Monday 13th September 2021

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Andrew Stephenson Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Andrew Stephenson)
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It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. I thank the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) for opening this debate, and right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions.

I welcome the continued public scrutiny of the high-speed rail programme. I will address some of the key issues raised during this debate, although I probably have only about seven minutes left to reply.

Craig Tracey Portrait Craig Tracey (North Warwickshire) (Con)
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Unfortunately, I did not get called in the debate, but the Minister already knows my strong opposition to the scheme. I want to press him on the benefit-cost ratio. The Oakervee review said it had already dropped from 2.3 to 1.1, and post pandemic we can expect it to come down even further. Does he agree that we need another review so that we can properly assess the value of the scheme?

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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I thank my hon. Friend for that point. I will talk about the benefit-cost ratio if I get there in time. The last benefit-cost ratio for the scheme was of course published when the last full business case was published in April 2020. It is worth saying that this is a long-term investment in the future of our country, and we should not base long-term investment decisions on what has been happening over 18 months.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)
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I am one of those who are deeply sceptical about the value for money of this project. I can think of considerable other ways to invest that money that would have a much stronger economic benefit. On the impact of the covid pandemic, has the Minister considered the long-term impact of the growing use of Zoom, electronic communications and so on? Surely any sensible Government would look at the impact of that on business travel, commuter travel and so on as part of this project.

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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I thank the right hon. Lady for her point. Of course, the Government are looking at this in a cross-Government way. We are looking at changing working patterns, which have impacts not only on transport investment but on regeneration and a whole range of things. We will say more about our thinking in the coming months. As we said in the Queen’s Speech, we intend to bring forward a western leg Bill. Obviously, it would have to be accompanied by projections for the whole network, not just the western leg, so I hope we will publish more information on that in the very near future.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
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I look forward to the Minister publishing more information. I also look forward to the integrated rail plan, which I am keen to see, with recommendations to scrap the Golborne spur leg, which impacts my constituency. It is a £2 billion line that basically goes nowhere. It brings all the pain and no gain to Warrington, so I ask him to prioritise scrapping it.

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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My hon. Friends the Members for Warrington South (Andy Carter) and for Leigh (James Grundy) continue to push me on the Golborne spur. That is one of the many decisions that will be taken as part of the integrated rail plan, so I hope to be able to say more about that soon.

Khalid Mahmood Portrait Mr Khalid Mahmood
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I spoke earlier about my constituent Darren Barnett and his colleagues, who are stuck in a financial straitjacket, both economically and personally. They are not able to move on because HS2 management in Birmingham has not made the funding available. Will the Minister meet them to explore how we can move this issue forward?

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point, and I am happy to meet him to discuss this issue. After doing the land and property review shortly after I became a Minister, I looked at a number of these tricky cases. I now review all the cases that are brought to my attention by right hon. and hon. Members on a fortnightly basis. I am more than happy to add that case to the list and meet him personally to see whether we can find a way forward.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con)
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Will the Minister give way?

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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One last time.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney
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I thank the Minister for coming to Marsden in my constituency to meet constituents. It is on the TransPennine route. Can we get rid of a myth this evening? Investment in HS2 is not instead of but as well as upgrading the TransPennine route, as well as Northern Powerhouse Rail and local infrastructure. We will get all the benefits only if the eastern leg is delivered and all those investments are made. That would improve jobs, connectivity and the environment, and it is good for our constituents.

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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I agree with my hon. Friend. I have about two minutes left, so I will say that HS2 is going full steam ahead. It is a railway of which we hope the country can be proud for many generations to come. Construction has now begun in earnest, with more than 300 active construction sites along the line of route from Birmingham to London. This year, we have achieved significant milestones, and momentum behind the project is growing. Today, we announced that HS2 is now supporting more than 20,000 jobs, just one year since the Prime Minister declared the formal start of construction of the Birmingham to London stretch of the route. This year, we will celebrate many brilliant feats of engineering, including the start of tunnelling under the Chilterns, with our two tunnel-boring machines having now tunnelled 1.5 km underground.

Many Members have expressed various concerns, and I am more than happy to meet them after the debate. I know that HS2 is a project that inspires strong feelings on all sides, as all major infrastructure projects do. All right hon. and hon. Members present know that the Government carefully considered the merits of proceeding with HS2, which has almost certainly been subject to more parliamentary scrutiny than any other infrastructure project. Our firm conclusion was that HS2 should go ahead, and it is now progressing, as I have outlined. In setting out the decision to proceed, we made a clear commitment to draw a line under past problems. This is a once-in-a-generation major infrastructure project that will shape this country for well over 100 years, showcasing our skills in engineering and construction.

Many comments have been made during the debate. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright) made a very reasonable speech, and I look forward to visiting his constituency next week. The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) raised her concerns about regeneration plans around York station. I heard about those plans when I visited the National Railway Museum, and I am more than happy to meet her to talk in more depth about them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) has been consistent in his opposition to HS2. I was grateful that he recently took the time to introduce me to some of his councillors and residents. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sarah Green) raised her concerns about community engagement, aquifer and bentonite. Let me be clear that the continued supply of high-quality drinking water from the Chilterns aquifer is a high priority. I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) made clear his opposition to HS2, but also his desire to see changes to phase 2a. I am happy to continue to engage with him on the changes that he would like to see. The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) made some valid points about the opposition that infrastructure projects have always attracted over the years, and I thank him for his support on pushing ahead. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) raised some concerns on behalf of his constituents, as he has been doing consistently since he was elected. I look forward to continuing to work with him to mitigate those impacts.

Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey
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For the questions that the Minister could not answer, will he write with full answers?

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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I am happy to commit to that.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (in the Chair)
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Sincere apologies to everyone who was not called because of the shortness of time, as Ms McVey has pointed out. I call Ms Owatemi to conclude the debate.