High-speed Rail

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:35 am on 8th December 2009.

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Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 11:35 am, 8th December 2009

My hon. Friend makes a telling point in respect of his constituency. Those of us who represent seats in Buckinghamshire are all too well aware that the Government are insisting on the construction of tens of thousands of additional new homes in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. One argument-which, in fairness, the Government put forward themselves-is that areas such as the Colne valley regional park and the Chilterns AONB are critical to the Government's vision of sustainable communities where urban development provides residents with access to neighbouring areas of open space in which to enjoy recreational and sporting opportunities. The loss of that rural amenity must be placed in the balance, as must the risk of permanent and irreparable damage to landscape that Governments over the years have defined as being of national significance.

My questions to the Minister are these. First, what arrangements will be made for environmental impact assessments? Do the Government envisage a single assessment for the entire project, dealing with both strategic and local impacts, or will more than one such assessment be done? At what stage in any Government proposal would such an environmental impact assessment be presented? For example, would a full EIA be available to Parliament and the public before the proposal was voted on in the House of Commons?

Secondly, what consultation do the Government plan to hold with people whose personal lives, amenities and local communities could be seriously adversely affected by the construction of a high-speed rail link and who, because the rail link will exist to serve cities and will have as few intermediate stations as possible, are unlikely to benefit very much from its operation?

Thirdly, how will the Government take account of the fact that there is an inevitable relationship between the cost of the project and the provision of measures to mitigate the damaging environmental impact of a new railway line? Cuttings, tunnels and embankments to protect people from noise pollution all cost money. All too often, as I know from having the M40 in my constituency, Governments over the years have cut corners when it comes to protecting people, particularly in rural communities, from the adverse impact of large-scale infrastructure improvements. It would not be acceptable, for example, for all the money for environmental protection to go into tunnelling under London and then for the Chilterns or other rural areas affected to be told that there is no money left to look after their interests. I hope that the Minister will give us some assurances on those points.