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Examination of Witness

High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:33 am on 11th July 2013.

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Professor Sir Peter Hall gave evidence.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party 12:26 pm, 11th July 2013

Welcome. For the record, will the new witness introduce themselves to the Committee?

Professor Hall: Thank you, Chair. I am Professor Sir Peter Hall, Bartlett Professor of Planning and Regeneration at UCL—University College London.

Q 177

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

Good morning, Professor Hall. Could you briefly outline for the Committee your research comparing British and French investment in rail and how it relates to the current debate over High Speed 2?

Professor Hall: I should say at the outset that that research was done in conjunction with, and in fact largely by, my PhD student, Chia-lin Chen, who I expect to receive her PhD in about a month, and is sitting in the public gallery behind me.

Essentially, the research took place in two stages. First, she/we wrote a paper looking at the impact of high-speed rail in the UK alone over the period 1980 to  approximately 2010. This was a study of what we call the low-speed high-speed system we have in this country, running essentially at 200 kph—125 mph. Because it has been in operation for some 30 years, it was possible to try to estimate the economic effects over that long period. The main result of that was that places brought within a roughly two-hour radius of London seemed to have performed very well in comparison with places farther away, with one or two conspicuous exceptions.

The second piece of research, which you have referred to, was a more detailed study comparing the effects of particularly the west coast main line electrification. I should say, the upgrade to that electrification; the electrification took place in 1966. The upgrade took place in stages and was complete in 2008. But evidence subsequent to that, which was useful, allowed Chia-lin to gauge the more detailed effects of the upgrade, bringing the line up to the 200 kph standard, on north-west England.

The important result there was that the upgrade seemed to have directly benefited places with stations on the upgraded line, particularly Manchester Piccadilly, where the unit of measurement is technically called “south Manchester,” which is an EU NUTS 3 region. Certain stations up the line, such as Warrington and Preston, benefited in comparison with places that were not directly reachable, partly because the lines were not yet electrified—especially Blackpool and the Fylde coast, on the one hand, and what is often called Pennine Lancashire, the east Lancashire towns of Blackburn, Accrington and Burnley, on the other hand, which are similarly non-electrified and are served only by indirect connections to the high-speed line.

Chia-lin then compared those results with the position in France, where SNCF had already built the high-speed line north—the Ligne à Grande Vitesse Nord—in 1993 right to the channel tunnel in preparation for its opening in 1994. The immediate effect was to boost the economy of Lille, which is a particularly interesting comparison because Lille is in many ways similar to Manchester—that was the point of the comparison. Lille is the capital of an old industrial, textile region that has suffered massive de-industrialisation in the past three decades. The research shows that Lille’s economy received a decided boost in the conversion from what we call the manufacturing economy to the service-based, knowledge-based economy. Anyone going to Lille will see the spectacular effects.

But more important, and this is the critical distinction, was that certain towns in the wider agglomeration around Lille, such as Roubaix and Tourcoing, and still more towns in the wider Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, such as Calais, Dunkirk, Lens—the home of the new Louvre branch—and Valenciennes, did not do as well. Finally, however, and this is a critically interesting point in the research, the region put substantial sums of money into two investments: one was to subsidise direct TGV services several times a day between those towns and Paris; and the other was to develop a new regional high-speed system that connected those same towns with Lille, reducing commute times substantially, to make jobs that were growing in the Lille region, especially in the central area of Lille, available to unemployed people in those other towns. She showed that that had a direct and immediate effect. That is not 100%, because the results are slightly complex and need to be looked at in a table. We would be pleased to provide you with that  academic article and an academic article on the first study, which we could provide as written evidence after this meeting.

Q 178

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is a really helpful and comprehensive answer. I am interested that you seem to be suggesting that, if we develop a high-speed line and do the kind of regional development and local transport networks around it, it can in fact help to provide regional growth not just in the cities that have stops but in the wider area. Would you say that is a fair assessment of what you have just said?

Professor Hall: That is not merely fair but the key conclusion from the research. I choose my words carefully here, because this becomes somewhat political. If somebody at a regional level has both the will and the financial means to do this, then you can cause a high-speed line to irrigate the region. That is a wonderful French term that we have been recently using in a conference in Manchester. It is essential to take those additional measures, and they will cost money.

Q 179

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden

I would not expect the professor to be necessarily aware of this as it is quite a recent proposal, but the Greater Birmingham and Solihull local economic partnership has, as one of its more ambitious proposals for regeneration, the building of a light railway system to link the black country to the new interchange station at Birmingham International, coming via the Jaguar Land Rover plants. Similarly, it is looking at a southern extension through Solihull to Stratford-upon-Avon and on to Redditch with a view to the tourist interests of people flying into Birmingham International and then accessing a tourist hotspot such as Stratford. Does the professor think that that is the kind of connectivity that would irrigate a region such as the west midlands?

Professor Hall: Yes I do, but there are two ways in which a high-speed railway can irrigate a region. The first is by directly extending the high-speed trains to serve the region. In relation to the west midlands, it seems that, so far, the High-Speed 2 company’s proposals do not meet that objective. The high-speed line is end stopped at Birmingham Curzon Street with this embarrassing and difficult gap between there and New Street. Of course the Centro-like rail connection would be necessary to seal that. What I believe ought to happen is that, although most trains will probably terminate at Curzon Street—the burn gauge trains, including double-decker trains, would have to terminate at Curzon Street because they could not go any further—what are called in the jargon the classic-compatible trains could and should proceed onwards through New Street to serve key destinations in the wider region, such as Wednesbury or Wolverhampton. It seems to me that this is a rather surprising gap in the present thinking.

Secondly, and additionally, the French experience shows that of course you should connect up the key high-speed stations to high-quality Metro and/or light-rail systems. In the case of Lille—Lille Europe—that is done, not perfectly I should say, with the line 2 of the Metro, which is a DLR-type system, running up to Roubaix and Tourcoing, and also to the modernised tramway that serves a greater variety of destinations.

In other places in France—there are many excellent cases now such as Strasbourg and Montpellier—there is excellent interchange just outside the station, in the station forecourt, to all parts of the urban area. The Centro approach in Birmingham is to be applauded, but it is almost certainly not in itself sufficient.

Q 180

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Conservative, Meriden

How did the French regional authorities fund that local connectivity?

Professor Hall: This gets fairly interesting, and I commend it to the Committee. The funding is done through a remarkable tax called le versement transport, which is a direct tax on employers, and it is hypothecated—a word that is anathema to HM Treasury. It must be spent on transport improvements, and it has been used—I am using slightly immoderate language before the Committee—on a colossal scale in the last two decades to finance tramway schemes, and not only in the largest cities in France. For instance, Montpellier, which I was checking yesterday, has opened its third line and a fourth circular line. It is now actively contemplating a fifth and sixth tramway line. That is in a medium-sized—but fast growing—French city. But, in up to 100 French cities they are building tramway networks, connecting with the railway as part of this and financed by the versement transport.

Q 181

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras

Peter, having asked awkward questions of my good friend Richard Leese, I now have to ask awkward questions of an even older friend. Would you agree that most of the benefits in France seem to spring from local work and local connectivity rather than the high-speed link? I think back to the 1960s when—I cannot remember why, but I seem to remember—you were opposed to the Euston-Manchester electrification.

Professor Hall: Your memory is better than mine on that one, if I may say so, but I have experienced—you will probably be aware—a damascene conversion over the years in favour of high-speed. I should confess to the Committee that I was once in favour of converting railways to roads on a large scale. I am still in favour of doing that with some lesser-used branch lines, but I have very much changed my mind on that.

I would say that the benefits do flow in two ways. They flow directly from city to city. If you connect Paris and Lyon with Marseille and Montpellier, you convey real benefits to those cities, as has happened with Lille. You should therefore expect that High Speed 2 will boost the fortunes of the big northern core cities, but it will not necessarily do much for the regions around them unless further, and fairly expensive, steps are taken.

I would emphasise that point, because I believe that there is increasing evidence—I will examine some of this in a book I am publishing at the beginning of September—that the UK economy is polarising, not merely between what we can call the Greater London and south-east region, which is the area that stretches up to around 80 miles or 130 kilometres from central London, and the rest of the country. It has been put—all members of the Committee will have heard this—that London is becoming a separate, medieval city state, separated from the rest of the UK economy.

There are, however, also dangerous divisions in the north of England between those core cities that are doing okay—Manchester being an example—and the regions around them that are doing less than okay. Some of those places outside the magic circle of the metrolink tram network in the Manchester area, such as Blackpool and Burnley, are doing very badly indeed. That is where some of the real problems in the UK now arise.

Q 182

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South

To follow on from that point, I accept that connectivity with high-speed rail destinations is important. Have you had the opportunity to look at the plans for the northern hub, the Leeds-Manchester electrification and some of the other improvements in the north-west and Yorkshire? Do you think that those would deliver sufficient connectivity, or does further work need to be done?

Professor Hall: I thank you for that question because it provides me with a prompt to say something that I would have liked to say anyway. The answer is yes and no. Transport for Greater Manchester has achieved something really remarkable in England outside London. Given the disproportion in investment, which you all know of, between London and the rest, it has achieved something remarkable in building out the Metrolink system over 20 years into a true city region system.

I was privileged to travel on that new line out to Droylsden only a couple of weeks ago as part of the conference we held there—very impressive it is too, particularly as it runs through extremely unprepossessing territory in serious need of regeneration. Let us hope that it has that effect.

However, I would stress the question about where the Metrolink ends, particularly at stations like Ashton-under-Lyne and Rochdale, which are essentially within the Greater Manchester agglomeration. Beyond that you have the new Manchester hub and the Ordsall curve which is very important in connecting Piccadilly and Victoria stations. Above all, you have the electrification which would kick in over the next few years. Importantly, a place like Blackpool, which has been so seriously depressed, will have an electric service into the North station by 2016.

However, as I put it rather colourfully in a presentation, following the old Heineken ads, you really need to get to the places that other transport will not reach. The whole of Pennine Lancashire will still remain unelectrified. The Blackpool South line is one that I have been very closely studying as part of an EU comparative study where we have proposed a tram-train solution similar to that which is now being developed for Sheffield-Rotherham, for instance.

There are parts of north-west England, and other similar regions on the other side of the Pennines and elsewhere—areas of the country that are in serious need of economic regeneration—that will still not be adequately served by transport after 2020 and the present wave of electrification.

Q 183

Photo of Graeme Morrice Graeme Morrice Labour, Livingston

I wondered what your view was on extending high-speed rail further north than Leeds and Manchester into Scotland and in particular connecting with Edinburgh and/or Glasgow.

Professor Hall: I would not like to make a definitive pronouncement because I have not done direct work on that question; it undoubtedly has been studied by High Speed 2 and its consultants.

My understanding is that the present approach is very much the one that the French used 30 years ago when they opened the first line of the TGV from Paris to Lyon in 1981. They got big benefits for Lyon, directly connected in two hours by high-speed rail, and then considerable further benefits even down to Marseille on the old line because the journey time reduction on the high-speed line was sufficient to bring Marseille within around four hours of Paris. Subsequently, 20 years later, the line down to Marseille was electrified, bringing it within three hours of Paris. That has brought a further big boost.

I think the approach being used is the right one to try to get an indirect boost to Scotland in stage 1 and consider high-speed rail as an option onwards from—I will be very pedantic—Bamfurlong, where the high-speed line stops in the middle of Lancashire, up to Glasgow and Edinburgh in a later stage.

There is an additional factor, which is that the trains that run up to Scotland in this early stage will be classic-compatible and will not have the same capacity as the big double-decker trains that will connect London and the big cities. But I think this staged approach is probably the right one for now. Beyond that, I could not make a definitive statement to you. I am sorry.

Q 184

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

Professor, you highlighted the danger that the core cities will benefit greatly at the risk of the opposite happening in the surrounding regions, and you also pointed out areas not connected to that, and mentioned the east coast; that fits my constituency on Humberside, as well. Would you accept that we can achieve greater connectivity to those areas with the spare capacity created as a result of the transfer traffic to HS2?

Professor Hall: Yes, I would agree with that in the sense that, provided High Speed 2 is built, we shall, by 2032—or 2026, in stage 1—have, rather remarkably, something that no other country has: a high-speed high-speed system running at perhaps 350 kph between the core cities, and the existing low-speed high-speed system, running at 200 kph, which can provide, then, an enhanced service to places like Humberside, on the old tracks.

At the same time, I would expect greater attention to be paid to the possibility of serving Humberside off High Speed 2 over the classical tracks, which seems to me to be an obvious solution, and would follow from the approach that the French have used in northern France.

Q 185

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

From your perspective, have you got any observations about the appropriateness and capacity of HS2 Ltd to carry out this work? Is there anything that you would like them to do that they are not doing, or anything that they are doing that you particularly applaud?

Professor Hall: I believe that they have done a very thorough job so far, and they should be applauded for that. I believe that it has been a very engineering-based approach. They seem to have set themselves an objective,  which was a clear and probably commendable objective, of getting maximum speed between London and selected core cities.

That they have done by designing a very well engineered railway, running at remarkably high speeds. That has been very difficult, as you will be aware, because the speeds involve a curvature, I understand from engineering colleagues, of 7 km radius, which means it is very difficult to get that route through England without some environmental effects, which you will all have heard of.

Where I think they may have been less adequate is in thinking through the connections beyond. They seem to have been so obsessed by designing a very high-speed, self-contained railway, as evidenced by that end-stop connection at Birmingham Curzon Street, that they have failed to consider the wider benefits that could arise from integrating their railway with the classical railway system. That, I think, is something they need to address.

My understanding is, now, that because they have a strong team of economists working on the economic benefits, they may be becoming more and more conscious of the issue. That is my sense in the last few weeks.

Q 186

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

I very much want to follow up the point you were making, Professor Hall. The National Audit Office concluded that at this stage the evidence for High Speed 2 supporting regional growth was unclear. I hope that that is why there is some action on that by HS2 Ltd. How do you think the Department for Transport’s assessments of costs and benefits factor in the impact on regional growth; and do you think they have given that enough attention? I am guessing, from what you said, that you do not.

Professor Hall: Thank you for that question, because it is another that I should like to address anyway.

This is a complex question. It is one of those academic questions that prove to be of much more than academic importance to us all. I believe that the Department for Transport approach has been—how can I term it?—very economistic, with a very strong team of economists using an approach that they have honed over the years. I have seen some of the evidence they produced for the House, and which has in fact now been published, with your agreement, by the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds. In fact, we have been in close contact with the now-retired chief economist of the DfT, Tom Worsley, who we asked to do some work for us on this question.

It is very clear that the approach consists of trying as far as possible to embody every single effect in an evaluation scheme that is not merely quantified, but monetised. This approach was developed and honed by the Department over 35 years, since the original Leitch report—the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment in 1978, I believe; I was on the Committee, but my dates are failing me. Over a long period they tried to create a snowball effect by creating layers and layers of indirect effects around the original core cost-benefit analysis, with its very heavy stress on journey time savings. I know the Committee has been addressing that recently, because it has been very much in the media.

They have had partial success, but there is weighty criticism from academic colleagues—indeed, in my own department—that the approach is almost too mechanistic and too obsessive in its attempt to monetise. They say  that what is needed is a more disaggregated approach, similar to the one that Chia-lin Chen used in her work which we published together.

This is a major continuing debate, and we have undertaken to look at it in more detail over the next five months, in further work in my department as part of the European project I mentioned earlier. If an occasion arises, of course, I shall be very pleased to return to the Committee or its successor to report on the results of that work.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party

We are now approaching the end of this session. We have two minutes for a very brief question.

Q 187

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Labour, Holborn and St Pancras

Cost-benefit analysis includes two things: guessing the benefits, and trying to guess the costs. Are you aware that, in the cost estimates for Euston, it looks as though HS2’s original estimate was roughly half of the revised estimated cost of the major scheme, which they then abandoned?

Professor Hall: I have heard that, yes. This is stating the blindingly obvious in a minute and a half, but I should say that as you all know the real problem arises at the end of the line. It arises particularly at Euston, and also in very large measure at Manchester Piccadilly, with a five-mile tunnel under Manchester. Saving money on the ends of the line seems to me to be an absolutely critical question. If I may be allowed a last response, I think we might have to reconsider lateral-thinking approaches to the problem of the ends of the line.

Q 188

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

Given what you said about the importance of making sure that the high-speed line connects to the wider network, do you think there is enough classic-compatible stock to serve all the further places off it? Do you think there would be merit in considering whether HS2 Ltd should sit separate from our infrastructure provider, Network Rail?

Professor Hall: May I ask for clarification? Do you want to consider whether the stock could be more compatible in running on to Network Rail?

Q 189

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

Is there likely to be enough classic-compatible rolling stock?

Professor Hall: I believe that it would generally be compatible with existing lines. There are some curious variations, depending on the complexities of 19th-century railway history, but generally the classic lines we are talking about in the north-west and Wiltshire—

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party

I am sorry to interrupt, but we have run out of time. I thank the witnesses on behalf of the Committee.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Nicky Morgan.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.