High Speed 2 — [Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 12th September 2018.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 9:30 am, 12th September 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered High Speed 2.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. Today I am calling for the scrapping of HS2. Coincidentally, today there is a ComRes poll in the Express, of which I have just been made aware, which shows that 67% of British adults do not think HS2 would benefit them personally at all, 61% think it is poor value for money, and more people oppose the construction than support it. I recommend that people read very carefully the basis of that polling. Interestingly, in the west midlands only 24% think that HS2 will benefit them. There is gathering momentum to derail the plans. Peter Oborne wrote recently in the Daily Mail that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and other senior Ministers might be about to call publicly for it to be cancelled. Apparently, the Defence and Foreign Secretaries are of this view, as is my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson.

Members might notice that I am wearing my HS2 white elephant badge. A white elephant is defined as:

“a possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of.”

This particular white elephant might look docile and harmless at present, but it is not. I voted against the principle on Second Reading, as did many other Members here today, including my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan and my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton). I did so because I thought it was a fundamentally flawed project.

The Second Reading of the Bill authorised the London to Birmingham route. Only 41 voted against that Bill, with 452 voting for it. Interestingly, the penny dropped for the second Bill on the stretch from Birmingham to Crewe, which directly affects my constituents. Although only 12 of us voted against it, the number who voted for it dropped considerably, to only 295 out of 650 MPs. Where were the other 255?

I want to pay tribute to my constituents at both ends of the constituency, who are profoundly affected by the project, particularly Trevor Parkin of the Stone Railhead Crisis Group and Ian Webb, Fred Smith and Gary White from the Whitmore2Madeley HS2 action group. I also want to mention Keith Ralls. Those people put specific questions in their petitions in relation to the manner in which they were injuriously affected by the HS2 proposals between Birmingham and Crewe. However, they are also profoundly opposed to the concept of HS2 in itself, which is clearly consistent with the opinion poll I have just mentioned.

Photo of Craig Tracey Craig Tracey Conservative, North Warwickshire

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. I, too, voted against HS2, as I am sure he is aware, because we have probably the most affected constituencies in the country, given phases 1 and 2. If HS2 were to be scrapped, as he suggests, with potential savings of £50 billion, is he aware of the great British transport competition, which I recently launched in conjunction with the Taxpayers’ Alliance to identify how the money could be better spent across the country rather than in narrow swathes? Will he recommend to his constituents that they take part in the competition?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Order. Before Sir William continues his speech, I remind Members that a lot of people want to speak in the debate and I am sure that there will be interventions, which I hope can be kept brief, because otherwise it inhibits my ability to call everyone who wants to speak.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I endorse what my hon. Friend has said about what is an extremely good idea and fits in with the opinion poll I mentioned. I am extremely glad that he voted against HS2, and sorry that I did not mention that earlier.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I have consistently voted against the project for various reasons. It will affect investment in Coventry and at the same time be detrimental to the environment in Warwickshire. It has never been costed properly, and there has never been a proper impact study or a proper consultation that takes on board the community’s concerns. I agree with him that it should be scrapped.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I am extremely glad to hear that. I am sorry that I did not mention that in my opening remarks. Although he is an Opposition Member, I pay tribute to the wisdom of the hon. Gentleman.

I and the other people I mentioned are concerned about not only the concept, but the manner in which HS2 Ltd has dealt with the issues, as I have said in the petition that I and others deposited, and as I have said in previous debates. I also petitioned on the first and second Bills and raised all my constituents’ grievances, which are on the record for anyone to see. I do not need to go into those today, because I want to deal with the central principles.

I have also taken part in other debates with my right hon. and indefatigable Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham. Our criticisms about the lack of consultation on HS2 are already on the record. Indeed, back in November 2015 the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman found serious failings in HS2 Ltd’s engagement with a community in Staffordshire. The report stated that its actions fell so far below reasonable standards that they constituted maladministration. I had similar experiences to my right hon. Friend, and I understand that she will deal with that later in the debate.

My hon. Friend Michael Fabricant is not able to be here today. He apologises for that—he had another engagement—but I want to cite his concerns, which relate to the disruption it will cause his constituents and the disconnected nature of the railway, which is a matter of grave concern. He makes the point that the railway does not connect with Heathrow, the continent via HS1, or even Birmingham New Street station. He says that if ever there were a model of how not to design an integrated railway, this is it.

Amidst our collective opposition, the white elephant is running amok in the Treasury and has already charged the British taxpayer more than £4 billion before construction has even started. My own position on the outrageous and accelerating costs of HS2 is that, although £4 billion is a colossal sum, there is no excuse for continuing to throw money down a black hole. The spending plans began to spiral after 2018: £3 billion in 2019; £4.2 billion in 2020; and £4.8 billion in 2021. So if we are going to stop it, now would be a good time.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole

At this stage in the project, apart from drawing up plans, the biggest cost is the compensation schemes. The reason why billions of pounds are being spent at the moment is because the project is buying homes up and down the line because of MPs agitating for decent compensation schemes. Some of the money will come back in due course, because after 20 years the homes will be sold at a profit.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

My hon. Friend is a valiant supporter of the Government. He chaired the Select Committee on the hybrid Bill and I pay tribute to the way in which he sought to deal with the problems that cropped up during the proceedings. However, there would be no need for compensation if there was not an HS2 project. I do not think the opinions polls that I referred to feature people who have been affected by the route of the line; they simply think it is an extremely bad deal. It is a white elephant indeed.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

Although our colleague praises the fact that a lot money has been spent on compensation, the truth of the matter is that many of our constituents have had to fight tooth and nail to get the value of their properties, and in fact are losing out overall because it will be HS2 that capitalises on their properties. They have lost their homes and, in some cases, their livelihoods.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

That in itself is a complete tragedy. I totally endorse everything that my right hon. Friend said. The project has caused an enormous amount of anxiety and stress. I have friends and constituents who have literally been made physically ill as a result. Not only is it a catastrophic exercise in maladministration and failure to cost things properly, as I will mention, but it has caused anxiety and ultimately cannot be justified.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

I pay tribute to Dame Cheryl Gillan, who has led the way in consistently opposing HS2. I have constituents who cannot get compensation because they are just outside the area that qualifies for it. Surely that is a diabolical situation for people to find themselves in.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

As I expected, the hon. Gentleman makes another extremely sound point. The reality is that people are affected by the indirect consequences. People talk about the number of jobs being created. I will come on to that as well, because many other projects could be put in place that would create an equal or greater number of jobs.

Photo of Craig Tracey Craig Tracey Conservative, North Warwickshire

I give credit to the Minister, whom I have found extremely helpful in dealing with compensation claims. However, HS2 Ltd is spending more money on consultants to squeeze people down on price than it actually saves by doing so. It is a false economy.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

That is an extremely important point. I am sure that those listening to the debate will take note of it, as will the Minister.

Those linked to the construction of the project—the brainchild of no less a genius than the hapless Lord Adonis—seem to admit that there has never been a structured estimate of costs for phase 1 of the track. Mr Tim Smart, the chief engineer, told the High Speed Rail Bill Select Committee on 23 April that HS2 Ltd was unable to provide detailed cost estimates for parts of the project because it relied on its cost model as a guide to the entire project cost. Also, in evidence given to the High Speed Rail Bill Select Committee in the House of Lords, Lord Berkeley, the chairman of the Rail Freight Group, the representative body for rail freight in the UK, estimated that the cost of the Euston to Old Oak Common section—a mere seven miles—was more than £6 billion. We have to get real. That is based on the cost estimates and data from other projects using the rail method of measurement and commissioned by Network Rail.

I understand that that estimate was not challenged by HS2 Ltd, which appeared not to have any reliable costings. Unbelievably, that makes each mile of the planned route worth almost £1 billion. For the same price the UK could buy two new aircraft carriers, each costing about £3 billion, or 10 state-of-the-art NHS hospitals, or invest in local infrastructure in roads and so on.

The Treasury’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority has given HS2 an amber to red rating for each of the past six years, meaning that there is a high risk that it will not deliver value for money. A confidential report commissioned by the IPA and released in December 2016 also warned that the costs were likely to end up being between 20% and 60% over HS2’s £56 billion budget, which it says would be classified as “failed” by any internationally recognised definition. It also warned that HS2 was

“highly likely to significantly overspend” by 20% to 60%, which would increase the cost to as much as £90 billion.

The Government assert that the scheme will bring benefits to the wider economy through an enlarged labour market and greater commuting capacity, but they admit that those benefits cannot be achieved by building HS2 alone, depending almost entirely on more spending not accounted for in the HS2 budget. The National Audit Office wrote a critical report in June further highlighting that the £55.7 billion funding package does not cover all the funding needed to deliver the promised growth and regeneration benefits.

The Public Accounts Committee also highlighted that issue in its September 2016 follow-up report, recommending that the Government

“seek assurances from the relevant local authorities that they have plans in place to identify sources of funding and financing”.

That means going out to other people and asking for more taxpayers’ money. Furthermore, politicians in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands combined authority have published HS2 strategies, with the West Midlands combined authority estimating that its HS2 local growth plan will cost £3.3 billion. However, it is by no means clear where that money will come from.

Aside from the fact that HS2 apparently cannot generate growth without more—unaccounted for—money being pumped into local communities, in September 2013 a report by KPMG suggested that although some communities would gain from a high-speed train line, it would result in economic losses in others, for which the Government would inevitably be asked to compensate. That remains the case.

The project has not yet left the station and the runaway costs are already out of control. If the situation was not so serious, I would congratulate the HS2 executives for their role in constructing the most amazing gravy train ever built in the UK, with a quarter of HS2 staff paid more than £100,000 in the last year, and the chief executive taking home £600,000. By way of contrast, Andrew Haines, the chief executive at Network Rail, is paid about £20,000 less than that. People can say what they like about our current network, but the fact that the HS2 boss is paid more than the head of a network that actually exists demonstrates a grotesque lack of control over finances.

Unfortunately, those are only the costs we know about. In 2018 The Sunday Times reported that a whistleblower who worked for HS2 Ltd as head of property said that staff were told to

“falsify figures, mislead parliament and cover up ‘petrifying’
overspends” with regard to the budget for buying lands and buildings. I believe that there are already grounds under the Inquires Act 2005 for a full public inquiry into the scheme, as there were over Stafford hospital—an inquiry that I called for, and which my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford was associated with as well. That inquiry changed the whole nature of the health service. A full 2005 Act inquiry into HS2, the engineering projects that go with it and its significant impact on our public finances is well worth calling for.

Before that, I would hope for, and I am calling for, Select Committee inquiries to review HS2, particularly by the Transport Committee, which has today severely criticised the Department for Transport over the east coast rail project. By comparison with HS2, that project is a walk in the park. HS2 needs far more scrutiny than it is getting and the High Speed Rail Bill Select Committee report could have gone much further in exposing the lack of planning and spiralling costs of the failing project. However, a number of people do need to be praised for their forensic scrutiny, and I repeat my praise for my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham.

The planned route cuts right through my constituency. Baldwin’s Gate, Bar Hill, Whitmore and Madeley are in a rural area of outstanding natural beauty. The proposed scheme slices it in two, with two viaducts at the River Lea valley and Meece brook valley, and two tunnels along the way, meaning that there will be an enormous amount of construction work in a delicate area. The environmental damage is not limited to Stone; the scheme cuts right through the country. The Woodland Trust has called it

“the biggest single threat from development to ancient woodland” in the UK, with 98 ancient woods threatened with loss or damage from phases 1 and 2 of the project.

The National Infrastructure Commission has suggested that, in addition to the £56 billion that HS2 is projected to cost, £43 billion in additional funding will be needed to improve local transport links in cities outside London to allow people to make full use of the service. That is a combined total of £99 billion, yet in today’s poll 85% of people say they want the Government to spend that £99 billion on improving the capacity of existing railways instead of building HS2. The population in the west midlands will go up by more than a third, and improvements in local infrastructure are needed.

One of the questions in the poll revealed the London-centric nature of the proposal. Some 58% of Londoners support the construction of HS2, whereas only 20% of those in the north-east back it. Why are we continuing to back a failing scheme, supposedly planned for the benefit of those outside of London, if they do not even want it?

The case against HS2 has been well and thoroughly made. Perhaps less obvious have been the alternative policies we could pursue if the Government were to begin to roll back.

Photo of Craig Tracey Craig Tracey Conservative, North Warwickshire

Has my hon. Friend found, as I have, that getting north to south is not what our constituents want? What they want is to be able to get from villages into towns, and from towns into cities.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The whole concept is completely flawed. In addition, if we travel down from our constituencies in Staffordshire—from Stoke-on-Trent, Wolverhampton or wherever—it takes around one hour 20 minutes or less. We do not need to travel at any greater speed than that. As I have already pointed out, HS2 is not even going to connect with Birmingham New Street. It is a completely crazy project.

On the basis of rail passenger growth on the west coast main line, it is accepted that there is a need to add capacity to meet future demand. The Government have dismissed upgrades to the current rail network and claim that HS2 is

“the best way of getting ahead of current demand on our core transport network.”

That might be true—if the demand were for poor management and a shoddy business case. In reality, capacity could be increased in far more cost-effective ways.

The length of trains could be increased from eight carriages to 12 on the existing main line network. That could be achieved by lengthening station platforms. The speed of existing trains could be increased, which would reduce the time benefit of HS2 compared with traditional rail. That would probably involve engineering solutions to remove bottlenecks on the existing line. The height of trains could be doubled, as has been successfully done on the continent and elsewhere in the world, which would increase capacity. All those solutions and many more would be immeasurably cheaper than HS2, but those small gains together would create a step change in the capacity and efficiency of the network.

If the Government really are bent on spending such a large sum, it is far from clear why it has to be on HS2. Shuttling along at 250 mph is quick compared to the west coast main line, but painfully slow when one considers the trains in development today. By contrast, Richard Branson’s 750 mph Hyperloop One is aiming to operate at nearly three times the speed of HS2. There are those who believe that the country should be focusing on new innovation rather than rebuilding yesterday’s technology. There may be some suggestion that the Hyperloop is a fantasy for the future, but that is what they said about aircraft, and it is the kind of innovative thinking that has to be examined in its own right. The HS2 project is out of time and increasingly obsolete. We need to be more innovative and to spread the improvements in rail infrastructure across the country as a whole.

I want to highlight the Great British Transport Competition from the TaxPayers Alliance—mentioned by my hon. Friend Craig Tracey—which seeks to identify alternatives. It was launched last week with the support of my hon. Friend and is seeking bids from across the country for transport projects that might be more deserving of the colossal sums being funnelled into HS2. There have already been around 50 bids for alternative schemes, which will be judged on their benefit to the local and wider economies, their ability to deliver value for money, the level of public support and the impact on the environment—in short, all the categories on which HS2 fails miserably. I encourage colleagues from all sides to enter the competition and to suggest better destinations for taxpayers’ money than this enormous white elephant.

It is clear that more money needs to be spent on infrastructure, but that needs to be on worthwhile projects—for example, the capacity of existing railways and the repair and maintenance of roads other than motorways. That includes, of course, dealing with potholes, which might seem far removed from HS2, but anyone who travels anywhere around the country in rural areas will know that potholes are the biggest issue of all. In my constituency and where I live, potholes are a massive issue and there is no money available at the moment.

When I had a word with a very senior member of the defence establishment yesterday, he was quite emphatic that he would much rather have the money spent on defence. Members of the Defence Committee and many other Members have also made that clear. Furthermore, we could help to reduce our debt and spend more on the national health service and other public services.

When the public do not support HS2, when environmental groups are up in arms and when it now appears that half the Cabinet want to chuck it, it is time to call it a day. The Chancellor needs to stop throwing money down a black hole and to put the brakes on this vanity project before it leaves the station. I and others have said on many occasions that this is a white elephant, but it is perfectly clear that it is not only a white elephant; it is a dying white elephant—or it certainly should be. I now believe there are grounds for a full review by the Transport Committee and others, as appropriate, and for a full inquiry under the 2005 Act into this disastrous project.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton 9:55 am, 12th September 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate Sir William Cash on bringing HS2 to Westminster Hall for a serious debate today. Although I agree with him on a number of issues, on this issue we unfortunately find ourselves on opposite sides of the debate. I gently tease him about the start of his speech, where he referred to an opinion poll and laid a lot of the foundations of the logic of his argument on that poll and people not wanting HS2. I dismiss that opinion poll, because people will not have known all the facts about HS2, as I suspect he would dismiss opinion polls that ask for a second referendum on the EU.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the Select Committee on Transport examining HS2. From memory, that Committee has carried out three reports on HS2; I think the first was just after the 2010 general election. Every single one of those reports has supported the building of HS2. The Committee has looked in detail at one of the hon. Gentleman’s other points—whether there will be economic benefits from building HS2. It looked at the TGV system in France and found that some places that were connected to high-speed rail did not benefit, but those towns and cities that put effort into economic development and did not just sit back and do nothing—a point that is generally true, not just for high-speed rail—benefited enormously from the advent of TGV to their towns.

Another point that is often made against HS2, although the hon. Gentleman did not make it today, is that it will benefit London more than Manchester, Leeds or Birmingham. The argument against that is the Workington argument. If people wanted to be further away in time from London, we would all aspire to be in Workington, which is about as far away as we can get from London in time, but Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds and Birmingham actually do rather well, because they put effort into economic development and benefit from being close to London. Nobody wants slower times. They want faster times.

Of course, the serious argument in favour of HS2 was never simply about time. It is about capacity and improving our infrastructure. The number of passengers on the current rail network has doubled over the last 10 or 15 years, and one of the reasons for that—although not the only reason, given, for example, better marketing of tickets—is how poor our overall transport infrastructure is, how poor the motorway system is and how poor some of the rail system is. We need HS2, and it should not only go to Leeds and Manchester but to Scotland via Newcastle, Preston or wherever, which would help the infrastructure of the whole of the United Kingdom.

We see the London establishment—The Sunday Times, the Daily Mail and parts of the civil service—saying, “This is money going to the north of England.” In actual fact, the spending on transport in London and the south-east, but in London primarily, massively outstrips spending on transport in the rest of the country. The statistic I regularly give, which is getting more out of date but is still astonishing, is that the overspend on the Jubilee line in 2000 was more than the total expenditure on transport in the regions.

Another real competition is going on. Although Crossrail 1 massively overspent and is going to be delivered late—we still do not know what the costs will be, but it will happen and be a good thing, benefiting London and communities to its west and east—people now want Crossrail 2. The competition is not only for resources but for parliamentary time. It is about whether the Crossrail 2 hybrid Bill gets ahead of phase 2b of the HS2 Bill—the routes from Crewe to Manchester and from the west midlands to Leeds via Sheffield—which I completely oppose. Incidentally, the strongest support for HS2 has been in Greater Manchester and Leeds. There has been more opposition in London where are a lot of the costs fall because London is a very densely populated city. It would have been better if HS2 had started in Leeds and Manchester, not only because of the tremendous support but because there would have been immediate economic benefit, with people in London expecting and wanting the project to get to London faster. That is the competition we are seeing.

Another—rather subversive—argument is that the east-west route from Liverpool to Hull, which certainly needs improving, should take precedence over HS2. The two should go in step, because when HS2 is built— I believe it will be and go to Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester—in order to get passengers on and off the line, we will need the capacity to move across the north of England. There is not a competition as there is with Crossrail 2, because HS2 and the east-west route go arm in arm; we need both, and we need HS2 not to be delayed. I hope the Minister will reassure hon. Members that the HS2 phase 2 hybrid Bill will not fall behind the Crossrail 2 hybrid Bill in the schedule, because that would be a huge mistake.

One of the many points made by the hon. Member for Stone was, quite reasonably, about costs. Lots of infrastructure projects find it difficult to control costs and that is a completely reasonable point to make, as are points about the effects on our constituencies. The problem with the way that the National Audit Office and the Department for Transport measure cost-benefit analysis is that transport schemes always favour London, because it is about the number of people and the time saved on their journeys. What is really being measured is the density of population, and that means that London schemes are always prioritised. The combination of the London establishment and the methodology used for cost-benefit analysis is bound to be biased against HS2, which is of major national importance for unifying the country after a period in which the north of England, other regions such as the south-west and whole countries such as Wales have been starved of resources.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s perspective. My father, having worked in the steel industry in Sheffield, would acknowledge that many businesspeople north of the Watford gap will prioritise the cross-Pennine links over HS2.

On the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, I argued in the initial stages that if we were going to do to this project to unify the United Kingdom, it should start in Scotland. Unfortunately, nobody listened. Does he agree that Scotland would have been a much better starting point?

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

The right hon. Lady makes a good point. I am a Manchester MP, I went to university in Sheffield and I always wanted the project to start in Manchester and Sheffield, but it would have been a unifying factor for the United Kingdom for the project to start in Scotland. There is no reason for it to start in only one or two places—it could have started in three; many projects of this scale do.

I could talk at length but many hon. Members want to speak. This is a project of national importance, like the third runway at Heathrow. I understand that Dame Cheryl Gillan has constituency issues. Many of us understand national priorities but we are elected by our constituents and have to represent them. I understand that balance. I do not think that the HS2 consultation has always been perfect and it—and the compensation—could have been improved. I pay tribute to the right. hon Lady for the considerable amount of increased investment in HS2 tunnelling that she has managed to get for her area. We have to keep this in perspective. We do not want investment in the north of England to stop, yet again, because of the methodology and because lobbying in London is so intensely powerful.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Before I call the next speaker, I need to say that we will start on the wind-ups at 10.40 am. I will not set a time limit, but it would be helpful if those who speak from here on in confine their remarks to about eight minutes.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham 10:07 am, 12th September 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth.

I welcome yet another Minister for HS2 to the Front Bench. The turnover in Secretaries of State and junior Ministers responsible for this project at the Department for Transport has been regular, to say the least. I also congratulate my hon. Friend Sir William Cash because he made many of the points that I wanted to make. I will try not to repeat some of them, although some inevitably bear repeating.

Back in 2009, when Andrew Adonis and the Labour party announced the project, I told him that not only was it going to damage my constituency, but that it was an unpopular and costly proposition, and would perhaps not benefit the country as a whole—it will certainly be paid for by the many and be used only by the few. Unfortunately, the incoming Government, of which I was a part—I tried hard to persuade my colleagues in Cabinet to drop the project—went for it. Today, we find ourselves in a situation in which not a single inch of track has been laid, but billions of pounds have already been spent.

To follow up on the point made by Graham Stringer—we first came into contact when I fought the Manchester Central European seat many moons ago—I am very lucky to have persuaded my colleagues to invest in tunnelling. That was not only for my constituents, but for the country as a whole, because this dreadful project is going through an environmentally sensitive area—an area of outstanding natural beauty. There is merit in looking at making the area a national park, although that may not be successful. Such a rare piece of our land, with fragile chalk streams, really deserves that protection. It is a shame that such protection does not cover the whole of the AONB but stops prematurely at the end of my constituency.

For me, this project has been one of poor management, poor corporate governance and failures in communication right along the way. Let me refer to a couple of constituency cases; in fact, I have a letter that I will hand to the Minister at the end, addressed to the Secretary of State, about yet another failure regarding a constituent. The issue is communication; as far as I am concerned, HS2 has not learned any lessons about communication with communities.

My constituent is troubled by the closure of Shire Lane, the partial closure of Roberts Lane and the completion date for the construction of the link road. Since last November, she has been given a range of dates, ranging from January this year to April and May, and now to September or even July next year. She has continually chased answers, only to be ignored or told that someone will get back to her.

My constituent’s complaints about HS2’s engagement can be summarised in terms of sporadic communication; broken promises; incorrect information; having to chase constantly, making her feel that she is a nuisance to officials; and the trivialising of her concerns. At the same, a very glossy engagement strategy brochure, which is a spin on public relations, has been delivered to her house. Goodness knows how much that cost to produce. It seems that HS2 is continually secretive. People must not be messed about like that.

My constituent received the first letter on 20 June, which stated that HS2 required land access. It said:

“we will need to enter your land to carry out surveys or investigations during the period from 23 July 2018 to 30 September 2018.”

The second letter, dated 22 August, was exactly the same, but changed the dates to 1 October to 31 December.

On the date of completion of the link road, the communications audit trail shows that HS2 took more than a month from the last known completion date for the link road to tell residents that it had been delayed another six months. That is not good enough. I will hand the letter to the Minister to pass to the Secretary of State. I am sure the Minister will look into this matter.

I had another case earlier this year that bears repetition. It was on compensation, which everyone seems to think is so highly paid to constituents who are thrown out of their homes. I raised this issue with the Secretary of State, and he had to fix it. After HS2 had agreed the compensation, my constituent wrote:

“Despite us having a clear and agreed contract for a year, signed in January 2017, having provided all the necessary documentation from our end, and HS2 Ltd being obligated by the contract to pay the sums to us within 21 days, three months later HS2 Ltd have still not fulfilled their side of it and made the additional payment to us.”

That transaction threatened a disabled couple’s move into their newly adapted home.

I think the Minister is familiar with the case, but it bears repetition because of the contrast with the lucrative high salaries paid to officials, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stone alluded to. HS2 paid at least £100,000 in salary and perks last year to 318 officials—up from 155 in 2015-16. It spent more than £600 million on consultants—well over double the figure the previous year. This is a taxpayer-owned project, but more than 25% of staff enjoy a six-figure remuneration package, including salary, bonus and company pension contributions. Four years ago, that proportion stood at 4%, and two years ago it was less than 17%. If we add that up—particularly the extremely expensive and often very aggressive and intimidating barristers who have been used in the hybrid Bill process—the costs really outweigh what is reasonably to be expected of a taxpayer-funded project.

I will not mention Carillion or the fact that the Department has not updated the costs of the project. There are so many areas in which this project falls down. For example, for years we pushed for a property bond scheme, but in May 2018, the Department set up a High Speed 2 property price support consultation, and it will publish its decision on the consultation exercise later this year. When will that consultation be published, and what are the chances of getting the property bond that has been promoted by many people?

The whole project is starting to slip and is out of control. The phase 2b Bill has been put back and will be tabled again in 2020. The Government say that will not have a bearing on the final completion date

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

The Minister is shaking her head, but I would like better clarification on that issue. It is depressing not only that the legislation is being halted and is slipping but that there are setbacks in the civil works. The initial costs for the main civil engineering contracts for the first phase of HS2 are £1 billion over budget. That will lead to delays in starting the works. Seven contracts covering the work were announced last July, estimated at £6.6 billion, but I understand those have slipped by at least six or nine months.

The Minister was shaking her head, but she will know how difficult it is to extract information about the project. I have been batting on about that for a long time. This is taxpayers’ money, and the project should be transparent. I understand that it is commercial in confidence, but it is not transparent. Indeed, if hon. Members try to read the documents, they will find a large amount are redacted. Minutes from meetings often are not published on the Government website in any timely manner. That goes against HS2’s framework agreement. The minutes are often meaningless. HS2 has published board minutes up to March 2018 as far as I know, but I am not sure that that fulfils its responsibility to engender public confidence and accuracy in the information it discloses. The Minister should address that. All minutes of all meetings should be published on a timely basis. HS2 is supposed to be committed to being an open and transparent organisation, but I am afraid that is far from the truth.

When it comes to my local area, I am exceedingly worried about my local authorities. They face potential local government reorganisation—we do not have a decision yet on that. The cost and burden on my county council and district council have been quite phenomenal. Neither will get back the time, money and true cost to our local institutions, and that is not to mention our parish and town councils, which have really been burdened in this matter.

I have nothing against the Minister, as she knows. We have known each other for quite some time, and I am very proud that she is a politician. She must not take this personally, but I have called for a dedicated Minister. The champion for the Oxford-Cambridge link, my hon. Friend Iain Stewart, has called for a dedicated Minister on that project alone, yet HS2 is much larger and there is no sign of a dedicated Minister. He is a Minister just going into Government and has called for a dedicated Minister on something that is actually smaller and less complicated than this project.

I have been so disturbed by what I have read and heard recently about the failure to extract information about this project. One might think that I would get disheartened and get HS2 opposition fatigue, but I am afraid there is no such luck. Sometimes I feel I am the only person who is trying to hold the project to account, although my colleagues are doing a sterling job.

I wrote to the Secretary of State on 17 August because I was particularly perturbed that Sir John Armitt had called for the Government to invest £43 billion more in further transportation links so that HS2 could meet even the basic business assumptions made about it. I have asked the Secretary of State to ensure that the Government carry out a full evaluation of this project—its viability and its value for money for the taxpayer. These moneys could be spent on other areas of modernising transport and communications in the UK and on other matters. As can be seen in the newspapers today, many people think that the money would be better spent on health and education, certainly in view of the technological advances in transport. The Government are still playing catch-up on 5G and on other matters.

In the interests of the country and taxpayers, I hope the Minister, the Cabinet and the Secretary of State will respond positively to the request I made, which I copied to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury for their consideration. Because of the major implications of this massive expenditure, the high costs and the poor corporate governance, HS2 should be completely independently assessed. If that results in a pause while that work takes place, I will be satisfied. I hope that HS2 will hit the buffers. It is not good value for money for the taxpayer.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Order. I have to impose a five-minute limit on speeches—I am afraid the time available does not allow for anything else.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole 10:20 am, 12th September 2018

I fully understand the concerns of constituency Members. The worst thing to happen to a Member of Parliament for a rural constituency is to have a railway go through it. A nuclear power station would bring several thousand jobs, an airport expansion would bring jobs, but if a railway goes through a constituency, particularly above ground, it is bound to affect the local people but bring them little benefit. Even if a motorway were built, there would be junctions—some of the locals would benefit. It is terribly difficult for Members of Parliament to deal with this sort of project.

The timescale of most rail projects is another problem. HS2 started in 2009 and the first phase will probably finish in the mid-2020s. Most people, when they think about a Government project, think it is all fully worked out and in a filing cabinet in Whitehall. They cannot understand why their questions are not answered. The reality is that there is a sketch, the details for which are then filled in. People get fed up because they keep writing to their Member of Parliament to try to get reassurances on things, but they cannot because things have not been detailed and designed.

The wear and tear on MPs and their staff is pretty formidable. I know most Members here have dedicated staff in their office dealing with constituents, many of whom get ill and suffer stress as a result of living with concerns about a national infrastructure project. I understand where most of the local Members are coming from, but Parliament voted for HS2 by a large margin. I abstained in the first vote because I had a role in the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill Select Committee. HS2 should not be seen as separate from the rail network but as part of it. Its genesis was that the west coast main line’s capacity was filling up. It was thought that if a new line were built, it might as well be a high-speed line, and that if all the intercity traffic were put on that, opportunities would be opened up to have more freight on the west coast main line and more services.

This is about investment in public services. If this country has had a problem over decades, it is that we have sometimes not invested in them enough. It is also about linking up the spine of the country, eventually getting to Scotland. As Graham Stringer pointed out, there are benefits at his end of the country as well. My hon. Friend Sir William Cash is perfectly right that much of the cost is not building the railway but all the stations—the major cost of Euston, Old Oak Common and Curzon Street. HS2 has to be seen as part of a major regeneration project for those areas. The result is that, although it takes decades to get any kind of money back from investment in railways, there will be major benefits where investment goes in.

My hon. Friend made a brief comment about there being no spur to Heathrow. Most people coming from the north are not actually going to Heathrow, but HS2 goes through Old Oak Common, as does Crossrail. All one will need to do is walk across the station to get on Crossrail, which I think will take eight or nine minutes to get to Heathrow. Spending £1 billion on a spur would not be a good thing to do.

HS2 is a national infrastructure project and will roll out over 30 years. That means civil engineers can plan for the long term, training academies can be set up and Britain will improve its rail network. That does not diminish the fact that MPs whose constituencies are affected have to deal with the real difficulties of their constituents, farmers and owner-occupiers. We are a small country with a lot of owner-occupiers who are very vocal when their communities are affected, and I know that creates special difficulties for their MPs. My hon. Friend has to some extent played a part in changing history in our relationship with Europe—I suspect he will be more successful on Europe than on stopping HS2.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford 10:24 am, 12th September 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. After the excellent speech from my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, I will not go into a lot of detail but will concentrate on two matters: the overall cost and implications, and some specific problems relating to my constituency.

My hon. Friend has already referred to the rising cost of HS2. The latest estimate we have seen is at least £80 billion—that was from Michael Byng, whom I have met and whose work is based on the standard method used by Network Rail to cost their projects. That estimate is approximately 50% more than the one the Government have used in their arguments for the Bills to approve HS2 so far. Such a sharp rise in costs would have a serious impact both on the rate of return of the project and on public finances. It would also make it by far the most expensive railway in the world and by far the largest infrastructure project in Europe.

It is surely time to at least pause the project and conduct a proper costing, so that Parliament knows what we are committing to. HS2 has more information now than it did two or three years ago, when it arrived at the £56 billion figure. It is incumbent on the Government to bring the issue back to Parliament, because we need to know the facts. It may well be that Parliament nevertheless approves a project costing 50% more—that is Parliament’s prerogative—but it is up to Parliament to make that decision, given that the figures are likely to be so different now from what they were when the project was originally put before us, certainly at phase 1 if not at phase 2a.

During that pause, we could look at alternatives as well as the costs of the proposed plan—alternatives for improving capacity and reliability on key routes around the country, especially for Scotland, Wales and all the English regions, so that we have a fully integrated proposal for the future of our rail network. In the case of the north of England, as Graham Stringer mentioned, a fast east-west link should be made a priority.

The problem with HS2 is that it was specified as a solution before the needs had been properly identified. It also assumed that we had to have a train capable of 350 to 400 kph because that was becoming a standard elsewhere. However, rather than looking to France, Germany or China, where distances between major population centres are greater, we should perhaps look to Switzerland, where intercity speeds are comparable to ours and where there is a highly regarded, reliable railway. Speeds of more than 200 kph are already achieved on some of our lines and are perfectly adequate. We need to make those speeds standard across far more of our network, rather than increasing the gap between HS2 and the rest of it. We have one chance to get this right for the coming decades, because once HS2 is fully committed to, there will be little or no financial capacity for an alternative approach. It is surely worth pausing and developing a full national rail plan based on capacity, connectivity and reliability, rather than speed.

In previous debates and in my petitions, I have raised a number of concerns about the way my constituents have been dealt with. I will repeat the most significant of those. No one should be prevented from moving home as a result of the blight caused by HS2. My constituents’ experiences have been mixed. Some have been assisted well—quickly and efficiently—by HS2, but others have had lengthy delays and unreasonable refusals. Constituents have been told that their long-held plan to downsize once their children have left home is not a good reason to sell. That is not acceptable.

I am also increasingly concerned about the sheer quantity of additional land that HS2 aims to take over or compulsory-purchase in addition to that specifically required for the route. Just last week, a constituent told me that some lovely woodland near the River Trent, which he has been rehabilitating, is now required for a depot. There is also the question of properties that have been purchased by HS2 remaining unoccupied in some villages. I know the Minister takes that seriously, and I ask her to look at the current situation.

I return to the need for the Government to bring the question of the cost of HS2 back to the House in a transparent manner so we can judge again its cost-effectiveness, the business case and whether our public finances can afford it now that circumstances have changed.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South 10:29 am, 12th September 2018

I congratulate my hon. Friend Sir William Cash on securing the debate. As a great believer in the future of rail transport, I have long welcomed greater investment in our railways. On Second Reading of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill, I raised the positive case for ensuring that HS2 trains serve Stoke-on-Trent, and I continue to push for the enhanced connectivity that our growing economy needs. I am pleased that the Department for Transport recognises that. However, I have continued to raise concerns about the level of disruption that we are likely to experience during construction—in particular, I did so at the Bill Select Committee. I will set out how HS2 could deliver much greater benefits for the substantial investment being made and how its impacts can be mitigated much more effectively.

The new high-speed rail line is sound in principle but, as I have always warned, for HS2 to maximise in practice the suggested social and economic benefits, it must be met with improvements locally on the conventional network. Indeed, much more work must be undertaken in partnership with Network Rail to assess what measures will be necessary to ensure that the conventional network is up to an acceptable standard to facilitate HS2 classic-compatible services.

Services via Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford should terminate not at Macclesfield but at Manchester, and work must be done to understand how additional capacity can be facilitated on the network north of Macclesfield to allow for that. In addition, work must be done to address constraints caused by the numerous junctions and level crossings on the network throughout Staffordshire. Importantly, there is a section of the line at Alsager that must be redoubled to increase capacity and the frequency of services linking through to Crewe and beyond.

While the commitment on HS2 services serving Stoke-on-Trent is welcome, current levels of economic growth demand more than one service an hour. In particular, the introduction of a classic-compatible service between Birmingham Curzon Street and Stoke-on-Trent, terminating at either Manchester Piccadilly or Liverpool Lime Street, would help relieve severe overcrowding on the network north of Birmingham.

There are clear challenges with running HS2 services on the conventional network, some of which I have outlined. I hope that the Minister will indicate what is being done to understand what works are required to achieve full integration. That spending must be planned for in Network Rail’s control period 6, which is due to start in 2019. As I continue to stress, it is essential that HS2 works effectively with Network Rail, the city council and other partners to ensure that improvements to Stoke station are completed.

My greatest concern is about construction traffic. Traffic modelling carried out by HS2 is based around the stipulation that 90% of excavated material will be reused in construction. As an estimate, for every 1% that that figure is out, there would be roughly an additional 250,000 vehicle movements. Geotechnical ground investigations have yet to be undertaken on phase 2a, but studies on phase 1 commenced in autumn 2017 and that data will include analysis of the quality of the excavated material, which will help inform whether it is viable to reuse 90% of it. It is essential that early lessons are learned from phase 1, and the data is vital to informing the traffic modelling.

There will be a significant impact from construction traffic on the road network along the route, especially at junction 15 of the M6, which serves Stoke-on-Trent. That location will see the highest impact from construction traffic during phase 2a. HS2 figures suggest that it will cause gridlock at the junction, with a 50% increase in HGVs at the morning peak and nearly a 100% increase at the afternoon peak. It has been widely recognised that the approach taken in the traffic assessment is insufficient; it is not a network analysis but an analysis of junctions independently of one another, which is most problematic at this location.

Junction 15 is made up of three interacting junctions, yet HS2 has analysed the impacts separately and independently, meaning that the full impact has not been recognised. I call for the Government and HS2 to take action to ensure that junction 15 is upgraded before the construction of phase 2a. That is essential to ensure that it can accommodate not only HS2 traffic but future growth in the economy and complete the national smart motorway spine. I also call for upgrades on the A34, where it is predicted there will be a 400-car queue every evening.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:34 am, 12th September 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I thank Sir William Cash for bringing forward the debate and all other hon. Members for their pertinent questions. Let us first remind ourselves why investment in growing our railways is imperative. We need investment in capacity growth and connectivity, which is being called for particularly in the north but also across the rest of the country. We also need to see environmental improvements, particularly in air quality. Rail provides a real opportunity for modal shift, whether from car to train or, indeed, from plane to train in the case of high-speed trains. We also need to invest in economic opportunity, so much so in the north, which for generations has missed out on the investment we have seen in London and the south-east.

However, we must be mindful of communities, the environment and construction costs. For such major infrastructure projects, we must also be mindful of skills, the opportunity for employment and how we develop engineering across the country. We must also be aware of the cost of getting it wrong. It is therefore right for hon. Members to call for reviews, investigations and transparency, because this is a publicly supported project about which the public demand answers, and they must receive them. As the project moves into a new phase of governance and leadership, it is important that a new approach is brought to high-speed rail to put in place the scrutiny that the public demand.

We must also get answers from the Minister. We have heard speculation and read reports, so today I ask her to clarify the actual costs of each part of phase 2—phase 2a, phase 2b east and phase 2b west—so that we can all understand the figures, how they have been derived and where costs fall. We must also understand the timeline, which we hear has been set back.

HS1 was hailed as a success, coming in on time and on budget, but clearly the rumours are that HS2 will not have such success. We need to understand why the learning of HS1 has not been translated into this project. HS1 is successful in bringing people from mainland Europe to the UK and in taking people to the south-east. We are proud of that project, but we must understand where the needs sit now.

I understand the public’s frustration. The complete chaos across our rail network over the last three months has set it in the minds of so many that rail can no longer be relied on. We have seen people stranded at stations, people losing jobs because a train has not turned up, and people not getting home to see their family in the evening. When the Government cannot even get the basics right, people are asking, “Why aren’t we getting things shored up before we move on to HS2?” We will read the Glaister report—I understand the interim report will be out later this month—which will address those issues, with interest.

We must have a fully integrated rail system, not one with segregated high-speed rail. I want assurances from the Minister that we will see that integration rather than have high-speed rail just for people who can afford premium rates, because that will not bring economic opportunity to the north. That is why Labour is clear that we would have one fully integrated rail network owned by the public and run by the public as we move forward.

We know that we must build more capacity on the rail network, that we must invest in the economies of the north and that people must be able to travel. The point about freight is important: we need more paths for freight. We must enable that serious modal shift and move freight off roads and on to rail. Investment is therefore imperative, as we know that the road haulage industry cannot recruit the drivers required to run the freight network on the roads. We must make those changes, and we therefore need available paths to do that. Building that capacity is essential, and the west coast main line will lend itself to that.

We also need leading-off capacity to the south-west, Wales and elsewhere across the north, including north of Manchester and York. Labour has closely considered how to develop a long-term plan for rail investment because, as many hon. Members have indicated, it is important to invest in the right places. We have been clear that creating a Crossrail for the north, bringing that connectivity to the north of the country, is our priority.

The Secretary of State’s decision not to electrify the trans-Pennine line has brought real damage to the north, but Labour will introduce reparation for that decision as soon as we come into government. We will ensure that someone can travel from Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Bradford, York or Hull, and down into Sheffield and up to Teesside and Newcastle. These are important decisions, and Crossrail for the north will be our priority, ensuring that we catch up on the timeline on which we have been so let down by this Government. Building connectivity to Sheffield will start to address the issues about what route HS2 should take in a faster way, because we wish to ensure that people can get to where they need to go. We must also invest in digital rail so that we get maximum capacity and opportunity from our railways. We must address the dreadful overcrowding that commuters experience day by day, because often people are not even able to get on the trains.

On speed, we believe that it is important to improve the east coast main line. Since we do not know when—or indeed whether—HS2 will be achieved, it is important that control period 6 provides extra capacity for speed and upgrades to the east coast main line. Travelling from York to London will take only 1 hour 31 minutes, and the additional time saving that HS2 will bring to cities such as mine will not be the reason why we need the additional spend required by high-speed rail. This is about capacity, not speed; it is about whether someone has a seat and can work or carry out their activities. That is why we need to invest in rail.

We must also ensure that we are responsible for the environment. I have met the Woodland Trust, and I am concerned about some of the environmental impacts of the project, particularly on sites of special scientific interest. We must be mindful that once things have gone, we cannot bring them back, and I believe that we must maximise our support for the environment as this project moves forward.

Today we have all identified wasted opportunities. Where, for example, is the cycle route alongside this network? That would make sense, but it has not yet been planned, despite its minimal cost. Jeremy Lefroy mentioned a depot that suddenly appeared on land, and we must scrutinise every decision and decide whether it is imperative for each little piece of infrastructure to go ahead, or whether there are alternatives. It is certainly distressing to hear that so much construction will be delivered by road rather than rail, and it is important to consider that.

Finally, on economic opportunity, I agree with my hon. Friend Graham Stringer that we need better connectivity to the north. Manchester is such an exciting city, but we cannot stymie its growth by denying it that much-needed connectivity. Liverpool is also moving forward and follows closely behind. We must ensure the right connectivity and invest in the right places. We need transparency on spend as we move forward. People are concerned; they are paying so much more for their rail fares, which have gone up by 35% under this Government, and they need to understand what the future will hold.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Order. The hon. Lady has exceeded her time.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury) 10:45 am, 12th September 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Sir William Cash on securing the debate. The construction of HS2 phase 2a will have a significant impact on his constituents, and they have in him a tireless advocate for their interests. I hope that today I will be able to answer most of his questions, and those of all Members who have made thorough and considered contributions to the debate. If I do not, I will follow up those points in writing.

Before I respond to the specific points raised, I wish to outline why the Government are committed to HS2. Quite simply, our current train network is running at almost completely full capacity. Demand on the west coast main line has increased by 190% since 1995, and people are often left standing the whole way on long-distance journeys. We are close to being unable to add any more seats or trains, and although delays occur less frequently than in the past, we still need to overcome that challenge. HS2 will be a new train on dedicated high-speed lines, and because long-distance services will be shifted to the brand new railway, that will free up extra space for more trains to run on the most overcrowded and heavily congested routes.

HS2 direct inter-city services will improve the experience of all passengers. Train operators will be able to run more varied and frequent services, including more passenger trains to locations that are not directly served by HS2. From 2033 we expect up to 48 trains to run on the network every hour, carrying more than 300,000 passengers a day—around 100 million a year. There will be greatly increased capacity, faster journey times and better connectivity between eight of our 10 largest cities. Those are the fundamental benefits of HS2, and it will make the lives of passengers easier.

However, the HS2 project is about more than transport—that point was made by many hon. Members—and we want it to turbo-charge economic growth that is shared by the entire country, allowing transport to open up new work and study opportunities and boost the prospects of millions. The key point is that increasing connectivity and capacity to and from the midlands, the north of England and London will help to rebalance the UK economy, and the benefits of that will be felt long before the railway enters the operational phase in 2026.

We are already seeing progress. Tomorrow I will be in Worksop, meeting local businesses to discuss the opportunities that arise from HS2. We know that more than 2,000 businesses have already won work on HS2, and an estimated 6,000 jobs have been supported by it. Meanwhile, 100 apprentices are already working on the project, with 2,000 expected to do so over its lifetime, many of them trained at our high-speed rail colleges in Doncaster and Birmingham. I suggest that Members drop in to visit one of those colleges, to see the opportunities being provided for those young people. HS2 provides a massive opportunity to train people in the skills that the UK needs to compete globally, and it will allow us to generate long-term employment opportunities across the UK.

Birmingham—as a Brummie, I am allowed to say this—is the heart of HS2. The Mayor of the West Midlands combined authority has said:

“HS2 will be worth billions to the West Midlands economy once complete”.

He is a strong supporter of the project. I could not be more passionate about trying to improve the economy, employment prospects and aspirations of young people from our second city. Of course, HS2 will not do that all on its own, but it will be an enabler of economic growth by connecting our great cities and towns in the midlands and the north, encouraging employers not to focus only on London and the south-east.

As I travel around the country to make the case for HS2, there is a true sense of pride and excitement about the project. I recently met the leaders of Bradford Council and Leeds City Council to discuss their plans to maximise the potential of HS2 and regenerate Leeds city centre. The leader of Leeds City Council has said:

“HS2 is an incredible opportunity to create something truly transformational to the economy of our city and the wider region.”

That is what the north is saying. Too often we just hear the voices of London and the south-east.

It is that sense of enthusiasm about HS2 and its potential that we want to encourage. That is why the Government are also working hard to ensure that HS2 integrates with the emerging ambition for Northern Powerhouse Rail and transport improvements in the west midlands. We have been in close contact with local authorities on the route developing growth strategies that will ensure that the benefits of HS2 are fully realised in local areas. That work is critical to the long-term impact that HS2 will have on regeneration and connectivity between our great cities.

We are making progress with the construction of HS2 and remain on track to deliver the plans. Work is starting on phase 1, which will link London and Birmingham by 2026, and we are legislating for phase 2a, which will connect Birmingham and Crewe from 2027.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

There is a real problem—a potential scandal—about the issue of where the spoil will go. Is it going to be used properly? Can it be used? The other thing that I will write to the Minister about—I hope she will send me a reply—is to do with boreholes in the Whitmore and Baldwin’s Gate area. I have some serious questions about the viability of the proposed tunnel work.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

I know that my hon. Friend has raised that matter a number of times, including with the Select Committee. It is a detailed question that requires a detailed response. I am happy to provide him with a written response. I know that he has already had a response from the Select Committee, but I am more than happy to put things down on paper.

Phase 2a will connect Birmingham and Crewe from 2027, which is many years earlier than expected. Phase 2 will run from the west midlands to Manchester in the west and Leeds in the east, completing the network by 2033. We are committed to delivering to those timescales. Of course I am deeply aware that the project, despite its huge benefits, will have a significant impact on many people during construction.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, particularly as she is reading out some of the PR speech that I have heard before from Ministers about how marvellous HS2 is. Has she carried out an economic impact assessment on my constituency of Chesham and Amersham? Can she tell me exactly how we will benefit or what damage will be done to the economy? Can she give me detailed figures to show how HS2 benefits my constituency?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

I know that my right hon. Friend has been a strong champion of her constituency and has undertaken a forensic investigation into HS2. There will be broader benefits, not only to her constituents but to people living around HS2, and that will create a number of opportunities. I will respond to some of the points that she raises in a moment, as I get through my speech.

My right hon. Friend talked about the impact on her constituents. I agree that previously HS2 did not deal with enough efficiency or compassion with the issues raised by constituents. We must continue to work with MPs and constituents affected, and we must work with affected landowners, businesses and residents to ensure that they are suitably compensated. We must make addressing their concerns a priority wherever we can.

I will now address the finer points made by Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone, as well as making a number of points about HS2, delved into the far more important topic of potholes, which his constituents have raised with him. In case he was worried about numbers, I can assure him that £6 billion is being invested in repairing potholes to help improve the condition of our local highways. Funding includes a record £296 million for the pothole action fund, which is enough to fix around 6 million potholes. In case there are any concerns, there is funding available.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stone made a number of points about costs and spending relating to HS2. I confirm that the 2015 spending review envelope of £55.7 billion for HS2, in 2015 prices, still stands, of which £27.18 billion has been set for phase 1 and £28.55 billion for phase 2. He also mentioned the route from Euston to Old Oak Common. HS2’s strategic objectives are to deliver connectivity between London and our cities in the north and the midlands. Old Oak Common will offer connectivity to Crossrail, on the great western mainline, dispensing passengers east and west into London. I think that adequately covers the issue of costs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stone also mentioned the environment. There is no denying that HS2 will have an impact on the environment as it is laid. We want HS2 to be more environmentally responsible than any other major infrastructure project in the history of the UK. We are aware of the potential detrimental impacts it could have on the environment and we will do what we can to mitigate them, as well as creating a new green corridor incorporating 9 sq km of new native woodland, alongside tailor-made habitats for species including 7 million new trees and shrubs for phase 1 alone.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stone also raised the issue of maladministration. HS2 Ltd has moved on positively from the point that he raised. HS2 does not always get it right, but I hope that he will agree that the level of engagement has improved, both locally, with local community engagement officers, and here in Westminster, with drop-in meetings for Members.

I am grateful to Graham Stringer for the work that he does with the Transport Committee. I point out that the Committee’s last three reports stated clearly the case for HS2. To be clear, the phase 2b Bill will be in Parliament long before Crossrail 2. The timetable for the phase 2b Bill will be announced shortly. That will help to unlock Northern Powerhouse Rail and it will be debated before Crossrail 2.

I will respond to all the points made by my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan about her casework and I am more than happy to take her notes away. I fully understand how stressful it must be for constituents who are having to deal with HS2, if their issues are not dealt with swiftly and appropriately. I can only apologise if those cases have not been dealt with efficiently. I will do my best to ensure that each constituent’s case is dealt with as swiftly as it can be, and I am more than happy to take that work away.

My right hon. Friend also raised the issue of a national park—she has spoken to me about this previously—and I have raised it with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I would encourage her to do so as well, and I hope to continue to work with her on that. Her constituency has already received over £26,000 from HS2 to help her neighbourhood to be as green as possible.

My right hon. Friend also raised the matter of the property bond. We ran a technical consultation about that this year and we are now examining responses. We will take a position on the outcome and there will be an announcement later in 2018. I am a little nervous that I am running out of time, so I will quickly conclude. If I have been unable to respond to everyone’s questions, I will write to them.

I want to ensure that we fully understand the strategic case for HS2. It will not only increase capacity and improve connectivity, but create jobs and regeneration in the UK. For far too long investment and prosperity have been focused on London and the south-east. HS2 will completely change that, benefiting communities up and down the line, but mostly in the north. Moreover, our 2017 manifesto makes a clear commitment to strategic national investment, including HS2. The vote on the phase 1 Bill in the House of Commons was 399 to 42 in favour, and in the House of Lords the figures were 386 to 26.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 10:58 am, 12th September 2018

I am sorry to have to say it, but I am wholly unconvinced by the Government’s reply. That is not surprising, as I put forward a case that, coincidentally, is on the same lines as the opinion poll published today. That shows that 60% of all voters in the UK are against the proposal in one shape or form. That is a pretty significant poll. The whole question of relative costs, compared with other demands on the UK budget, such as defence, public services, the NHS and the rest, quite clearly demonstrate that HS2 is a white elephant. I do not believe that it has any proper justification. I will leave it at that.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved.

That this House
has considered High Speed 2.