Previous Section Index Home Page

30 Mar 2010 : Column 192WH—continued

A further point is, again, about the existing route. I understand the Government's argument that they have not produced four or five potential routes for fear of blighting half of southern England in the process. However, it seems that if only one proposed route is produced, it suggests to those who live along that route that although the Government might not quite be concrete in their choice of route, they will certainly take a lot of persuading to move away from it. I find that concerning. I want to
30 Mar 2010 : Column 193WH
be reassured that if that is the case, the route has been proposed as a result of the Government having done their homework properly.

Having read the document-the Command Paper-very carefully, it seems that there remains a bit of undone work here. We still do not know exactly where all the listed buildings are. I know that because several constituents have come to me with a map and have shown me where the listed buildings are, and they are certainly not appearing along the route in the Government's documents. Conservation areas are also not comprehensively listed in the documents. It seems that we do not yet know where the oil and gas pipelines in the ground match up to where the proposed High Speed 2 route will go.

If there is more homework for the Government to do on the matter, is there not a danger that route 3 will be proposed and perhaps settled on, but we will discover later that it cannot be followed in its current form because of other factors that have not yet been considered? I want reassurances for my constituents that the consultation process allows for the possibility that the route can move substantially to follow a completely different corridor. If that is not possible and we can be persuaded that it is not possible, I want a reassurance that the route can move in various different ways throughout various parts of the country. Those different ways must be made clear, so that we know exactly why the Government have proposed the current part of the route to which we are referring.

In relation to changing the route, it might be useful to consider Stoneleigh. That is a good example because, as the Minister will know, Stoneleigh is specifically referred to in the Command Paper, as it is one of the places where the Government are not quite confident they have got the route right. That strikes fear into the hearts of my other constituents, because if the places they are concerned about are not mentioned specifically, the suggestion is that the Government are confident they have got the route right there. If we have not got all the information I referred to on the map and marked route already, how do I know that the Government have that part of the route clear in their own minds and can persuade us it is the right one? I also want reassurance that if we can make a decent argument for doing so, we can move the route so it goes the other side of the village or 100 yards this way or that way. I am assuming that that part of the argument will only be relevant if the Government can persuade us that their chosen route, rather than an existing transport corridor, is the right one.

I know that the Minister will accept there is a great deal of work yet to be done both by the Government and by my constituents to defend their interests in response to what the Government propose. We need absolute clarity from the start, first, that the Government have done their homework; secondly, if they have done so, that they are open to persuasion that they may have got it wrong and there might be a better route; thirdly, if there is no better route and this is the route that must be followed, we must be clear why they have chosen, for example, embankments not viaducts and cuttings not tunnels to reduce the environmental impact to the maximum effect.

30 Mar 2010 : Column 194WH

Although I understand that there is a great deal more work to do and that more effort needs to be put in not just by the Government and High Speed 2, but by those who wish to change the route, it is important at this stage that we have absolute and clear undertakings from the Government that the route is capable of being moved if the arguments are powerful enough for that to happen. We also need confirmation that, within very short order, we will have all the technical information we require from the Government in order to mount a serious and sensible argument against the proposed route.

[Mr. David Wilshire in the Chair]

11.54 am

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) on securing this important and timely debate, and on putting the case, as he has done on a number of occasions, for having services on the high speed line stop at and serve his constituency and surrounding areas. It is a powerful case, and he has again made it forcefully today.

Like other hon. Members, I very much welcome the Government's announcement of the High Speed 2 proposal. The Minister will perhaps not be surprised to hear that I wish to make the case for the classic network, and wish to press him to give an assurance again today that the very welcome investment in High Speed 2 will not be at the expense of much-needed investment in the classic network. Again, the Minister will not be surprised to learn that there is a particular part of the classic network that I want to ensure is not neglected as a result of investment in High Speed 2; I refer to the completion of the electrification of the midland main line.

As the Minister knows, the midland main line is already electrified as far as Bedford, but it is not yet included in the firm proposals for further electrification-proposals that are very welcome, particularly those for the electrification of the Great Western. It would be most unfortunate if, as a result of waiting for investment in High Speed 2, we were to lose out on that much-needed investment, which will bring faster journey times and considerable economic benefit to the east midlands and beyond, up to Sheffield.

As the Minister will be aware, the cost-benefit analysis of the investment in the electrification of that line is very positive. We need electrification of that line to be completed, not least because the High Speed 2 proposals-the Y-shaped link to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) referred-include a link across the east midlands, with a single station in the east midlands. That station will probably not be capable of serving the whole area. Of course, as I suggested in my intervention, that could lead to the downgrading of parts of the midland main line, so that they provide little more than a commuter service, rather than the main line service currently provided. That would be most unfortunate, and would be to the considerable disadvantage of the cities of Derby, Nottingham and Leicester, which might have only one single high speed station serving them all. The midland main line would no longer provide the high-quality service that it does.

30 Mar 2010 : Column 195WH

For that reason, it is vital that the electrification of the midland main line is completed in advance of any High Speed 2 construction, so that interoperability is ensured, where it is appropriate, between the new high speed trains and parts of the midland main line. That would ensure that the midland main line does not ultimately lose out. It is equally important that a commitment is made to the electrification of that line at an early date, because much of the existing rolling stock on the midland main line, and particularly the high speed trains, are coming to the end of their useful life. It would be most unfortunate if they were replaced by diesel rolling stock that was not suitable, or appropriately interoperable with the new high speed line. I hope that the Minister will give some reassurance, as he has done in the past, to people in the east midlands that we will not lose out in the short term as a result of the longer-term commitment to investment in High Speed 2.

Finally, I put on the record my concerns about the parliamentary process that High Speed 2 will need to go through if it is to be completed. The process is, of course, that of a hybrid Bill. I speak with some experience of hybrid Bills, having served my time-it felt like serving one's time-as a member of the Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill.

Mr. Martlew: My hon. Friend was very bad.

Sir Peter Soulsby: There was some speculation about what particular crime I and others on the Committee had committed. I want to put on the record that, before that procedure is used again for the High Speed 2 line, Parliament ought to consider whether it is not over-cumbersome for modern needs and whether it is, indeed, entirely fit for purpose. I put that on the record in the hope that others need not suffer quite as much as did those of us who were interred during that Bill's progress.

12 noon

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate under your chairmanship, Mr. Wilshire, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) on securing the debate. Given that there now appears to be widespread support across the House for high speed rail, I will start with a few comments on its potential economic impact, and will explain the background and context of the debate.

The construction of high speed rail could create as many as 10,000 jobs over seven years, according to the High Speed 2 proposals. A study by KPMG published earlier this year showed that high speed rail could create between 25,000 and 42,000 extra jobs and boost the UK economy by 2 per cent. by 2040. The greatest economic gains and potential growth in jobs would be in Yorkshire and Humber, Scotland, the north-east, the north-west and the west midlands, a point that has already been made today. That is important. Along with the hon. Gentleman, I am among a minority of Members who have participated in the debate, in that I have regular direct experience of the west coast main line, as I use it to commute back and forth between my constituency and the House each week.

Also of great significance is the business support for high speed rail. A survey of 500 businesses of various sizes carried out in December 2008 showed that businesses believe that high speed rail would benefit them more than would a third runway at Heathrow. When asked
30 Mar 2010 : Column 196WH
specifically which development would help them more, almost four in 10 businesses chose high speed rail links, and fewer than one in 10 chose the third runway at Heathrow.

High speed rail will benefit the regions, which is important, not least because spending per head on transport is far lower in the north than it is in London. That is an established fact. According to the July 2009 report from the Transport Committee, both the north-east and Yorkshire receive 72 per cent. of the UK average of funding per head of population, whereas London receives 195 per cent. per head and Scotland, perhaps more surprisingly, receives 162 per cent. per head. There is a similar gulf in capital investment. In the five years to 2008, investment in rail rose by 35 per cent. in the north-east and 37 per cent. in Yorkshire, but in London it rose by more than 80 per cent. in the same period.

The environmental benefits are absolutely key to the debate. Transport, as most Members know, is responsible for 28 per cent. of all UK carbon emissions. Emissions from transport have increased since 1990, which is against the trend for other major sectors. Estimates show that in 1990, transport emitted 140.8 million tonnes of CO2, but by 2007 that had risen to 153.2 million tonnes, an increase of almost 9 per cent. In aviation alone, emissions have increased by 119 per cent. That should be contrasted with the 16 per cent. reduction from business and the 9 per cent. reduction from households. The message is clear-transport needs to catch up.

A passenger taking the Eurostar from London to Paris emits 10.9 kg of CO2, compared with 122 kg of CO2 if the passenger takes a flight. Similarly, a passenger travelling from London to Brussels by train emits 18.3 kg of CO2, compared with a massive 160 kg of CO2 if they take a flight. High Speed 2 has concluded that, even allowing for additional demand for travel, high speed rail's carbon impact is likely to be broadly neutral, and the change in average annual emissions is estimated to be in the range of 0.41 million tonnes to 0.44 million tonnes, which is equivalent to just plus or minus 0.3 per cent. of current annual transport emissions.

There is also a great potential for modal shift, a point referred to earlier by other hon. Members. According to Eurostar, 34 million air journeys between the UK and the continent could be switched to rail using existing capacity. As we know, flights from Brussels to Paris have virtually been eliminated as a result of high speed rail links, and rail now holds 91 per cent. of the market share on journeys between Paris and Lyon. In future years, people at Manchester airport, which is on the doorstep of my constituency, will look back in wonderment at the notion that people used to fly regularly, and even daily in some cases, between Manchester and London, especially as such an effective rail service on the west coast main line is already available.

High speed rail will also free up space on the classic, established network. That, too, is important because rail travellers have increased by 50 per cent. in the past 26 years, and by 36 per cent. in the past decade. Those figures are impressive, but the figures for individual stations in our constituencies are often even more so. Rail passenger journeys at Gatley railway station in my constituency, which is a small commuter station but a key link to Manchester, have increased by 130 per cent. in the past 10 years, according to figures provided by the Greater Manchester integrated transport authority.

30 Mar 2010 : Column 197WH

In 2008-09, 18.8 per cent. of trains on the east coast main line were late, as were 26.6 per cent. of all Virgin trains, so there is still much room for improvement in existing services. That is why it is good that high speed rail will free up space on the established network. That would also bring benefits for freight. That market has grown by 66 per cent. in the past decade, and there is increasing demand for space. Consequently, we currently have shortfalls on many routes, including an estimated shortage of around 150 trains a day between London and Crewe.

The trains that will be introduced with high speed rail will be capable of travelling at up to 250 mph. Journey times between London and Birmingham could be as short as 49 minutes, down from the current time of one hour and 24 minutes. The journey between London and Manchester could be one hour and 20 minutes, down from the current two hours and eight minutes. The journey from London to Edinburgh could be three and a half hours, down from four and a half hours. The proposed Y-shaped network would cover around 335 miles and, as we have heard, run up both coasts, but it would not include a link to Heathrow. High Speed 2 estimates that every £1 spent will deliver more than £2 of benefits, and that the overall cost will be around £30 billion.

Let me make it clear that the Liberal Democrats welcome the proposals and the proposed route. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) has accepted an invitation to look at the plans with the Minister and his team, and we are grateful that he will have the opportunity to do so. That does not mean, however, that we are absolutely committed to every single detail of the proposed route. It is right and proper that that is a matter for public consultation. As far as delays to the start of the scheme are concerned, Lord Adonis's original statement indicated that construction would not begin until after the completion of Crossrail in 2017.

Jeremy Wright: The hon. Gentleman said that he welcomes the route but that the Liberal Democrats are not committed to every aspect of it. Would he clarify whether that means that they have ruled out the prospect of an alternative transport corridor being used for High Speed 2?

Mark Hunter: No, it means precisely what I said. It is sensible to take the opportunity to look at the details of the route, and it is right that that should go out for public consultation, but what is proposed is not set in tablets of stone.

A detailed timetable from the Department for Transport referred to 2019 as the date by which construction could start. It would then take until 2026 for the line to be built to Birmingham, and a further six years, as we have heard, for the twin lines to reach Leeds and Manchester. That looks suspiciously like an excuse to delay spending, and is against a background of just 27 miles of new rail since 1997, excluding the channel tunnel, compared with more than 1,000 miles of new road since then.

Mr. Martlew: Why does the hon. Gentleman exclude the channel tunnel?

30 Mar 2010 : Column 198WH

Mark Hunter: I am not excluding the channel tunnel per se. If the hon. Gentleman will listen to the wider point, I am pointing out that, within the confines of the UK, only 27 miles of new railway have been built since 1997, compared with 1,000 miles of new road. Even if we were to include the channel tunnel, it would still be a poor comparison.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I share some concerns about stops on the proposed new routes. Stockport is an important stop on the established west coast main line, and I very much hope and intend that it should remain so. Frankly, it would not be acceptable if any future proposals to speed up journey times were to mean a reduction in the current number of stops at Stockport.

Finally, high speed rail should not come at the expense of other improvements to the rail network. Electrification is important-virtually the entire network needs to be completed by 2050. At present, only 39 per cent. is electrified, whereas in France, some 90 per cent. of passenger traffic travels on electrified lines.

We also want to look in more detail at the reopening of existing lines, particularly those that have already been identified: Bletchley to Oxford, Lewes to Uckfield, Galashiels to Carlisle and others. There are benefits to the established rail network, and we need those improvements as well. Ultimately, our proposition is simple: there is not a case for a third runway at Heathrow, but there is definitely a case for high speed rail, and the sooner, the better.

12.12 pm

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) on securing this debate, which he said may be his last in Parliament. I have been an Opposition spokesman for about four and a half years, and I know that he has been a faithful follower of a number of transport debates, in particular those on rail. This is an important debate because, as several Members have said, it can set out a huge number of opportunities for our country in the following decades.

We have heard some powerful contributions today. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) raised issues about the extent of the consultation so far, in particular with his constituents and the whole of Oxfordshire. He discussed the exceptional hardship scheme, about which several Members have already seen the Minister and the Secretary of State.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright) got to the core of a matter on which there is some disagreement between our party and the Government: the publication of a route without some of the real issues being decided, and the commitment to a route in the febrile atmosphere of a general election. He made several good points about historic monuments, conservation areas, oil and gas pipes and so on. Those of us who have noted some of the information in the public domain about the potential costs of the station at Birmingham will be concerned about whether we might have done better to discuss some of the principles, corridors and specifics of the route outside the period of a general election.

The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) mentioned Paddington. His contribution was interesting, and he made the case for his constituents. The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby)
30 Mar 2010 : Column 199WH
made a point about the classic network. I wonder whether we ought to start calling it the standard, or the established network, on the basis that calling it the classic network implies that it might be something like a classic car. We all want the railways preserved, enhanced and continued, but I think that "classic" has a connotation in transport that we would do well to pull away from.

Frank Dobson: Hauled by the Rocket.

Stephen Hammond: The high speed train is the 21st century version of Stephenson's Rocket.

At my party's conference in 2007, my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) announced our policy of linking in airports. There is a regeneration argument. The Minister dismissed the comments about a direct link to Heathrow, but let me tell him what one of the experts, Greengauge 21, said in its report of 2009, "Fast Forward: A High-Speed Rail Strategy for Britain", in which it discussed not only environmental but economic arguments. It said that

Next Section Index Home Page