Monday 13th September 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. I stand with the petitioners calling for HS2 to be scrapped—first, on cost grounds. At a time when the state is reaching deeper into people’s pockets, it is obscene to keep throwing money into this unwanted project. The latest estimate for the total cost is £146 billion; that is 10 times the original estimate.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
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Does my hon. Friend agree that covid has completely changed likely travel patterns, and that the big commuting demand will be much reduced? So where is the argument for capacity, which HS2 was supposed to be about?

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s intervention; he has read my mind—this is a point that I will come to shortly. The National Audit Office has noted that 50% of the costs for phase 1 are still based on HS2 Ltd’s estimates, consultant designs and benchmarking information, rather than actual costs—real pounds and pence—agreed with industry. Therefore, the overall cost could clearly rise again. HS2’s own revised cost estimates assume that it will be able to find £2.8 billion of savings, yet there has already been a substantial dip into its contingency budgets. We all know that the case for HS2 was ropey to start with; some estimated a 66p return for every taxpayer pound spent. If rumours of the eastern leg being scrapped are true, that must make the business case utterly untenable.

As my right hon. Friend says, there is also the aftermath of covid. The Transport Committee heard last year that rail passenger numbers are unlikely to recover to more than three quarters of 2019 levels—other estimates have it as low as 47%. The pandemic, and new working patterns, should surely allow for fresh eyes to look at High Speed 2.

I fear that the cat was somewhat let out of the bag by Douglas Oakervee, who, at the Transport for the North annual conference last year, was quoted as saying,

“The construction industry was in a very fragile position”.

He went on to justify his recommendation as a way of preventing harm to the construction industry. That is a purely unacceptable rationale.

This leads me to the environmental destruction. Hedgerows, trees and nature reserves, such as Calvert Jubilee in my constituency—destroyed. Water quality and wildlife are being put at risk; environmental standards that were agreed are now not being met, as has been well documented by the Chilterns Conservation Board and the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust. Now, in my constituency, we have uncovered evidence of limestone being applied to land taken, rendering it useless for any future agricultural use. No prizes for guessing what the endgame is there; there is more to this gravy train than just the train.

Worst of all, HS2 brings real human misery to my constituents, and constituents up and down the line of route. This is through the endless road closures; the destruction of local rural roads, which are in conditions that are not safe to travel on; the grossly unfair way that landowners and farmers are treated; and people being left in a state of severe stress and anxiety by not knowing what will happen to their land, homes and businesses—not for days and weeks, but for months and years. I am devastated to tell this House that, from among the hundreds of people in this state of stress and anxiety, there have now been cases of people suffering heart attacks and losing their life, which I fear is not a coincidence.

Let us look at the reality. Let us call time on HS2 right now, ending this waste of money and this destructive project.