High-speed Rail

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 8th December 2009.

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Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Shadow Minister (Health) 11:00 am, 8th December 2009

I was aware from speaking to Mr. Lidington that that important point was to be made this morning, and I am pleased that it has been. I hope that the views in my conclusions will be good news for both hon. Gentlemen.

The Northern Way's evidence has shown that high-speed rail could create £13 billion in wider economic benefits. We have fallen behind our continental neighbours in that respect, and we need to take it seriously and make progress as quickly as possible.

I want to try to throw some light on the various proposals that are on the table, because there is some confusion about them. Four serious proposals are being considered. One is from Greengauge 21. The Government's High Speed 2 quango, of course, has not yet reported, but we have indications of what it thinks. Network Rail came out with a report, and there is also the High Speed North proposal. I want to take the debate forward this morning by briefly outlining those options, and to focus on where high-speed rail should go. The Government have said they are committed to high-speed rail to Birmingham. That might be accepted as the starting point-although for some people it seems to be Heathrow airport, rather than central London, which I consider a grave error. High-speed rail will work if it connects London as a city with other capitals. I shall present more evidence about how important that is.

Greengauge 21 has an estimated cost of £25 million per route mile for the first network. The proposal is for, first, a route from London to Birmingham and Manchester, then to Glasgow and Edinburgh, with a dedicated branch into Heathrow airport. Greengauge 21 is an organisation that is very much interested in the project, and proposes a second line going up the east side of the country. There would then be connectivity between the two. However, the problem is that realistically, at the moment, it is a west coast high-speed rail proposal. There are other problems with it, not least that of ploughing straight through the Chilterns. That has already been commented on, and it needs to be taken seriously.

The Network Rail proposals are disappointingly similar. The cost estimate is about £32 billion, again to go from London to Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. That was in its publication "The case for new lines", which was published earlier this year.