[Mr Mike Weir in the Chair] — High Speed 2

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:51 am on 23rd November 2010.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport 10:51 am, 23rd November 2010

In the brief time that I have available, I will try to run through the points made by right hon. and hon. Members, and I will write to them about any points that time prevents me from covering now.

I am very grateful to have support for high-speed rail from across the House, across parties and across the country. That support is very welcome. There was a particularly vocal presence in the debate today from Yorkshire, which was particularly welcome.

However, we recognise that it is vitally important to think with great care about the local environmental impact of the project. Of course, we had some very comprehensive accounts of the potential impact, first from my hon. Friend Steve Baker and then from my hon. Friend Dan Byles. It is important that they are here in Westminster Hall and able to put their constituents' point of view.

I strongly believe that careful mitigation measures can eliminate the most intrusive local impacts of high-speed rail. Modern engineering techniques give us an expanding range of ways to use sensitive design to make transport infrastructure easier to live with and less intrusive; a number of Members have referred to the example of High Speed 1, where that mitigation work has been done with some success in many areas.

I believe that it is possible to find a solution that is balanced and fair; that generates the significant economic benefits of high-speed rail for the country as a whole, and that is fair to the local communities that are directly affected by whatever line of route is ultimately chosen. Hopefully, this debate will take us closer to finding a solution and choosing that route.

We intend the consultation to be inclusive, wide-ranging and comprehensive, providing a range of opportunities for Members and their constituents to go through these kinds of concerns about the impact on landscapes and communities. Our consultation is designed to run for about five months, which is longer than the statutory minimum. We take this process very seriously, because we know the gravity of the concern that is felt in some communities.

The business case for high-speed rail was discussed by a number of Members. We are absolutely confident about the very significant benefits that a line from London to Birmingham would generate and we believe that those economic benefits are even more significant when they are linked to a "Y"-shaped high-speed rail network that connects the capital with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

I welcome the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Warrington South (David Mowat) and for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) about the importance of using transport infrastructure to try to remedy imbalances between economic prosperity in different parts of the country. There is strong local support in much of the country for high-speed rail.

In answer to the questions from a number of Members about Scotland, as Andrew Gwynne-the shadow Rail Minister-has already pointed out, the "Y"-shaped network to deliver high-speed rail to Manchester and Leeds could enable us to deliver journey times to London from Edinburgh and Glasgow of about three and a half hours. There is also the issue of promoting the air-to-rail switch, which is so important to Martin Horwood. In due course, we certainly want to see a genuinely national network built, and that is why we are in regular dialogue with the Scottish Government. We are happy to work with them on establishing how we bring that network about in the future.

A number of Members have talked about the carbon impact of high-speed rail. I believe that high-speed rail can play an important role in our plans to develop a low-carbon economy, particularly by promoting the air-to-rail switch that a number of Members referred to. Even with our current energy generation mix, high-speed rail is a much lower-carbon option than flying.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe argued that the Government had overstated the expected increase in demand. He and a number of other Members sought to challenge the business case. However, there is no doubt that the benefits generated by the extension of high-speed rail to Birmingham will exceed the cost of building the line.

Furthermore, it is clear that there is already a significant crowding problem on our railways. The simple fact is that we need this new railway. Important parts of our rail network are already suffering from serious overcrowding problems. As my hon. Friend Iain Stewart mentioned, one only needs to go to Euston on a Friday night to see how popular the railways have become. There is simply no realistic alternative that would give us the level of benefit that high-speed rail will generate.