In the Statement on HS2 in the House of Commons by Patrick McLoughlin, Secretary of State for Transport, on Monday 28th January, Michael Fabricant asked:
“Although I accept the need for an additional line to relieve capacity on the rail network, this route plunges through rural Britain, and rural Staffordshire, and should use existing transport corridors instead.
“This route blights the environment, it blights homes and it blights lives.
“Does my right honourable Friend understand that what my constituents and all our constituents need is certainty, so that they understand the impact the line will have: what vibrations it will produce and what the visual impact will be? Most important of all, they need certainty about what compensation they will receive?”
Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Patrick McLoughlin replied: “Part of the reason for bringing forward the consultation period from next year to this year is to help my honourable Friend’s constituents, but I fully accept that where the line is going will inconvenience some people. We cannot build a brand-new railway line and not upset anybody. We believe that it is very much in the national interest and in the interests of the United Kingdom.”
Michael Fabricant now says: “It is the irony of ironies that the route I support is the route the Conservatives supported in Opposition before 2010 which uses existing transport corridors: namely the M40 and the M6 and which reduces the environmental impact. Instead, we have adopted the route chosen by the last Labour Government. And now Labour, in Opposition, have changed their minds and now support the route that the Conservatives used to support: a route for HS2 alongside the M40 and the M6 so reducing the environmental impact and avoiding South Staffordshire altogether.
“I will continue to fight to have the route moved so it avoids South Staffordshire completely.
“I am reassured, however, by the Secretary of State’s continual assertions to me and other MPs that this is just the initial proposal and that it is subject to alternative proposals”.
The Secretary of State for Transport’s Statement to the House now follows:-
Investing in transport infrastructure is not a choice. To create jobs and to rebalance our economy we need better roads, better airports and better trains—and High Speed 2 is a central part of that investment. It will be an engine for growth throughout the country, which is why I am today announcing our initial preferred route north from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester.
These new services will reach eight out of 10 of our largest cities: Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, as well as Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. In all, 18 cities and many more towns, too, will be served by HS2 services. It will be completely integrated with the existing rail network; it will bring people and businesses together; it will create an estimated 100,000 jobs; and it has the backing of businesses and cities across Britain. We will introduce legislation for the first phase in this Parliament and legislate for the second in the next one. Construction is set to begin in 2017 and the first trains will run in 2026. The second phase will be open fully by 2033.
I would like to make three further points. The first is about the need for the line. HS2 will be the first main line to be built north of London for almost 120 years. Some say we do not need another, but the truth is that we are already good at squeezing the most out of our present Victorian railway network—and yes, we will get even more out of it in the coming years with the massive investment we have already announced. We are electrifying 800 miles of track, and building Crossrail and the northern hub upgrade. These will help to keep us going for the next decade or two, but what then?
Rail passenger numbers have doubled over the last 15 years, and demand will keep growing. The west coast main line is filling up. There is not enough space for all the commuters, freight trains and inter-city trains that need to use it. That is why, after very careful consideration, I am publishing my initial preferences for phase 2 of HS2. The case for going ahead rests on the capacity it will provide and on the new connections it will create. It is not just about faster trains to London, but about changing the way in which our great cities work and work with each other, providing easy links on journeys that are difficult today, giving muscle to the economies of the cities beyond London and producing an estimated £2 in economic benefit for every £1 spent.
Frequently, colleagues in this House call for better services to their local stations—they are right to ask for them—and High Speed 2 is part of the solution. Creating free space on existing routes will allow better services to places such as Milton Keynes, and more trains for commuters in areas such as Staffordshire, Leeds and Manchester. I am determined to ensure that the benefits of HS2 run much wider than the places directly served by the new line.
Let me turn to my second point. The detail of the route I am announcing today follows the Government’s announcements last year about phase 1 between London and Birmingham. On the western leg from Birmingham to Manchester, I propose two new high-speed stations. The first will be in the heart of Manchester, alongside the existing station at Manchester Piccadilly, allowing easy connections to places such as Salford, Stockport and Bolton and a journey time to London of just one hour eight minutes, down from over two hours today. The second station will be at Manchester airport, giving direct access to the wider Cheshire area.
HS2 will also serve Crewe via a dedicated link, and high-speed trains will continue on the existing railway to Liverpool, Warrington and Runcorn, which will also benefit greatly from reduced journey times. Further north, near Wigan, HS2 will connect with the west coast main line. High-speed trains can then continue at regular speeds to places such as Preston, Carlisle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I am working with counterparts in Scotland on their aspirations for high-speed rail. I have already set out a long-term ambition to get journeys to Scotland below three hours.
Turning to the eastern leg, we will construct three new stations to bring people and businesses in the east midlands and Yorkshire closer to Birmingham, the north-east and London. The east midlands station will be located between Nottingham and Derby at Toton, and links will be upgraded to provide fast access to both. The second station will be at Sheffield Meadowhall, which already has good connections that can be improved further, allowing it to serve all of Sheffield and south Yorkshire.
The third station will be located in the center of Leeds alongside the South Bank area. As with the western leg, there will be a connection from HS2 on to the existing rail network. A connection to the east coast main line, just nine miles from York, will allow the north-east to benefit, too, with London to York taking just one hour 23 minutes and London to Newcastle just two hours 18 minutes.
Finally, a decision on how best to serve Heathrow will be taken after the outcome of the Airports Commission has been considered by the Government. From day one, however, HS2 will provide far faster journeys than now via a major new interchange at Old Oak Common, linking to the Great Western main line, Cross rail and the Heathrow express.
The third point I want to make today is about design and help for those most affected. Many hon. Members want the Government to take that extremely seriously, and we do. Although the line will benefit the country as a whole, it will also create great anxiety among those close to the proposed route. We will therefore consult properly, design carefully and compensate fairly. Let me stress that today I am announcing an initial preferred route: this is the start of the process, not the end. We are ready to listen, and ready to improve. I want this line to create jobs and prosperity, not harm them. Where businesses may be affected, we will work with them to find a solution. We will now begin a period of informal consultation on phase 2 that will inform the official public consultation, which was originally planned for 2014 but which, I can announce, will be brought forward to this year. The aim is to reach a firm decision on the route of phase 2 in 2014.
I understand how such proposals can affect property markets. Compensation will therefore be as generous as on the first phase, and more generous than when we built the motorways. Today I am launching a public consultation on the exceptional hardship scheme for those who must sell but cannot do so because of HS2. Under this scheme we will pay the full price, valued as if there were no HS2. That will be followed by the next stage of our property compensation scheme once the final route is confirmed.
There are not many issues on which political parties in the House agree, but this is one of them. Regardless of the nature of the Government when the first trains run in 13 years’ time, what matters are the jobs, the re-balancing of the economy, and our country’s future prosperity.