Snippets from Westminster Hall debate on High Speed Rail and the north

Yesterday there was a Westminster Hall debate, specifically on High Speed Rail and the north. Paul Maynard, who called the debate, said he did not want to debate HS2, but “high-speed rail as a concept”.

Here are some things MPs said: you can read the whole debate on Hansard.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): …If I were given billions of pounds to spend on transport in the north of England, would I immediately reach for high-speed rail links to London? Perhaps not. When “The Northern Way” transport compact first got going in 2006-07, it did not mention high-speed rail because that was simply not on the agenda. It focused on improved connectivity in the north of England, rather than between the north and the south, and it highlighted the importance of the trans-Pennine corridor. …

…We must consider how we differ from our European counterparts. If I think of the Liverpool-Manchester metropolis, it rather reminds me of the Rhine-Ruhrgebiet in Germany, another heavily industrialised urban area. One difference, however, between this country and the Rhine-Ruhr area is the comparatively poor transport links found in our metropolises. We can learn a lot just by looking at Germany for a change….

…I participated in the Transport Committee inquiry into high-speed rail—I assure hon. Members that it was a mammoth undertaking, and I do not think that my life will ever be the same—so I know how much controversy there has been not only over the detail of the route, but about which field the line will or will not go through, how noisy or quiet it will be, how big this will be and how small that will be. We have perhaps never seen such controversy over a single infrastructure project. The debate was based on the single premise—the single fallacy—that merely building infrastructure automatically promotes economic growth. It does not. It is not a case of “Build it and they will come”; we need look only at so-called Stratford International station to know that. Stratford International station in east London is remarkable in having no international train services—most impressive. It is a classic example of the sort of white elephant that those of us who are concerned about levels of public expenditure do not wish to see.

…Hon. Members may think that I, a Conservative, would hide my head under the desk at that statement—“How could he possibly suggest economic planning? What an appalling thing to do!”—but it is more subtle than that. If we know that a high-speed rail link will go to the centre of Manchester, we have to deal not only with issues of dispersal, an integrated transport system and whether the buses and suburban trains interlink, but wider policy issues about housing and jobs, and schools policy in particular, which is often overlooked in transport planning. ….

… I have tried to ban the word “transformative” from my lexicon, because I have got so bored of hearing people tell me that high-speed rail will be transformative. I am not quite sure in what way or with what evidence—they just like to say it because it sounds good.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): …On the second justification, I have spent my political life trying to get investment into the north of England and into Manchester in particular. If we want to use the project to rebalance the country, it is odd to start building it from the south to the north and not put a spade in the ground in the north of England for potentially 15 or 16 years. The reason for that is the reason that we always get from the Department for Transport: the capacity problem. Such an analysis of why we invest in infrastructure is one of the reasons why 95% of our capital expenditure on transport in England goes into London and the south-east—it is crowded there. If we use that as a basis for our investment decisions, we will always put it there and increase crowdedness, effectively subsidising congestion. I would argue that if we want to make an impact on the north-south divide, we need to start in the north and look at all the projects that are determined by congestion and overcrowding as economically transformative….

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): I represent Stoke-on-Trent, where there are fears that High Speed 2 could reduce connectivity if the line passes the city and does not stop there, while the capacity on the west coast main line—the Manchester-London route—is diminished. While Stoke-on-Trent might benefit from the growth of Manchester or Birmingham, there are fears in the city about its own connectivity with HS2….

Graham Stringer: …Once we accept and buy into the transformation benefits…

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): …I must declare an interest in that, in a previous life, I worked for two years for Network Rail, so I am not averse to discussing engineering. I know from my time there, as the Minister will also know, that we do not begin such projects by asking ourselves what the biggest piece of infrastructure is that we can conceive of to solve the problem. We should try to do the straightforward things first, and it is worth bearing that hierarchy in mind….

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): My hon. Friend talked about connectivity generally and the fact that it takes quite a time to get from Liverpool to Manchester, which is a distance of 38 miles. In this general discussion I would like to drive that further. For example, Skelmersdale does not have a railway station at all, so in rail terms it could take for ever to get from Skelmersdale to Manchester, or Skelmersdale to Liverpool. Skelmersdale to Preston takes for ever. To go by road—by bus—from Skelmersdale to the local hospital in Southport takes one hour and 23 minutes. I have done it….

Alison McGovern: My hon. Friend’s intervention brings home why all the things we are discussing matter. When I worked in the rail industry and spent a lot of time talking to engineers, I was constantly impressed by their abilities. However, sometimes I think that they forgot, a tiny bit, about the people. We should focus on articulating, as my hon. Friend has just done, issues such as being able to get swiftly to hospital. For people who live in Skelmersdale, having options in the current hard times in the labour market, and being able to get swiftly to the employment centres of Manchester or Liverpool, is crucial. We are not engaged in a dry discussion about the best way to engineer a railway; the discussion matters to our constituents on a daily basis, and my hon. Friend made that point well.

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): Before coming into Parliament, I did a lot of travelling in my previous job, in the north-west and in Yorkshire and the Humber. Getting to places from Durham is not just a matter of arriving swiftly, or at all: it is a question of the pressure being put on the roads. To go north-south from Durham, where I live, to Yorkshire, I used to travel by train. If I was going to Manchester, and had plenty of time or was staying overnight, I went by train. If I wanted to get there in a hurry, or to go to Liverpool, I drove, adding to the congestion on the motorways. We need to take that into account as well….

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op):

…There has been no shortage of warm words from Ministers in recent months, but we need a commitment to one hybrid Bill. There is no need to delay getting spades into the ground on stage one if the Government decide to re-consult and put the route to the north in the Bill.

…We know that we cannot start talking about detailed ticketing prices, but when will she agree to begin setting out the funding model as it affects passengers? High-speed rail that only the wealthiest people can afford will never deliver the full potential that communities across the north richly deserve.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers):
…HS2 is not about shaving time off the journey between London and Birmingham; it is about delivering the transport capacity between our cities that is essential if our economy is to thrive in future.

…In conclusion, the HS2 consultation received more than 50,000 responses, every one of which will be used to inform the Government’s forthcoming decisions on high-speed rail.

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