High-speed Rail

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:48 am on 8th December 2009.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield, Attercliffe 11:48 am, 8th December 2009

I will be brief, Mr. Fraser. I support the concept of high-speed rail. I congratulate Greg Mulholland on securing the debate. We have worked closely on the possibility of high-speed rail links into south and west Yorkshire. I agree that it is important in the meantime to consider other measures such as electrification, track improvements to the midland main line and other improvements for which I have been campaigning, with other colleagues such as my hon. Friend Ms Smith.

The benefits of high-speed rail are clear. Getting people out of planes and their cars is good for the environment, and the possibility of rebalancing economic growth in this country back to the north is important. It is also important that we have a vision for the long term, not just of a short single line, but of a network for the whole country, and that we plan over 10, 20 or 30 years. We need only look at France and Spain: only six years ago, the train journey from Madrid to Barcelona took me six hours; it now takes two. Soon Spain will have more high-speed track than any other country in Europe. If Spain can do it with that sort of planning, we ought to be able to do it as well.

I certainly oppose proposals involving just one line to Birmingham, or the ridiculous idea of a line going from Birmingham to Manchester and then cutting across the Pennines to Leeds as an afterthought-I cannot possibly be associated with any scheme that treats Leeds simply as an afterthought. Occasionally in the past, Sheffield and Leeds have competed over things; on this occasion, the two cities are united, as are the parties. Any strategic approach to high-speed rail in this country must serve the major cities of the east midlands-Leicester, Nottingham and Derby-and go on into west Yorkshire and serve Sheffield, Leeds and other places. If high-speed rail is to be effective, it must target those major areas of population.

As the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West said, two proposals, each with advantages and disadvantages, would do that. The first is to go straight up the middle of the country. That is a logical way to serve the east midlands and south and west Yorkshire. There would be spurs off to Birmingham and Manchester and the line would go on to Newcastle and Scotland. In terms of population covered against track used and pounds spent, that is probably the most cost-effective option, although I understand that it could divide some of the supporters of high-speed rail who want the alternative proposal to be taken up.

The alternative is the Y option-a line that would go from Birmingham to Manchester, with a spur coming off somewhere near Rugby that went on to the east midlands, south and west Yorkshire and the north-east. If the Y option were taken, it would make economic sense for only one line to go to Scotland, and that would be the north-eastern branch to Edinburgh and Glasgow. I am not sure that there is economic sense in taking two lines to Scotland, but we can have that debate.

My argument is simple: we need a clear strategy from the Government and a commitment, when they make the decision, not to just one short line, but to a network for the country. If the Y line were chosen, I would argue that both branches should be developed in parallel. The eastern side of the country cannot wait until the western line is built for its line to be started. Having such a strategy is important for the development of an industry in this country that can produce the rolling stock and trains and the equipment needed to build the lines. Without that certainty, industry will not invest. It is important that jobs are created, not just through high-speed lines serving the population, but by the generation of economic development through the production of trains, rolling stock and equipment.

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