Minimising the use of land at Washwood Heath

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) The Secretary of State and the nominated undertaker shall use best endeavours to keep to a minimum—

(a) the amount of land at Washwood Heath, Birmingham that is required (either temporarily or permanently) during phase one construction and associated works; and

(b) the length of time for which such land is required,

in order to maximise early development and job creation post-construction.

(2) Within 24 months of the commencement of the use of land at Washwood Heath, and annually thereafter, the Secretary of State and the nominated undertaker must prepare a report on the discharge of the duty under subsection (1).

(3) Each report must be laid before both Houses of Parliament. —

This new clause seeks to minimise the use of land at Washwood Heath, both in terms of amount of land and duration of use.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:30 pm, 8th March 2016

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time. We are on a little bit of a tour from Camden to Heathrow and now up to Washwood Heath in Birmingham. On the face of it, the new clause is rather sober and is perhaps not that attractive to the casual observer. However, it is extremely important for reasons that I will explain.

The new clause would minimise the use of land in both extent and time. Washwood Heath, 3.5 km east of Curzon Street, will be the site for HS2’s rolling stock maintenance depot, and the depot’s location and ability to operate efficiently will be critical to the railway’s functioning. Washwood Heath is an area of high unemployment that lies at the junction of the Ladywood, Erdington and Hodge Hill constituencies. Together, those three constituencies are home to 45% of Birmingham’s unemployed. As of February 2016, Birmingham, Hodge Hill and Birmingham, Ladywood are two of the top four constituencies in the UK for claimant rate as a percentage of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, and they are two of the top four constituencies in the UK for long-term youth unemployment claims.

Although the maintenance depot will create jobs, my right hon. Friend Liam Byrne forcibly argued the case that its potential for additional regeneration needs more recognition. Birmingham City Council originally planned to use the site to build a business park that would have created an estimated 6,000 jobs, but HS2 earmarked it as the home of a new maintenance depot instead, creating just 300 to 600 jobs. He was successful in persuading the HS2 Select Committee of the need to minimise the use of land at Washwood Heath and was instrumental in pushing the Select Committee to direct a review to minimise the use of land by the promoter and to maximise opportunities for employers to establish themselves after construction.

The proposed Washwood Heath site is the size of 100 football pitches—I will not comment on whether there is a decent football team to play on them—but nevertheless it makes up one third of the industrial land in Birmingham. Ensuring that such a significant amount of industrial land is used most efficiently, allowing for the creation of employment opportunities, would be crucial in any part of the country, but it is a particular priority in an area that is so blighted by unemployment. The area potentially to be handed back after construction is now 50% greater than in HS2’s original plans. The council estimates that the land now freed up can accommodate 3,000 much-needed jobs, rather than the 300 jobs in HS2’s original plans, which is a welcome development. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his persistence and persuasiveness in making that case.

The extent of the land temporarily required, and for how long it will be so required, will affect the extent of further opportunities for job creation, so it is critical that both the amount of land and the time for which it is required are kept to a minimum. The new clause would require the Secretary of State to use his or her best endeavours to keep to a minimum the amount of land required during the construction of phase 1, as well as the length of time for which such land is required.

Considering the importance of the opportunities for job creation at Washwood Heath, as well as the perceived unsatisfactoriness of HS2 Ltd’s previous dealings with landowners at Washwood Heath, there should be special emphasis to ensure that the Secretary of State and the nominated undertaker work with the landowners to make sure that as much land as possible is released as soon as possible to maximise early development and job creation.

The new clause would also require that within 24 months of the commencement of the use of land at Washwood Heath and annually thereafter the Secretary of State and the nominated undertaker prepare a report on the discharge of their duty under new clause 41(1) to minimise the amount of land used and the duration of its use, and lay each report before both Houses of Parliament, ensuring that there is sufficient oversight of the process to minimise the use of the land.

This is a crucial new clause for this community and its ambitions, and I trust that the Minister will be able to give it his and the Government’s support, and properly recognise the recommendations of the Select Committee.

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

As the hon. Gentleman has just said, the Government have listened and we have taken action, not least because the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill, who represents this area, raised this issue in a Westminster Hall debate, and I was able to listen and respond in detail to the points he made. I have also received very detailed briefings about how this land could be best used to provide both facilities in connection with HS2 and much-needed jobs, which are being created in Birmingham in very large numbers.

As the hon. Gentleman has said, Washwood Heath will be the site of the new HS2 rolling stock maintenance depot. It is important that the design of the depot is not constrained to the point that it offers substandard operation. The depot will provide services for HS2 phase 1 trains, as well as supporting phase 2. I understand the imperative to release land at Washwood Heath to bring forward development and to create jobs for the local community, but we need to get the balance right so that both HS2 and the development can happen.

The issue of releasing land early and increasing the total amount of land released for development at Washwood Heath was discussed during the HS2 Select Committee process. We were instructed by the Select Committee in November 2015 to work with AXA, the major landowner on the site, to consider how depot design and temporary land take for spoil treatment and storage could be revised to release land for development.

Through ongoing design refinements, we have been able to increase the amount of residual land available for development from 16 hectares, as outlined in the original build design, to approximately 24 hectares. As part of this process, we have reviewed the land required for HS2 construction purposes and identified an area of approximately 4 hectares at the bottom end of the site that could be made available for immediate development.

We have committed to consider further reductions to the permanent footprint of the depot and to the temporary land take for construction as part of a detailed design. This will include looking into the feasibility of providing an underground temporary water storage system, which would enable car parking to be located on the surface of the water storage areas, thereby further increasing the areas of residual land available for employment generation.

In addition, Saltley business park, which is just west of the Washwood Heath site, is being considered as a potential alternative for certain construction activities currently planned for Washwood Heath. The use of that site will be kept under review, provided that it does not prejudice existing or future employment opportunities at Saltley business park or the timely, economic and safe delivery of HS2. Of course, use of the site would be subject to obtaining all necessary powers and consents.

We have already given a commitment to Parliament to continue to seek to reduce the HS2 footprint at Washwood Heath where reasonable. Therefore, there is no need to include such a clause within the Bill and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful again to the Minister. He has taken very seriously the comments of the Select Committee and he has gone a long way to responding to its pleadings and to those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill.

I regret to say that I am not persuaded to withdraw the new clause, because it is necessary that this important clause appears in the Bill. This is a crucially important investment issue for that part of the world and the new clause would give additional confidence to those who wish the area to be otherwise developed if we made it abundantly clear on the face of the Bill that there is that obligation, minimising duration and scope of the land taken for HS2. For those reasons, I ask that the matter be put to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 5, Noes 8.

Division number 11 Christmas Tree Industry — Minimising the use of land at Washwood Heath

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

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

On a point of order, Mr Chope—a rather spurious one—may I take this opportunity before we conclude proceedings to thank everybody who has participated in the debates last week and this week? The debate has ranged widely, from ancient pear trees to the Clapham omnibus, from air quality to burial grounds and even to cheese parmos. I wonder whether the nominated undertaker would be required if one were to eat too many cheese parmos. Possibly the utilisation of the burial ground might follow on, as night follows day.

There has been a spirit of cross-party engagement. The project will span many years and generations. It was conceived under a Labour Government, and I hope it will be delivered by a Conservative Government. The leaders of the great cities of the north, many which are unfortunately under the control of the Labour party and regularly receive the support of Labour party voters, are integral to delivering the scheme. The possible exception to that cross-party engagement was the short debate on the nationalisation of the railways; I think that that debate will rumble on until and beyond the general election.

I thank you, Mr Chope, for your excellent chairing of the Committee. Please pass on my thanks to Mr Hanson, who chaired our meetings last week. I thank the members of the Committee and the secretariat, who have done such good work keeping us together; my officials in the Department for Transport; those who keep the record in the Official Report; and those who maintain the security of the Committee by ensuring that the doors are locked in a timely way. I think that history will show this as another step towards our goal of delivering a 21st-century railway of which many generations will be proud, realising that the work that we did here made a difference to this country’s future.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

Further to that point of order, Mr Chope, may I also express my thanks to you for chairing so expertly, and to Mr Hanson, who performed superbly, saving us from an invasion by the House of Lords? At one point he got a good deal of exercise, and I think he owes us a debt of gratitude for his improved physicality after bobbing up and down to move through clauses with great rapidity. We had an excellent discussion about the man on the Clapham omnibus—

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend is quite right; we corrected it to “person”. She scolds me correctly. We also had a tour around other jurisdictions, including Australia and the Bondi tram, which I am sure you would have found absolutely fascinating, Mr Chope, had you chaired that particular sitting.

There has been a great deal of consensus and good will among the parties; a lot of the good will sits on the other side of the Committee permanently. We have yet to hear in further detail about the Minister’s burial ground. I was curious whether the residents were still paying him rent. With that, Mr Chope, I thank you. I thank the Clerks specifically for their superb assistance to me and my assistant in preparing the Bill; the Doorkeepers; and, of course, the police who have kept us safe throughout the process. This is an important Bill, and we have given it proper attention and interrogation. I think that we all look forward to the fruition of a most important infrastructure project for the United Kingdom.

I shall be delighted to pass on to my co-Chairman the generous remarks that have been made. I feel as though I have missed out, because I have had only one day in front of this extremely genial Committee. It seems well focused, with no lengthy speeches or unnecessary or irrelevant comments. It is not for me to comment on the merits of the Bill, as the Minister knows, but I reaffirm my support for all the hard work put in by the Clerks, Hansard, the security staff and so on. It has facilitated the speedy passage of this Bill.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose.