Timetabled for Monday, after the Brexit debate, Ed Miliband’s adjournment debate, on the change of the route of HS2 in Yorkshire, finally got underway at half past midnight.
Here is some what was said (from Hansard).
….There are five arguments that HS2 is making. The first is around what it calls the conflicting demands of the region. In considering this issue, it is worth remembering why Meadowhall was originally chosen—it was because of its excellent connections to the rest of the region, with a journey time to London of 68 minutes and five trains an hour. This is what Sir David Higgins himself said in October 2014 about the alternative option, which he now recommends. HS2 examined
“a spur terminating at Sheffield Midland station. While this provided limited benefits for the city centre market, it did not provide the connections and journey times necessary to serve the wider Sheffield city region effectively, particularly Rotherham and Barnsley.”
I could not have put it better myself. He went on to say that this approach would not deliver
“an equitable approach across the North or meet the vision of a truly high speed network for the country.”
So HS2 is currently recommending an approach it describes as worse for equity, connectivity, capacity and journey times….
According to HS2, the old Meadowhall route meant a journey time into Sheffield Midland from London of 79 minutes, even with a change of trains. The time on the new route is somewhere between 85 and 87 minutes, and could actually be longer. Not only that, but there would have been five trains an hour—now there will be a maximum of two. The trains will be half the length of HS2 trains, and they will not be on the HS2 track; they will be what HS2 euphemistically calls “classic” track—I think that means the old track, which is subject to all the delays and problems that exist…
The second argument HS2 makes is around city centre connectivity—the need to go from Leeds city centre to Sheffield city centre, for example. When I have asked HS2 about this, it has said, “Well, Transport for the North”—hon. Members will know about that organisation—“has really changed our thinking on this.” So last week I rang up the head of Transport for the North, David Brown, who was bemused, to say the least, to hear that he had driven this change. He told me that he certainly had not expressed a view about which option was better. He actually said that it was disingenuous to claim that he had driven this change. That is not surprising, because the old Meadowhall route meant a journey time from Leeds city centre into Sheffield city centre of 27 minutes, which is under the half an hour that is the ambition that Transport for the North has for this city centre connectivity.
There is an even more serious problem with the Sheffield Midland option that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) has exposed with persistent questioning—whether there is the engineering capacity at Sheffield Midland to meet the ambitions of Transport for the North for up to 20 trains an hour. There are real doubts about this. I would like the Minister to tell us—because I have asked HS2 and it has not given a straight answer—what the engineering constraints are at Sheffield Midland. Currently two trains an hour are being proposed, and there is the potential for two more if other links are built.
The third argument that HS2 makes is about demand. This basically says that there is not the demand in South Yorkshire that justifies the five trains an hour that would have run to Meadowhall, so instead there will be up to two trains an hour, which could of course be one or two—and we have to remember that they are half the size of the old HS2 trains. I think that this is the same as the defeatism that the proponents of HS2 often accuse its critics of. In other words, it is saying, “This kind of economic intervention isn’t going to make a big difference so we are talking about one fifth of the capacity of the original Meadowhall proposal.” That is defeatist and wrong. It is downgrading South Yorkshire, and that is the wrong thing to do.
….HS2’s fourth argument is about what it calls local constraints—that is, the urban industrial density and the environmental challenges of the Meadowhall route. However, HS2 itself admits in its most recent document that what it calls the constructability issues at Meadowhall can be overcome, and, as I have said, the engineering challenges of the city centre are completely unanswered.
Karl MᶜCartney (Lincoln) (Con)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the woefully inadequate evidence that HS2 gave to the Transport Committee when it was called to give evidence? It was questioned quite closely in its witness statements on this particular issue and did not give any semblance of a proper answer.
…The other thing I would say about the challenges and constraints is that we are not comparing like with like. We are comparing three or four years of work on the Meadowhall route with, frankly, back-of-a-fag packet calculations in relation to the M18 route. Already, my constituents with houses that are going to need to be demolished have not had letters saying that their houses would need to be demolished. There is a whole range of issues. A whole new housing estate, the Shimmer estate in Mexborough in my constituency, is threatened with demolition. Some of the most distinctive countryside around villages in my constituency such as Hickleton, Barnburgh, Clayton and Hooton Pagnell is under threat. Our argument is not simply about the local effect—it is a wider argument about the benefits to South Yorkshire. However, I do think that that is relevant, and proper work has not been done on the constraints of this route.
Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con)
As somebody who has opposed HS2 right from the beginning, I have a great deal of sympathy with the case the right hon. Gentleman is making. Although I do not want to intervene on the merits of the M18 route or Meadowhall, does he agree that there is a serious problem with the governance of HS2 Ltd? It has had five Secretaries of State, four permanent secretaries and three chief executives. Now, even the former permanent secretary to the Treasury, Lord Macpherson, has said that HS2 is not good value for money for the taxpayer and the money could be better spent on other road and rail projects that would benefit Yorkshire and the rest of the country.
The right hon. Lady has a long track record of campaigning on this issue. Although she and I may differ on the principle around HS2—I support it—the point that she makes about its inconsistency of approach is deeply troubling. It was recommending the Meadowhall route not just in October 2014 but, as we discovered thanks to FOI, in late 2015 and as late as February 2016. I was going to call this debate—partly in order to attract more people to it—“The mystery of HS2 in Yorkshire”, because it is a mystery to me what changed. In February, HS2 was saying that Meadowhall was the right option. By April or May, the previous Secretary of State was walking around my constituency looking at the other route.
….I come now to the issue of cost. HS2 has been careful to say that the claimed £1 billion of savings is not the motivation for the route change, but I totally understand why the Minister and the Secretary of State would care about the cost. Unfortunately, it turns out that the claimed savings are simply illusory. This £1 billion of so-called savings excludes a whole number of costs. It excludes the electrification of the northern loop to Leeds, which will cost £300 million and which is essential for any link to Leeds, because it is not built into the plan. It excludes the cost of a parkway station, which HS2 is suggesting could cost somewhere between £200 million and £300 million; that is not in the plan. It excludes any re-engineering of Sheffield Midland; that is not in the plan. It excludes potential electrification of the Sheffield line; that is not in the plan. It excludes the optimism bias that the NAO called the Government out on. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), in her role on the Public Accounts Committee, has been assiduous in looking at these issues. When we look at the so-called £1 billion of savings, we found that it disappeared. I ask the Minister to come back to me on that if he disagrees.
That is half the problem, but there is another half to the problem. The Government and HS2 have been talking about the capital costs of the project, but when we look at the fine print, we might wonder why they have not been talking about the operating costs. There is a very good reason why they have not done so. The operating costs of the M18 route—this comes from the Government’s own figures—are a staggering £1.7 billion higher than those of the Meadowhall route. Not only do the savings disappear, but the route turns out to be more expensive by £1 billion or more over the lifetime of the project. I hope that one thing that we can establish today is that the Minister and HS2 really should stop saying that the route saves money, because it does not. It does not save money when we look at the capital costs, and it certainly does not save money when we throw in the operating costs as well….
Sir Kevin Barron
I will be very brief. HS2 has said that there are nine areas where there could be a parkway station, but today I have heard that it could be two areas. Why is that not out for consultation as well?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones)
HS2 is still working on the proposals. It will provide its recommendations to us when it has done the assessment in April and May of this year, so there is nothing yet to consult upon.
From whose budget will the cost of electrification of the HS2 main line into Sheffield Midland station come?
We are still working up the proposals for northern powerhouse rail, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We are looking at that all the time.
….On the parkway station recommendation, the Government have commissioned HS2 Ltd to conduct an options study that will review rail demand in the South Yorkshire region, and alternative options for meeting that demand, including the parkway station, as well as potential service extensions to places beyond Sheffield Midland, such as Meadowhall, Rotherham and Barnsley. That work is under way. We look forward to the results in the spring. Alongside the route refinement and property consultation, the study will be used to inform a decision on HS2 in South Yorkshire later this year.
Will the Minister answer a simple question: is Meadowhall still on the table?