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

It is rather concerning if that is the best answer that the hon. Gentleman can give to a serious point. I worry that Conservative party policy has been drawn up for its populist appeal rather than as a sensible way of moving the debate forward.

Then we come to High Speed 2, at a cost of £34 billion. Although High Speed Two Ltd has not reported, Government information acquired through freedom of information requests suggests that the line will simply go from Birmingham to Manchester and possibly on to Scotland, ignoring the east side of the country. I have read the studies and spoken to experts, transport policy planners and engineers about them, and the fundamental question that should be asked is not being asked. It is that wherever high-speed rail goes after the initial link with Birmingham, it should be planned on the basis of the greatest economic benefit.

We are dealing with a large amount of taxpayers' money, and we all acknowledge that is a very expensive project that will take some time to deliver. It is vital that what is finally built delivers the greatest value for money, the biggest bang for your buck, the greatest economic benefit, but some of the proposals now on the table do not provide that. Indeed, the information acquired through freedom of information requests suggests a laziness, with people saying that the biggest cities are Birmingham and Manchester and that the line should simply go from one to the other.

I would ask all Members, including the Minister, to imagine a large map of the island of Britain with a red circle around the main centres of population and the key economic drivers. They will see that there is little between London and Birmingham; but there is nothing in the way of an economic driver or a large centre of population between Birmingham and Manchester. Conversely, on the other side of the Pennines there will be a red circle around Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle. Suddenly the lazy assumption that the line should go from Birmingham to Manchester is shattered. The debate has not focused sufficiently on the key question of ensuring that, wherever high-speed lines are built, they should indeed deliver the most economic benefit.

Lord Adonis wrote an article in the Yorkshire Post a couple of months ago in which he said that people must have their say on the matter. However, many on the east of the Pennines have the strong perception that that is not really the case and that the Government have followed the lazy assumption, taking the route of suggesting that the line should go to Manchester. If that is not the case, I ask the Minister to clarify the matter. The city regions that would be served in the west would include Manchester and Birmingham, and possibly Liverpool. As I said earlier, those served in the east would include Nottingham, Leicester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle if they were linked.