I look forward to spending some happy days with you this week, Mr Hanson, discussing this important Bill.
Before I begin, I would like to take a short moment to set out what lies before us. The Committee sittings will enable line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill, which will pave the way for a truly transformational railway. I am delighted that we have reached that landmark, and I would like to record the Government’s, and my own, sincere thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms) and his hybrid Bill Committee. That Select Committee sat for 17 months, examined the views expressed in almost 2,600 petitions, and heard evidence from some 1,600 petitioners. Many of the representations the Committee considered led to changes in the Bill that is before us. I look forward to the Committee sittings that lie ahead and to hearing points raised by Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition.
Clause 1 concerns the power to construct and maintain works for phase 1 of High Speed 2. It authorises the nominated undertaker to construct and maintain the work specified in schedule 1 for the construction of phase 1 and other incidental works. This is a standard clause that is found in all works Bills.
Schedule 1 sets out the construction requirements for the scheduled works and provides permitted limits of deviation from the siting of works, as shown on the relevant plans. It also provides a description of the scheduled works. The permitted deviation limits have good precedents in other railways Acts, such as the Crossrail Act 2008 and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996, and they reflect the fact that at this point the design of HS2 is, of necessity, at outline stage. Detailed design will come later and some flexibility is therefore essential. Any variation within the limits of deviation is controlled by the environmental minimum requirements.
It is a huge honour to appear for the first time as a Committee Front-Bench spokesperson, and to do so under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I will be guided by your wisdom and expertise as we proceed.
I thank the Minister for his courtesy and civility in the run-up to the Committee. It bordered on the comradely, but perhaps that stretches a point. I would also like to acknowledge the sterling work of members of the Select Committee. The Minister spoke about the number of petitions and the work that those Members undertook. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friends the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and the Member for Bolton North East (Mr Crausby). Both constituencies surrendered their Members for a considerable time, as did Preston to the north-west. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr Hendrick) did particularly well. I was regularly reminded of the considerable work undertaken by my good friend the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), who never let an opportunity pass to tell me about the work he was doing. I thank the Clerks for their advice and guidance throughout my preparation.
I support clause 1, but I should like to make some preliminary observations and comments and raise some specific questions. I am mindful of the schedule we have set ourselves and I am confident that we will be able to adhere to it. There may be a number of clauses which deal with technical matters and will not trouble the Committee, but I crave its modest indulgence in making some introductory remarks on clause 1.
The Opposition welcome the Bill and are very supportive of it. However, our support is given on the strict basis and understanding that, at every turn, the HS2 project must produce the best possible outcomes for our country and value for money for the taxpayer. The project was amended and improved during preparations on the Bill and we would like to achieve further improvements through our amendments.
Happily, the Bill has broad cross-party support, and as an undertaking, HS2 will be truly transformational for our country, not only in terms of the speed and connectivity between London and Birmingham in the first instance, but onwards with phase 2 through to Crewe and Manchester and the entire north-west, with connectivity dividends up into Scotland. The same positivity applies to the transformational effects of the expansion from Birmingham through to the east midlands and Sheffield and Leeds, with greater connectivity for the north-east beyond Leeds from bimodal trains reuniting with the east coast conventional mainline and onwards up to Edinburgh.
HS2 is not simply about connectivity and the speed of connectivity. It has been said time and time again that the principal pay-off is increased capacity. There is agreement across the House that our Victorian rail infrastructure, remarkable as it is, simply cannot cope with the incredible increases we have seen, and continue to see, in the number of passenger journeys in the UK. It is in addressing capacity demands that HS2 comes into its own.
By virtue of the availability of HS2 services, the capacity relief to the conventional lines will be considerable, but it is widely recognised that improvements and investments in our conventional lines on the one hand, and in HS2 on the other, do not present an either/or choice. Indeed, as HS2 progresses towards construction, it is equally essential that much needed investment in our conventional lines—greater electrification and other improvements right across the network—cracks on apace.
Investment in HS2 will not only address issues of capacity and the speed of journeys. The engineering, construction, employment and career opportunities that HS2 represents are colossal and provide immense opportunities for the companies and their skilled workforces and the talent pool that has developed through Crossrail. That can continue and grow, from Crossrail to HS2 phase 1 and beyond.
A great number of people will be able to look back on entire careers spent engaged in high-speed rail construction. HS2 is a wonderful opportunity for our country fully to demonstrate its capabilities. It is essential that we derive the maximum social value from this project for skills, employment and prosperity, not only in the long-term infrastructure dividends that will undoubtedly result from greater and more efficient interconnectivity between our great towns and cities, but from the construction of the infrastructure itself.
The Opposition wholly endorse and acknowledge the need to achieve a greater rebalancing of our economy, which includes the emphasis, while never neglecting London, as if we ever could or should, on growing our economy outside London and ensuring that we realise the full potential of all our country, including the terrific power and energy of the midlands, the north and beyond. The Leader of the Opposition has previously said that our aim is to
“stimulate the economy by increasing investment in new high-speed rail, creating jobs and connecting more towns and cities.”
While the tracks of HS2 are geographically defined and restricted as to where they go, the benefits of HS2 have no such limitations. Workers and companies across the UK will benefit from the opportunity to bid for and secure valuable contracts, and those companies will derive huge benefits for themselves and their workforces from Land’s End to John O'Groats. Indeed, I was immensely impressed at the turnout of companies in my own region in Darlington in Tees Valley a few weeks ago, and I was delighted to see such an appetite for the opportunities that HS2 presented.
While there is considerable agreement about this undertaking across the House, it is imperative that we all consider the matter with great care and consideration. The responsibility for progressing such a huge undertaking is an onerous one, and it is our duty as Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition to scrutinise this Bill properly with the utmost seriousness. For those reasons, we take the view that the voices of concern and objection should continue to be given every consideration. There are undoubtedly great concerns about the environmental damage and disruption often necessarily and unavoidably caused in places of natural beauty such as the Chilterns, and we will wish to ensure that such concerns are properly and fully considered.
Although the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) has raised many concerns on behalf of her constituents and various campaign groups, it appears to me that those concerns have largely been addressed by the excellent Select Committee, as evidenced in its report and the amendments that have followed in terms of additional powers and supplementary environmental statements. I note specifically that some 60% of the rail route through the Chilterns will now be by way of tunnelling as opposed to surface track. That said, perhaps the Minister might further comment on the extent to which the concerns expressed about the Chilterns have been addressed .
Perhaps the Minister will also apply his mind to the concerns raised by the Select Committee. On page 42 of its report it noted:
“Chilterns petitioners were concerned about several hydrogeological issues.”
Those issues are listed: I will not read them out, save to say that they concern Wendover and the Misbourne, among others. The Committee requested that the promoter
“address the matter of hydrogeological surveying as a priority.”
Perhaps the Minister will comment on the current status.
Similarly, the concerns raised by the residents of Camden in London and their local authority, Camden Borough Council, about the extensive and long-term major disruption that will be caused by the major reconfiguration of Euston station are extremely serious. In our sittings, I will test the Government on how they have responded and on what modifications they can make to ameliorate the legitimate concerns of a community that will be subjected to major disruption at its heart for many years. This is a once in a lifetime—perhaps several lifetimes—opportunity to build something of real worth and value at Euston and to leave a legacy, in architectural and community terms, of which we can be proud. We wish to explore that issue in detail during our proceedings.
In January 2009, the Labour Government established High Speed 2 Ltd to examine the case for a new high-speed line and to identify a route between London and the west midlands. Our ambition was always that the line could be extended to reach Scotland. In our view, that ambition must be sustained. There have been innumerable consultations and revisions of the plan, and on 11 March 2010 the HS2 report and supporting studies were published, together with the Government’s Command Paper on high-speed rail. Government and Opposition parties have grappled with the interconnectivity with HS1 and will no doubt continue to do so, as we will with the intended linkage with Crossrail 2, especially at Euston, in the years ahead.
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the considerable trade union support for HS2. There are people in the trade unions who think that HS2 does not go far enough, but if phase 1 is concluded on time and on budget, it will give us the confidence to look at other high-speed services in future.
We need detailed scrutiny to ameliorate the impact on communities, both urban and rural, of this incredibly ambitious undertaking. The project and the Bill have the Opposition’s support, but perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to answer my questions.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his tone and the constructive way in which the Opposition are approaching this matter. As he says, this project was conceived under the Labour Government, and hopefully it will be delivered under a Conservative Government. The issues that he raised are at the forefront of our concerns. The Opposition wish to secure good value for money, and the Government share that view. Indeed, the UK is getting a reputation for delivering projects on time and on budget. We need look only at the Olympics, and Crossrail—or the Elizabeth line, as I am proud to say it will now be called—which is being delivered so efficiently.
The hon. Gentleman is right to stress the importance of increasing capacity on our country’s railways. Perhaps we made a mistake in calling the project High Speed 2, because that focused attention on the speed at which the trains will travel. Indeed, if we are going to build a new railway line, we might as well build one to 21st-century standards, rather than another piece of Victorian infrastructure. The success of the railway industry since privatisation has resulted in a more than doubling of the number of passengers using our network from 750 million journeys per year to more than 1.6 billion. We are particularly aware that we need to continue to invest in the conventional network. Indeed, £44 billion has been allocated to upgrade the conventional line. Unfortunately, many passengers will suffer disruption at Easter because of the works that will be carried out over that period, in the same way as much of the work was carried out at Christmas.
We understand the importance of electrification, which will not just enable us to use the very best rolling stock, but will make our railways more sustainable. Were we not in an atmosphere of cross-party collaboration, I would mention how little electrification the previous Labour Government delivered, compared with this Government. I will gloss over that very quickly.
Before the Minister glosses over that too quickly, perhaps he would reflect on the fact that we inherited the disaster that was Railtrack. I would caution him against further journeys into the privatisation and break-up of our national rail infrastructure, because we might have to have those discussions about the terrible health and safety record all over again.
Thank you. I will not be drawn on that, Mr Hanson. I am sure the history books are being written as we speak. The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the opportunities for jobs, apprenticeships and career development associated with the project. Indeed, many of the skills that have been developed on Crossrail, not least the tunnelling skills, will be very applicable to HS2.
The Government are in the process of setting up—indeed planning permission has been given—the HS2 college in Birmingham, with a satellite college in Doncaster, which has a long tradition of engineering excellence as the home of Sir Nigel Gresley, the Mallard and the Flying Scotsman, which has been so much in the news recently.
This is a long-term project and Lord Adonis was in at the start. Over the period of delivery, we might even have a situation in which the Opposition look slightly electable, so it is important that we continue to work with them. I have been working very closely with the leaders of the great cities of the north, those Labour Mayors and council leaders who understand the importance of HS2 for the north.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough is right to address the sustainability of the delivery of the project. I am proud that we have made it clear that this project will be delivered with no net environmental loss. The hon. Gentleman has already referred to the extensive tunnelling in the Chilterns. We also set up a community fund to allow projects in communities affected, and many of those will be environmental projects. I am also determined that the opportunities afforded by the land we are procuring are used to the full to increase cycling and walking along the route.
The hon. Gentleman specifically raised the issue of hydrogeology, which is something that our engineers are very concerned to address. A number of water courses will be bisected and a number of drainage issues that farmers have been concerned about will be addressed. HS1, currently our only high-speed line, has been shown to be particularly resilient against flooding. The flooding in the south-east two years ago caused widespread disruption to the conventional rail network, but HS1 was resilient and the drainage issues were addressed.
I understand the issue the hon. Gentleman raised about Camden. It is a densely populated part of London, and we will be delivering one of the biggest projects at Euston, including a massive upgrade to the underground station, which will benefit people in that area. Businesses may be concerned about how they will be affected, and I had lunch with the former right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras, Frank Dobson, in one of the restaurants in Drummond Street that could be affected by the construction. We made sure to listen to their concerns, particularly how their regular clientele can access the properties while the construction is going on.
We have a tremendous opportunity at Euston. The hon. Gentleman and I were both at a community engagement centre that has been set up for people who have questions about the construction and want to raise concerns about the delivery of the project, to ensure disruption can be minimised as far as possible. At all stages of the project, we will be sure to engage with communities so that they can be aware of likely disruption and we can mitigate it.
We have a tremendous opportunity at Euston to deliver a state-of-the-art railway station, such as the one at King’s Cross, which has been the centre for a genuine revitalisation of that area. I know the Secretary of State is keen to revitalise the Euston arch, the iconic symbol of Euston station, mirrored at the other end of the line in Birmingham with a similar arch. I hope we can build an iconic station that will be a centre for redevelopment in that area.
I wholeheartedly agree with him about the opportunity that Euston presents for something of great significance and worth. Does he also share my view that it is absolutely imperative that the focus does not shift too far from the needs of the community? As currently presented, Euston station represents something of a wall between communities in Camden. There is the issue of permeability. We talked about cycling and walking, but that must be an integral part of the plans for Euston as it progresses.
That is right. Indeed, I noticed concerns about the development on Euston station and the importance of the impact on those who live in the vicinity. I understand that the hon. Gentleman has tabled a number of new clauses on Euston, and I suggest that we discuss this in more detail as part of the debate on those proposed new clauses.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Scotland. We need to make it absolutely clear that high-speed rail trains will arrive in Glasgow on day one of HS2. The so-called classic compatible trains will run through onto the existing network, so the time benefits and the capacity improvements will benefit those in Scotland. Indeed, I expect that there will be Scottish-crewed trains in those very early days.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the importance of connectivity with Crossrail. Old Oak Common will be a very important opportunity for people to alight from High Speed 2, get on to Crossrail—or the Elizabeth line, as I am delighted that we are calling it—and then be able to connect with other locations within the city. We have calculated that about 30% of those coming into London will see Old Oak Common as their terminus, and there they will connect under Crossrail or other services to access Heathrow airport or other parts of London. In some cases, for example for Westminster tube station, although it will be slightly quicker to go via Euston and the Northern line, it will only take three minutes longer to use the Elizabeth line. Many Members of Parliament may choose to sacrifice that three minutes so that they can travel on the new Crossrail line.
I am sure that a number of the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised will be explored in more detail over the days ahead, but I appreciate the very constructive way in which the Opposition have approached this. I look forward to working with them to ensure that the concerns they have raised are properly addressed, as we have already done on a number of occasions, both through the hybrid Bill Committee and the way that we have responded on issues such as compensation.