Helen Jones, MP, at the Warrington HS2 debate

From speech given by Helen Jones, MP for Warrington North at the debate last week:

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): …In the time allowed to me, I cannot deal with every issue, but this route will inflict huge disturbance and environmental damage on my constituency. It is already inflicting housing blight and it will, I believe, lead to economic damage in the villages affected, rather than prosperity. All of that arises from the perverse decision to send the route to join the west coast main line north of Warrington, rather than north of Crewe. I think the case for that has to come under increasing scrutiny, particularly in view of the damage it will inflict, and I do not believe that the figures stack up. In that respect, I am very grateful to my constituent, Mr Alan Debenham, for the detailed work he has done on the figures, and to the Culcheth and District Rail Action Group and the Rixton-with-Glazebrook HS2 Action Group for the information that they have supplied to me.

The spur, as we call it, is estimated to cost about £1 billion. Originally, in 2013, HS2 Ltd said that it would cost £800 million, as opposed to the £750 million cost of joining the west coast line north of Crewe. In fact, even those figures need to be scrutinised carefully, because that is a cost of £22.9 million per kilometre. That is only 28.6% of the average cost of the line elsewhere, despite the fact that a viaduct has to be built over the ship canal, as well as a new link at Lymm and bridges over the motorways. It is hardly believable. Mr Debenham has estimated that even if we take out the cost of building new stations on the line elsewhere and tunnels, it still only comes out at 40% of the average cost of building the rest of the line. I urge the Minister to scrutinise those figures very carefully indeed.

Attempts to get more details on the economic cost of the line have failed, but it is very clear from parliamentary answers to me that none of the case takes into account the economic cost to the villages around Warrington. For some, that is quite severe. The line will go through the Taylor business park, which is actually in the parish of Croft but just outside Culcheth, with a loss of 500 jobs. There will be a consequent loss of jobs among businesses in Culcheth that depend on trade from the business park, and even more jobs will be lost, because three of the main routes out of the village—the routes that lead into Warrington—are going to have to be closed during construction.

We saw recently what happened when only one route was closed: businesses lost an awful lot of trade and some closed during and after the closure of the road. The Minister has to understand that businesses in Culcheth not only serve the village, but attract a lot of people from outside to do their shopping or to come and eat there. My two favourite eateries, the Raj and the China Rose, for instance, attract people from outside the village as well as a clientele from within it. The Black Swan in Hollins Green, which is an excellent pub, if the Minister is ever passing, brings people into the village because of events that it puts on, such as farmers’ markets. The estimate for the loss of business rates from the business park is more than £635,000 per annum. The economic loss to Culcheth, including lost salaries and wages, is estimated at £10.2 million per annum. None of those are included in the costings for the line.

The environmental impact is also very serious. Rixton-with-Glazebrook will see a big viaduct and raised embankments going through the villages, cutting one half of the parish off from the other. The village of Hollins Green, which is an ancient village, will be dominated by the viaduct, and the network of footpaths around Hollins Green will be destroyed. They, too, bring people in from outside the village. I well remember opening—if you can open them, Mr Hollobone—the boards that first set up the maps for those. The Culcheth linear park will be destroyed. Ironically, in the consultation, it is down as a “dismantled railway” line—well, it used to be, but it is not now. It is a park with plant and tree conservation programmes, access for the disabled, and routes for walkers and riders. Those facilities cannot be replicated elsewhere in the village, and there is no attempt to calculate the cost to public health and the consequent cost to the public purse from getting rid of these facilities. It is ironic that at a time that we are all being encouraged to walk more, ways of doing that around the area will be destroyed.

I also urge the Minister to look carefully at the idea of building a big viaduct in an area of high winds. The Thelwall viaduct on the M6 frequently has speed limits on it and sometimes has to be closed because of the high winds in the area. No one seems to have taken account of that in the engineering.

Most serious of all is the blight on property that is now affecting the villages. Parliamentary answers that I have received said blithely that there would be 21 properties demolished, only four of which would be residential, and three would be at risk of demolition. In fact, the situation is much worse than that. In Rixton-with-Glazebrook, 505 properties will be within 500 metres of the line. If the Minister knows anyone who wants to buy a house in a village with a great big viaduct going through it, I am sure that people will be delighted to hear from him. In Culcheth, the total is 947 properties. Many of those do not qualify for the exceptional hardship scheme. They are not owned by wealthy people, but by people who have struggled and sacrificed to buy their own home, and who now see buyers walking away. We also see stories of people being refused mortgages because of the uncertainty about the route. In total, if we look at the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the property bond and the loss of values, it is estimated that even a 10% drop in property prices in Culcheth wipes £23 million off the value of property in the area, and that is at today’s prices.

As one gentleman said to me, there might be a point if we were gaining elsewhere—it happened to be someone who lived very close to the proposed line—but we are not. This spur, as the hon. Member for Warrington South has shown, does not actually seem to benefit anyone. In fact, building the line in that way disadvantages the whole of the west of the region, because it takes the HS2 line away from it, and I think Liverpool is already making its case about that. I admire Manchester’s lobbying skills, but the region is not all about Manchester. We need to ensure that other places benefit as well.

The Minister and his colleagues have a chance to put this right, because the Higgins report proposes a transport hub at Crewe, and part of the reason for not joining the line north of Crewe was the work that would have to be done to Crewe station. If it is being done anyway, he has a real chance to look again at these proposals to ensure that we get the line joining the west coast main line north of Crewe and that that line is upgraded, so that then we can connect to Liverpool, Warrington and many of the other towns and cities around the route as well. If he does that, he will not only be avoiding a loss of habitat, environmental destruction and economic problems in my constituency, but providing a better service to the region as a whole and saving the Government probably £1 billion and, as I have said to my colleagues, any future Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer £1 billion as well, so I hope that he does the right thing and gets it right for Warrington.

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