a breakfast.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest, as in the register, and as a former Transport Secretary, of which there are quite a few in this House. Does my noble friend recall that over 40 years ago, Germany developed an elaborate system of bus-type vehicles which travel by rail as well as road? I welcome the part about buses but our roads are very crowded, and there is still a big network of completely disused rail tracks in this country. Will my noble friend undertake that this technology, which is quite well advanced, will also be included in our great transport revolution?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank my noble friend for raising that issue. It is of course critical that where tracks already go into major towns or cities—some might be Beeching line closures—the opportunity for reopening those lines may not take the form of heavy rail; there are many new and innovative ways. I know that the one my noble friend referred to is from 40 years ago, but nowadays there are some lightweight, low-cost alternatives to building heavy rail, which could effectively, and with good value for money, get people to where they need to be.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, a long time ago the Government made a commitment that, before construction started on HS2, they would produce a new cost-benefit analysis and business case. That was confirmed to me in a letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, when she was Minister, on 18 December 2018. Has that cost-benefit analysis and business case been published, and if not, when does she expect it to be, and can she confirm that it will be published before permanent construction starts and the formal go-ahead is given?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Yes, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, will be well aware that we are due a final business case, which will set out the benefits and costs for the phase. The notice to proceed will be published alongside it.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I can find no mention in the Statement regarding HS2 and the north-east of England. Can the Minister confirm that there is no change in the plan in relation to that? That is, HS2 rolling stock will run on conventional track north of Leeds, joining the east coast main line just north-east of that city. As I raised when we debated HS2 a couple of weeks ago, to be successful, that link to Newcastle upon Tyne, where I live, needs four tracks on the east coast main line as opposed to the current two. Will the Minister confirm that the Government would be willing to look closely at the case for expanding the number of tracks north of Leeds?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I will certainly take that point back to the department. The parts of the track that the noble Lord mentions will all be part of the integrated plan for rail for the north, which will be an important, if fairly short, project to make sure that HS2 works with NPR and all the multibillion pounds of rail investment that we are already putting into the north. It would be absolutely wrong for us to undertake such a massive and costly project unless we squeeze every single benefit out of it that we can.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour

My Lords, there were six mentions of Manchester and, quite rightly, mentions of both Liverpool and Leeds in the Statement, but not a single mention of Sheffield, the fourth-largest city in England. Can the Minister confirm that there will be an eastern leg rather than linking Manchester through Leeds to the north, and that that leg will go through the east Midlands, South Yorkshire and then through Leeds, so that we can have some benefit to a county which has a population greater than that of Scotland?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I absolutely understand the noble Lord’s desire to get improved connectivity to Sheffield. Indeed, we want improved connectivity between all the major cities in the north, which is why we are doing the integrated plan for rail for the north.

Photo of Lord Haselhurst Lord Haselhurst Conservative

My Lords, as the completion of the HS2 project will lead to a dramatic slashing of journey times between Manchester, Birmingham and London, does the Minister agree that it would be sensible, at this stage, to make more effort to promote Manchester Airport and Birmingham Airport as points of entry into this country, attractive to all categories of visitor? This would take some of the pressure off the London airport system, as well as contributing to levelling up the economy of our country, as the Government are set upon.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank my noble friend for that question. One of my first visits, when I was Aviation Minister, was to Birmingham Airport and that is precisely what they said to me: once HS2 is up and running, the journey time to London will be slashed. For example, if you live in north-east London or close to Euston, you will be able to use Birmingham rather than a London airport.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My Lords, I strongly support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Young, that yesterday’s pessimists about HS1 are today’s enthusiasts for HS1. The same point can be made about the first London-to-Birmingham railway, which was ferociously opposed on cost and other grounds. Since it was built in 1838, it must represent, though no one can calculate it, the most phenomenal return on capital of any project ever constructed, which we could not possibly do without. I ask the Minister, given that the Victorians built the first London-to-Birmingham railway in five years, with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows, if it is too much to expect a better completion date. I think the one she offered was somewhere between 2029 and 2032, or something like that. If she gives an option, it will be the latter of those dates. Can she not be firmer and speed it up a bit?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My Lords, Members across the Government would very much like to speed this up, but a process needs to be gone through and this is a highly technical line. The noble Lord is quite right, and I mentioned during the recent HS2 debate that four lines went under construction within 10 years back in the 1830s and 1840s. Many considerations must be gone through to build these lines and, nowadays, we have far more concern about the environment than we have ever had before, and about stakeholder and community engagement, and making sure that local communities feel happy about the construction.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, in the prologue, long before we got to the dappled trees, my noble friend referred to Lincoln. I am glad that she recognised the congestion outside that great city. Can I infer from that that Lincoln will be high in the order of priorities as our roads are improved?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank my noble friend for his local question about Lincoln. I do not have statistics to hand about our roads investment in Lincoln. I am fairly sure there will be something, and I will write to him.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for the letter of 4 February that she wrote to all Peers who took part in the debate on 23 January. I certainly found it very helpful and encouraging, although not all her noble friends did. I will raise a question that was touched on by her noble friend Lord Haselhurst. The Minister says that, if the project goes ahead, HS2 will create a long-term carbon alternative to domestic flights or driving, and that HS2 can play a key role in achieving the transition to carbon net zero by 2050—something that I wish the Green Party would occasionally take seriously. The Prime Minister’s Statement says that:

“Passengers arriving at Birmingham Airport will be able to get to central London by train in 38 minutes, which compares favourably with the time it takes to get from Heathrow by taxi”.

Presumably we are not now going to have a third runway.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My Lords, the third runway at Heathrow is a private development. If it falls within the criteria of the airports national policy statement, it will go ahead.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I give a perspective from the hills in the middle of the Pennines. I am interested in knowing that we are going to have more tree-dappled sunlight. We welcome the trees; the sunlight might be beyond even the present Prime Minister. I just point out that those of us who live in the corridor between east Lancashire and Skipton in the Aire Valley in Yorkshire are not bothered about having high-speed rail. We want our railway back: the 11 miles between Colne and Skipton. We would be quite happy for the trains to go at a normal speed, but please can we have our railway back?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The noble Lord is a doughty campaigner on this matter. We have heard his message and, as he knows, we are working on it.

Photo of The Bishop of Durham The Bishop of Durham Bishop

My Lords, perhaps we might return to the north-east. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and I, along with many others, have argued previously that this infrastructure should have begun in the north and the south at the same time. In the review, can we please ensure that we are working not just south to north but north to south? This would help speed up the process. Can the Minister also answer a question on the production of the trains and the carriages? Companies such as Hitachi and Bombardier have been mentioned. Are the contracts going to be given out in Britain?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The right reverend Prelate refers to an issue that is raised fairly frequently. I think that we can all agree that phase 1 will go ahead straightaway because enabling works have already taken place. Part of the integrated plan for rail will look at ways of getting the benefits of this new railway more quickly, and it may be—I am not prejudging this at all—that construction starts in several places at once, as well as at different points, in order that it can join up. To me that seems quite sensible, but I am sure that someone technical will tell me that it is not. However, it is our ambition to get the benefits more quickly and to keep the costs as low as possible. We will certainly look at all the eventualities when it comes to that part of the railway.

On the construction of the rolling stock, this does not need to be considered for some time yet. Of course it would be very good if the trains were built in Britain, but I happen to know that the HS1 trains were built in Japan and that they function very well. But, again, we cannot prejudge that and it will be some time before that contract is awarded.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

My Lords, can the Minister give us some assurances about the management changes at HS2? I worked first with HS1 from an environmental point of view and then with Crossrail. I have been appalled by HS2’s environmental illiteracy. Can we make sure that in the future phases of this development, the company that replaces HS2, or its reconfiguration or whatever arrangements are made, is required to use its best endeavours to avoid going through ancient woodlands and other sensitive sites? About half of the sensitive sites that are being trashed by this development were not even identified by the company when it carried out its reviews, and that is negligent.

Perhaps I might also make the point that as far as the 52,000 ancient woodlands are concerned, it used to be one woodland, but it has been so split up and hacked into small fragments that now there are only 52,000 small pieces of it. If we keep on doing that, we will not have any at all.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I hope to be able to put the record straight. I do not propose that there will be changes to the management of HS2; rather, changes will be made to its governance. As I explained earlier, the DfT and HMT will be on the board and there will be a new Minister. I will ensure that I mention to the new Minister, whenever she or he takes up their role, that stakeholder engagement and ensuring that environmental stakeholders are included as part of the process is absolutely essential.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, this is a hugely welcome announcement as far as the economy of the West Midlands is concerned. While I understand that the Statement needs to make a lot of references to the northern powerhouse, it makes no reference to the issue of east-west links in the Midlands. The Minister will know that it takes almost as long to go from Leicester to Derby or from Leicester or Derby to Birmingham as it does to go from Manchester to Leeds, so this is a real issue. Can she assure me that in the work that is being taken forward, the links within the Midlands will be given full consideration?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The noble Lord is right and we intend that the work on the integrated plan for rail should include the Midlands and the north. Of course, the department is engaging with Midlands Connect because of its interest in the Midlands rail hub, which would certainly lead to improvements in east to west connectivity. We are well aware of the issue and we are working on it.