In the Commons yesterday, George Osborne was asked three questions which specifically mentioned high speed rail, as well as a number of other questions about infrastructure.
But the only thing Osborne specifically said about HS2 was “High-speed rail will connect the north to the south of England.” This unenthusiastic sentance backs up reports that the Treasury is not in favour of the £33 billion spend that would be needed to build HS2 from London to Manchester and Leeds.
Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I support the Government’s national infrastructure plan. I particularly welcome specific projects such as the dualling of the A11 and the potential new A14 toll road in Cambridgeshire near my constituency. Is not the lesson of such discrete local transport infrastructure projects that they deliver a much more profound impact on jobs and growth than grandiose projects such as High Speed 2, the business case for which is fatally flawed?
Mr Osborne: I agreed with my hon. Friend until his last sentence. He is right to say that it is not just the big projects announced from this Dispatch Box that count; the local projects in Peterborough and elsewhere will also unlock jobs, development and investment. Of course, we cannot make all those announcements here in the House of Commons. However, we have provided local authorities with the funds to make those transport changes and improvements. We call it the Growing Places fund, and it is worth about £500 million. In the city deals that we are striking with different cities, we are improving road and rail connections to create jobs and get the private sector growing, which is what we all want to see.
Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Big increases in the funding of vital rail infrastructure projects in the north-west of England, such as the Todmorden curve, the northern hub and High Speed 2, are hugely welcome and will provide jobs and opportunities that would not have been available under the previous Government. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, without his decisive action on the public finances, such high levels of spending on infrastructure would simply not have been possible?
Mr George Osborne: My hon. Friend is right. It is precisely because we have taken difficult decisions—for example, to cut £18 billion from the welfare budget—that we are able to invest in rail and road improvements that will help to create jobs in Lancashire and across the north-west. The northern hub is a project that has been talked about for many years, but it is under this coalition Government that it is being delivered.
Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) (Con): The Government are to invest £17 billion in phase 1 of HS2, which will transport someone from London to Birmingham 20 minutes quicker, yet there are students in my constituency today who cannot accept their place in Bedford college because of the lack of a local transport network, and constituents who cannot accept offers of work because they cannot get to the train stations via a bus network. Would it not be a better use of that investment to put it into regional transport networks so that people can get to work and to college?
Mr George Osborne: I think we can do both; we can invest in local and regional transport networks. If my hon. Friend has specific schemes in Bedfordshire that she wants to bring to my attention or that of the Department for Transport, we will look at them very carefully, but that does not preclude us as country from taking the big infrastructure decisions—as we did with the M25 and as our predecessors did with the railways centuries ago—to invest in a railway system for the future. High-speed rail will connect the north to the south of England.