All 1 Theo Clarke contributions to the High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Act 2021

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Mon 2nd Mar 2020
High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill: Revival
Commons Chamber

Carry-over motionmotion to revive Bill & Carry-over motion & Bill reintroduced & Bill reintroduced: House of Commons & Bill reintroduced & Bill reintroduced: House of Commons & motion to revive Bill: House of Commons

High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill: Revival Debate

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Department: Department for Transport

High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill: Revival

Theo Clarke Excerpts
Carry-over motion & Bill reintroduced & Bill reintroduced: House of Commons & motion to revive Bill: House of Commons
Monday 2nd March 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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I am pleased that the Government have finally made a decision on HS2, and I welcome the fact that the uncertainty over the project is now at an end. Many of my constituents who are directly affected disagree with the project but have told me over the last few weeks that the overwhelming feeling now is that if we are going to do it, we should get on with it but do it properly. However, throughout my constituency, compensation claims remain unresolved, house purchases have entered another year of limbo, and farms and local businesses have been left wondering whether they can prevent themselves from becoming insolvent before HS2 will agree to a settlement.

Let me give some specific examples. Mr and Mrs Tabernor have told me that their farmhouse may be demolished, and they have been told by HS2 Ltd that they cannot retire and move to their farm cottage, allowing their son to live in the farmhouse, because that would invalidate their blight notice. They have already been waiting for years for a resolution, and that, in my view, is simply unacceptable. After five years or more of negotiation, Ingestre Park Golf Club is also still waiting for HS2 to come to the table and finally thrash out a reasonable agreement, and that too is not acceptable.

Residents of Hopton, Marston and Yarlet, whose house sales remain in limbo, have told me that they cannot make an offer for a new home because some Stafford estate agents now refuse to deal with anyone selling to HS2. It concerns me that they view HS2 as either too unresponsive or too difficult to deal with: that hardly gives confidence to me or my constituents.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
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May I tactfully suggest to my hon. Friend—my friend, indeed, whom I congratulate on winning her seat—that this may be the moment of maximum leverage for her to secure a settlement on behalf of her constituents, and that she should send all the details to the Minister and ask him to look at them carefully?

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke
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I agree with my hon. Friend, and I shall be doing that.

On a general note, when it comes to negotiating, let me make something clear. When people from HS2 visit the homes of my constituents, say that they are there to listen to their concerns, sit there having a cup of and a biscuit, and then tell them that they are being over-optimistic to expect to be paid the price at which their house or business has been valued and give them the silent treatment when they do not agree, that is not a negotiation; it is a bullying tactic. I was pleased when the Prime Minister, responding to my recent question to him in the Chamber, acknowledged that compensation needed to be paid, and I agree with him that we need an overhaul of HS2 Ltd, which, in my opinion, has managed the project poorly.

I was devastated to learn from so many of my constituents that they had agreed to sell their homes—in some cases, their long-standing family homes, where they had raised their children—for less than the market value, and that their mental health could not cope with the pressure that they felt they were being put under by HS2. If I sound angry, it is because I am. Let me provide some context for that

My very first piece of constituency casework on HS2 involved a member of my team who was counselling, and helping to secure mental health support for, one of my constituents who had told me that he could no longer cope with the pressure he was under. He said that everything was going to the wall because HS2 had refused to finalise negotiations. After lengthy and protracted work in an attempt to reach an agreement to move his family business, he was told by HS2 that it would prefer to “extinguish” the business. If a private company were operating in that way, it would be featured on the BBC’s “Watchdog” programme. HS2 must be held to account for its actions.

Let me be very clear. If my constituents are forced to take the strain of this project, they should also reap the rewards. I am pleased that the Government have finally committed themselves to the Handsacre link, which is vital now that the project is going ahead in Staffordshire.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant
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I fully understand my hon. Friend’s stance on the Handsacre link, but, given that it is in my constituency, does she understand the distress that it is causing people in Armitage with Handsacre?

--- Later in debate ---
Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke
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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.

When people in my constituency say that they are opposed to HS2, it is not because they are nimbys—as some have accused them of being—and I have not met a single resident who has not told me that that they want more investment in the north, and specifically in the west midlands. However, those residents are opposed to being treated as an inconvenience because their homes happen to be in the way of a railway that the Government want to build. They shudder when they hear that savings need to be found, because if past experience is anything to go by, it will not be HS2 salaries that go down; it will be the purchase prices and compensation paid to my constituents. However, I hope I am proved wrong.

Let me be clear: HS2 is going to happen, and if there is a vote tonight, I will reluctantly support the Government, but if HS2 is going to hang over the heads of my constituents, we must get on with it as soon as we can. Our first priority must be to finalise all the negotiations that are taking place and let my constituents get on with their lives. The advert once said “Let the train take the strain”, and I hope it does, because at present the strain that it is putting on my constituents is unacceptable. I support the Government in building national infrastructure, but the lack of adequate compensation for my constituents and the delays by HS2 are simply unacceptable. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his assurances on compensation, but I would like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister for clarity on when it will be delivered. I also want to ask the Minister and his departmental officials to sit down with me to go through every single outstanding case in Stafford to ensure that my constituents are no longer left in HS2 limbo. They deserve that from the Government.