Twas the week before Christmas: HS2 in Parliament

HS2 has come up in Parliament several times this week. Here is some of what was said (Parliamentary quotes from Hansard):

Transport Infrastructure [17 Dec 2013]

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The commission report places great importance on the success of all the options it is still looking at through effective and integrated surface transport links. So much so that the commission, which I understand is carrying out, in the Secretary of State’s own words, work that merits the fullest consideration, now intends to examine the HS2 line and the possible HS2 spur to Heathrow. Surely the Government should now wait until this work is completed and the final decision on airport capacity is made before pressing ahead with a high-risk £50 billion project that might end up being built in quite the wrong place.

Mr McLoughlin: I refer my right hon. Friend to page 202 of the report. I thought that she would raise this issue, so I refer her to paragraph 6.94:

“A high speed rail spur from the main HS2 line to the airport is not included in the cost estimate, but the Commission will consider the case for this as part of its review of surface access options. It will not, however, consider the case for any re-routing of the main HS2 line.”

I believe that it is a vital part of the national infrastructure of the United Kingdom.

From the Airports Commission: interim report

6.94 Given the extensive existing and planned transport connections to the airport, additional surface access requirements are limited but include improved rail access to the south and incremental road improvements. A high speed rail spur from the main HS2 line to the airport is not included in the cost estimate, but the Commission will consider the case for this as part of its review of surface access options. It will not, however, consider the case for any re-routing of the main HS2 line.

See also p116 of the report:

A number of stakeholders have argued that aviation demand could be met within existing capacity by shifting domestic and short-haul journeys onto rail, especially if HS2 adds capacity to the network.

An air-to-rail shift based on HS2 is included in the Commission’s forecasts, and as Figure 4.5 shows there is a relatively small reduction in domestic demand as some passengers switch onto HS2. There will also be an increase in the number of passengers flying from the UK to international destinations as HS2 increases the catchment area of UK airports.

Davies Commission assessment shows HS2 makes little difference to domestic demand for air

Davies Commission assessment shows HS2 makes little difference to demand for air

House of Commons Debate: Transport Infrastructure [17 Dec 2013]

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): A suppressed Cabinet Office report on HS2 raises major concerns about its risky construction timetable, its poor management and the insufficient work done on costs, and also questions the capability of those involved in the delivery of the project. Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether the Government are prepared to publish the report by the Major Projects Authority?

Mr McLoughlin: I do not think that there is any shortage of reports on HS2, be they from the National Audit Office, from the Transport Committee, or in the form of evidence given to the Treasury Committee. There is a huge number of such reports that people can consult rather than consulting a report that is more than two years old….

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): I very much agree with the comments made by the Chairman of the Transport Committee that the current situation is an option that cannot go on for much longer, but I also agree with comments made by Opposition Members about the connectivity with Birmingham. Given that senior engineers in HS2 doubt the efficiency, cost and environmental suitability of the route, would it not make sense to link HS2 directly not only from Birmingham to central London, but to whichever airport is chosen to have that third runway?

Mr McLoughlin: I am not sure which people in HS2 my hon. Friend is referring to when he says that they are opposed to the current route. We are committed to that route and have deposited the Bill before the House.
Oral Answers To Questions 19 December 2013: High Speed 2
3. Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): What assessment he has made of the most recent estimate of the costs to the public purse of High Speed 2. [901721]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): The most recent cost estimate for both phases of the project is £42.6 billion and £7.5 billion for rolling stock. This includes a contingency of £14.4 billion for construction costs and £1.7 billion for rolling stock. The project currently assumes that the cost of HS2 is to be funded by the public purse. However, my Department is exploring the scope to draw in third-party funding to lessen the cost exposure to the taxpayer.

Mrs Gillan: Mr Speaker, I wish you and the Secretary of State a very happy Christmas. The Secretary of State could of course give both our constituencies an early Christmas present by cancelling HS2, but I do not suppose that that is on the drawing board. If everything in the garden is so rosy in regard to the finances, why does he feel it necessary to continue to suppress the Major Projects Authority reports on the risks associated with the project? Suppressing those reports does not send out a very good message to people about the project, whether they are for it or against it. In the absence of any response to my questions about this from the Cabinet Office Minister, will the Secretary of State tell the House what his intentions are in regard to the reports? Will he confirm or deny that he is continuing to try to prevent their publication?

Mr McLoughlin: The one thing that HS2 is not short of is reports from various committees, either of this House or across the wider spectrum. The simple fact is that the report my right hon. Friend refers to is one direct to Ministers, and it is not usual to publish such reports. That report is two years old and it gave an amber/red—I think that is in the public domain—but the latest report has given an amber, which shows that even the Major Projects Authority recognises that we have made major strides forward.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Mr Speaker, happy Christmas. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State seems to be in a “Bah, humbug!” sort of mood today. May I encourage him not only to lighten up a bit, but to lighten up all of us who want investment in housing, hospitals, health and schools by scrapping this expensive extravagance and joining the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who this morning has said that London is “draining the life” out of the regions of this country and that HS2 will speed up that process?

Mr McLoughlin: I do not know about needing to lighten up—I think the hon. Gentleman should look in a mirror. The simple point is that we are not short at all of investment in the railways. In the next five years—its next control period—Network Rail will invest £38 billion in the current railway system. It is vital that we get connectivity between our major cities. I have to say that some of the biggest supporters of HS2 are the northern leaders. If they thought it was going to do damage to their areas, they would not be overwhelmingly supporting it in the way that they are.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Can the Minister compare the expenditure of public money on HS2 with that on the ferries crossing the Solent to the Isle of Wight?

Mr McLoughlin: One gets ready for a lot of things in preparing for questions, but I am going to have to disappoint my hon. Friend, because I do not have readily available details on that particular line of questioning on HS2. I will most certainly look at the points he raises, but I point out to him that it is the wider investment in the whole of the United Kingdom’s transport infrastructure that we can rightly be proud of. I was very pleased to be in his constituency when a new mode of financing road repairs was used for his constituents.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Secretary of State did not say in the list of estimated costs what has been allocated for biodiversity offsetting, for the replacement of ancient woodland and for addressing all the other environmental damage that HS2 will cause. What element of the budget has been set aside for that?

Mr McLoughlin: That has all been taken into account. Indeed, one reason for the increase in cost that I announced to the House some time ago was some of the measures that we have taken, after representations, on tunnelling. I take the environmental costs seriously, as I know does the new chairman of HS2 Ltd, Sir David Higgins. I point out to the hon. Gentleman the amount of money that was made available for environmental improvements along the route of HS1, but I will write to him in more detail.

House of Commons Debates 19 December 2013: High-Speed Rail

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on taking part in this procedure, which is new and must be a little daunting. Perhaps she will forgive me for thinking that I was listening to another Government Minister presenting a report. I find it surprising, after two years, that the
19 Dec 2013 : Column 929

Transport Committee, whose role it is to scrutinise the Department for Transport, has produced a 27-page report—eight pages of which list contents, so it is probably a 19-page report—on what is, in effect, the largest infrastructure project in the western world. I hope her Committee will be returning to the subject again and again and asking the right questions.

Why did the Committee take oral evidence only from the supporters of HS2 or paid Government consultants, when there were 29 others who responded, including many of those who expressed criticisms of HS2? If the hon. Lady is so concerned about the control of costs, why is she advising the Government on how to spin their lines on cost by suggesting that they refer to a £28 billion sum, rather than the £50 billion that has been budgeted? If she is aware of the risks, as she said in her statement, can she tell me whether she has read all the Major Projects Authority reports on this project, and if so, can she tell us more about what she plans to do to identify those risks that are still being concealed by the Government?…

Mrs Ellman: The right hon. Lady raises a large number of questions. I will attempt to answer some of them, but I am mindful that other hon. Members wish to make a contribution and ask their questions in the limited time available to us.

I am aware that the right hon. Lady has a long-standing opposition to the project and that she is assiduously putting forward the concerns of her constituents. However, this is a national issue and I remind her that this report is a follow-up of a major inquiry conducted two years ago, where independent consultants were appointed to conduct new research into the specific alternatives put forward as possible replacements for the HS2 proposals. The recent inquiry considered 33 pieces of written evidence, in addition to the evidence we heard, and the issues raised in those written pieces of evidence were used as a basis for questions to the witnesses we had in front of us. We also questioned Sir David Higgins before his appointment to HS2 Ltd and we will continue to so….

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): It would be idle of me to pretend that I am in favour of this project. In view of the fact that the report pays very little attention to compensation and mitigation measures, will my hon. Friend agree to the Committee looking into the proposition that the measures for compensation and mitigation that apply in my constituency are not even half as good as those measures outside London? For example, it would cost an extra £170 million to put the HS2/HS1 link in a tunnel that goes under Camden Town—that, apparently, has been ruled out on grounds of cost—when £2.759 billion is being spent on tunnelling elsewhere, with £812 million being spent in the Chilterns alone?

Mrs Ellman: My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the serious issues relating to compensation, which might well affect his constituents, and I take seriously the points he raises. The Committee concentrated its inquiry on the project’s strategic impact. However, I accept that the points he raises are extremely serious. Our remit is to consider the strategic impact of the proposed investment. There are other avenues by which the issue he raises can be addressed, but I will report his comments to the Committee for its consideration…

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): On a day when the newspapers are full of reports of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s concern that the armed forces are being hollowed out, does the hon. Lady understand why some of us feel that such a costly project betrays a warped sense of priorities? In particular, has her Committee devoted any attention to the fact that even in the short time that the project has been in the public domain the estimated cost has increased from about £30 billion to about £50 billion? What concept does she have of us being able to stick even to that higher figure?

Mrs Ellman: The report emphasises that costs must be controlled and that the whole programme must be actively managed to ensure that there is good value for money. In looking at value for money, we must consider the impact that the investment can have and the consequences of not making it. The consequences for the nation would be that our national network would not be able to deliver the results that are required for a prosperous economy that can benefit all parts of the country….

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): My constituents are understandably worried, as I am, that the KPMG report indicated that there could be a net economic disbenefit to Kettering of £50 million. Will the Transport Committee encourage the Government and HS2 Ltd to commission further research from KPMG or another independent body to try to assuage some of the genuine concerns in constituencies such as mine? If High Speed 2 does come, surely all of us would want it not to have a negative impact on large parts of our country….

Mr Sheerman: …My hon. Friend also knows that I started off as a passionate supporter of HS2 until I started reading the international research that suggests that rather than empowering regional cities and making them more affluent and wealthy, such projects have the opposite effect and would drain even more power and influence away from the regions towards London and the south. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills came out with a very similar view this morning. Did she take evidence about that research, and did she take evidence from the former Chancellor of the Exchequer? Why did she put so much emphasis on KPMG? Those of us who live in Yorkshire and saw what it did—or failed to do—in the banking sector do not trust KPMG further than we can throw it.

Mrs Ellman: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and thank the Speaker for permitting these important issues to be raised. The Committee questioned KPMG because it had conducted the most recent research on this very specific area. However, the Committee’s reports are based on contributors additional to KPMG…

Mrs Gillan: A very happy Christmas to you, Mr Speaker, and to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), who has dealt with the questions with charm and a great deal of skill. This is merely a point of clarification. In response to my earlier series of questions, the hon. Lady said that she had read the MPA reports on HS2. Can she confirm that that is the case?

Mrs Ellman: I have read the reports put forward on HS2. I have not read reports that have not been disclosed in public.

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One comment on “Twas the week before Christmas: HS2 in Parliament
  1. I was very cheered to read that there are SOME MPs who are questioning the construction of HS2. It is a pity that their grasp of the realities is not shared by Government acolytes!! We all know that the figure of 50 billion pounds is pure fiction. Maybe the ludicrously small amount, given the size of the project, is a good indicator that compensation will never be paid?!

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