Transport Infrastructure - Statement

Part of the debate – 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—