High-speed Rail

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:12 pm on 8th December 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport) 12:12 pm, 8th December 2009

My understanding, from my conversations with Mr. Carter, is that while he would prefer a direct link to Leeds, presumably as would the hon. Gentleman, he absolutely supports a plan, which is the only plan proposed at the moment, for a service running from a London terminus, with a spur to Heathrow, to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. The hon. Gentleman has advocated a different route today, but I believe that Andrew Carter, with whom I speak regularly, very much supports the plan.

It is worth emphasising that the plan laid out by the Conservative party is more extensive than the one the Government currently propose, or any that they are likely to propose via High Speed 2, if the rumours are correct. We have continually emphasised that we see that development as the first stage of a network. I accept that at some stage other major cities in England, such as Newcastle, and Scotland will want to be connected. Ultimately, we, and everyone in this Chamber, want to see a full national network connecting as many UK cities as possible.

I say to Mr. Leech that we, unlike other parties, have sat up and done the hard work on the detailed feasibility study, looking at the data and analysis from several expert sources in relation to finance and construction. Our modelling of projected revenue flows deploys some cautious assumptions on fares, which we have looked at with several operators, to ensure that we do not build a railway that no one can afford to use, because that would be pointless.

I have said before that high-speed rail must be neither an end in itself, nor a totem. It must be there to fulfil the key challenges. There is a desperate need for new capacity. I travelled on the west coast and east coast yesterday, and both were fabulous services-[Interruption.] The main line services, indeed. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe mentioned, the chief executive of Virgin acknowledges that there is a need for new capacity. With the west coast main line expected to be full to breaking point certainly within the next decade, but probably much earlier, we face a capacity issue. As the hon. Member for Carlisle rightly said, we will need to build new capacity. Should we build slow routes or fast routes? Surely we should build high-speed routes and concentrate initially on those routes that have capacity problems, particularly when considering the economic benefits.

There is no economic benefit in building a high-speed rail route to Birmingham, but there would be a huge economic benefit of building beyond, and I think that there is a national consensus on that point. Certainly, the economic numbers that we have had verified for our proposal show that connecting Manchester and Leeds to a high-speed network would benefit those cities by billions of pounds. We must layer on top of that the huge potential switch from air to road, as approximately 63,000 flights a year would be taken out if there were a high-speed line connecting London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.