Last week, Dennis Skinner organised an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on HS2 through his constituency. Here is his speech (from Hansard):
Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab)
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this debate about a very important subject: HS2 in my constituency.
I remember clearly the statement by the then Secretary of State for Transport announcing HS2 for the north. I asked him then whether it would go to Derbyshire Dales and of course the answer was no, but one thing was certain: it was going to the very heavily populated eastern side of Derbyshire. That meant there was going to be some trouble. Sure enough, during the past few months, I have been meeting people and trying to deal with that trouble in Tibshelf and other parts of Bolsover. In an industrial estate in Tibshelf, the line goes straight through the factory owned by a firm employing nearly 100 people.
Little did I know, however, that in the course of the past few weeks a decision would be made that was going to supersede everything I thought about HS2. Mr Higgins, who is in charge of HS2, decided it would be a good idea to have, in the middle of Sheffield, which is built on seven hills, a dead-end station—the trains will go in and come out the same way. The station was going to be where the old steel industry was, in the massive shopping area now called Meadowhall. That is a flat area. Most of us assumed that Meadowhall would be the ideal spot.
Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)
We are in a similar situation in Coventry. The environment of Warwickshire will be desecrated by HS2. It will affect a lot of villages, and many people in Coventry who may be affected will not receive any compensation. The Elliott family, whom I know, are in that position. What is more important, however, is that Birmingham will benefit while Coventry could lose out on investment, and that could happen to my hon. Friend’s constituency as well.
I have no doubt at all that Birmingham is favoured because it is part of that new-fangled powerhouse, whereas Coventry is not regarded as such. In my area, the powerhouse is based in Sheffield. The Government said to Mr David Higgins that they wanted a station in the city built on seven hills, and they got one. Little did I realise, although I was holding meetings about HS2 and voting against it. The truth is that it was like a bombshell, and it showed that in the argument about localism versus powerhouses, the powerhouse wins every time.
It is preposterous that the Government did not even consider what would happen in Derbyshire the moment they designated Sheffield as an HS2 station. It meant that the whole line had to be redrawn, and another line had to be found to run through Derbyshire. The net result is that the line will go through the middle of Newton, a small village in my area. More than 30 houses will be demolished, and Blackwell parish council will be cut in half—all because of the Sheffield decision.
I am not the only one who has introduced an Adjournment debate on this subject. This is the third Adjournment debate that we have had about this particular business of Sheffield. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) was on his feet the other Monday talking about what would happen now that the route had been moved away from Meadowhall and towards his constituency. It will go through Mexborough and destroy houses there as well. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) had an Adjournment debate on the same matter a few weeks earlier. Sheffield had got the station, and therefore the line would run through a village called Bramley and several other villages in his area. The result will be havoc in Doncaster North, Rother Valley, and now Derbyshire. That is why you gave us these Adjournment debates, Mr Speaker. You know that it is a very important issue.
When I read the report of that Adjournment debate, I saw that, at the very end, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North—the ex-leader of the Labour party—had asked the Minister concerned whether Meadowhall was still viable and on the table, and the Minister had said yes. I hope that that is the case, because he, the Secretary of State, Higgins, and all the rest of them have got to get their heads together and stop this nonsense of allowing a station in Sheffield. It is going to create more havoc in our area than Hitler created in the second world war. When I was a little kid, my father used to say, “Go and have a look at that big hole. The bombs dropped last night.” It would always be near the railway line, but Hitler never hit it. Why did he want to hit it? Because Clay Cross diverged into two lines, the midland main line and the Erewash line.
I have to ask the Minister whether he has ever considered the idea of starting at Toton, and going straight up the Erewash line, which is already there and is used for traffic going to Nottingham and also for freight. That could then connect up to the midland line at Clay Cross, and therefore Newton would not be affected whatsoever. In other words, it would be a slow line—like it is now, believe me. All those 30 minutes will have gone. Can we remember when the Government made that 30 minutes announcement—that the business people would be able to get to London 30 minutes quicker?
The current cost is £78 billion. If I was in government and I had £78 billion, I would be giving a lot of that to the national health service and some more to social care, and I would have electrification of the Sheffield line. Why do the Government not do that? If they do that with the Sheffield to London midland line, they will get the benefit of what would be applicable if they had HS2.
Mr Jim Cunningham
Interestingly, high-speed rail could affect the frequency on the west coast main line, for example. Also, we do not know how much passengers’ fares would cost on high-speed rail; that has never been spelled out. This could affect us in Coventry in a number of ways, therefore, but my hon. Friend was right when he mentioned that Birmingham is the regional capital. All the benefits will go to Birmingham, and, more importantly, in order to get Birmingham on board a skills college is going to be established. There are enough skills in the west and east midlands to fulfil this objective.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. He has been with me in the Lobby when we have voted, but little did I know when I was voting that I would later on be arguing this case for the beleaguered people of Newton. It is horrific when we think about it that there they were playing no part in the HS2 argument, then suddenly a decision was made by Mr Higgins—no doubt supported by the Ministers concerned—who announced the Sheffield station, and the net result is that we have these two lines. One is the slow track that starts on the Erewash line, finds its way to the middle of Newton and then joins the track later on. The very idea that the Government thought they needed a branch line is nonsense when they could have carried on at Toton and gone straight through to Sheffield on the midland line.
It is almost unbelievable that the Government have fallen into this trap. That is why I am pleased that at this morning’s Transport questions I was able to ask the Secretary of State whether he would meet the Newton people. As we can imagine, immediately they found out that they were in the firing line, a group of people set to the task of finding out what was going to happen and making sure it was prevented.
When I went there the other week, there were more than 300 people in the old folks’ hall, and there were 150 people standing. It is a tiny village, but that shows the scale of their response, and they kept the doors open for the people on the streets to hear what was taking place. It was the biggest meeting I have had since the general election, and it was all done on the spur of the moment.
So I say to the Minister concerned that we want to bring these people down, and they will ask the Minister, very sensibly, about ensuring that, instead of going to Newton, the train carries on from Toton and joins the Clay Cross midland line on its way to Sheffield. It will not make a ha’p’orth of difference about the time, because, frankly, it is going to lose time on that route anyway, but it will mean that the Government would not have to develop a branch line, called the Newton spur, that turns off to the left. But the most sensible thing would be the electrification of the midland line. Then we would be home and dry, and we would probably get trains travelling even faster.
I want the Minister to report to the Secretary of State about this discussion today. This can be resolved, but they must ensure that the Meadowhall idea is continued. That would resolve the problems in Newton and in Mexborough. It could also solve the problem in Bramley in the Rother valley. In my opinion, those are the most sensible things that the Ministers could do to solve this problem. Have I done quarter of an hour? [Hon. Members: “Not quite.”] I have two minutes.
I hope the Minister will take on board everything I have said today. I have not tried to hide the facts. Everything I have said in the Chamber today has been based on the knowledge I have obtained by going to meetings with my Newton colleagues, who believe that they are going to have to deal with a storm that has come out of the blue. They never realised that this would be a problem. So let’s have the fast line going on to Meadowhall and the slow line dwindling on its way; let’s keep it away from Newton and make sure it moves from Toton; and let’s hope there is a satisfactory conclusion.