Exclusion of a Heathrow Spur

High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 8th March 2016.

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(1) For the avoidance of doubt, no provision of this Act shall be interpreted as authorising the development of a spur from the railway to Heathrow airport.

(2) Within one month of the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent, the Secretary of State must communicate to the relevant landowners and communities that the construction of a Heathrow Spur is not authorised by this Act.—

This new clause would make clear that a Heathrow Spur is not authorised by this Act and require the Secretary of State to communicate this to relevant landowners and communities.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We turn our gaze away from central London and look as far west as Heathrow. The new clause seeks to exclude specifically the possibility of a Heathrow spur, in order to avoid doubt and potential blight. Thus far, the Heathrow spur remains a possibility. The new clause follows on from a recommendation made in the Select Committee report on high-speed rail. Proposals had been considered for several years for the construction of a spur connecting the HS2 route to Heathrow airport, but they were eventually ruled out by the Secretary of State in March 2015, in answer to a written question.

The Airports Commission said of the proposed spur from Old Oak Common that it would have been

“likely to attract only a small number of passengers, carry a high capital cost and represent an inefficient use of HS2 capacity.”

The commission made it clear that an HS2 spur, which would have cost more than £1.4 billion, was

“highly unlikely to be necessary to support any expansion of Heathrow airport”.

I make no comment in this context as to whether that is desirable or otherwise, but it nevertheless boxes off the issue.

The Bill contains provisions that could be used to provide passive provision for a future spur from the railway to Heathrow. The Secretary of State has confirmed that a spur will not be built as part of HS2 phase 1 or 2, but it is the Select Committee’s view that there remains a risk of blight on properties on the trajectory of the previously envisaged spur. The concern is that the threat of a Heathrow spur link does not go away. The new clause would make that threat go away. The Select Committee directed the Secretary of State

“not to use the Bill powers to implement passive provision for a Heathrow spur.”

The Committee also said,

“To avoid confusion…that relevant landowners and communities are fully informed of the change” within one month of the Bill receiving Royal Assent. I trust that the wise words of the Select Committee can be recognised and reflected in the new clause.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The Bill contains measures that could have been used to make passive provision for a future spur of the railway to Heathrow airport. Passive provision is a little bit like when I used to play with our Hornby railway set. If someone puts a set of points in, they can join a new bit of line without disrupting the operation of the existing line.

On 9 March 2015, the Secretary of State advised, in response to a House of Commons written answer, that the spur would not be implemented as part of HS2 phases 1 or 2. Paragraph 155 of the Select Committee’s second special report of Session 2015-16 highlights that, following the update on 9 March 2015,

“there remains a risk of blight on properties on the trajectory of the previously envisaged spur. We direct the Promoter not to use the Bill powers to implement passive provision for a Heathrow spur.”

The report directs that the promoter

“should take immediate steps to ensure that relevant landowners and communities are fully informed of the change.”

I can confirm that we accept the Select Committee’s direction regarding the Heathrow spur and that we will not use the powers contained in the Bill to implement passive provision for a Heathrow spur. The assurance will be added to the undertakings and assurances register so the Secretary of State would be accountable to Parliament were that commitment breached.

I confirm that we have taken the necessary steps to ensure that relevant landowners and communities are fully informed of the change. Indeed, the connection from Old Oak Common to Heathrow via the Elizabeth line—the line that Her Majesty has graciously allowed us to name after her—will allow eight trains per hour with 11-minute journey times. It is quite clear that there is already a clear vision for a connection between Old Oak Common and Heathrow station.

If we were looking at the timetabling of HS2 with a Heathrow spur, it would be inflexible to have maybe one or two trains an hour to Heathrow when passengers could enjoy the flexibility of taking a train from Birmingham South or, indeed, from Euston towards Old Oak Common, to connect to Heathrow airport.

I believe that I have addressed all points made by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough and I hope that the new clause will be withdrawn. I hope that all those who may have been concerned that we were planning to build the Heathrow spur or, indeed, about the passive provision, will be assured that we have no intention whatever of doing so.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am very grateful to the Minister. He has rather nailed it by dealing with all the issues in a clear and direct way, and he will be doing everything we ask of him in the new clause. I was a little concerned that we were not going to hear about his contacting the relevant landowners but, in every measure, the Minister has described how he will give full import and effect to the recommendation of the Select Committee. I readily acknowledge that, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 41