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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:55 am on 12th September 2018.

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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.