Wednesday’s Westminster Hall debate on HS2

A few points from yesterday’s debate on HS2 in westminster Hall: the full transcript should be available on Hansard.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for securing the debate. On that point about residents’ concerns, does she accept that lessons have to be learned? My constituency recently had High Speed 1, but then standard services were reduced and High Speed 1 fares went up by 30%. If we want more people to use high-speed rail, it has to be affordable, and we cannot have it at the expense of standard services.

Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con):  A number of people are worried that the route will lead to an overheated south-east England, which many would regard as undesirable. If travel times from London to Manchester or to Liverpool are 45 or 60 minutes shorter, does not that simply make London even more attractive for people from the north-west, or indeed from north Wales, rather than necessarily bringing great benefits to Wales?

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab):…I totally agree that areas of outstanding natural beauty must be protected. Indeed, a new such area is on its way in my constituency. I believe that they must be protected and preserved wherever possible; I do not accept, however, that HS2 will cause unacceptable blight in the Chilterns….
…I have one point to add, regarding the residents in Holborn and St Pancras whose homes may be demolished. That may be classed as irreparable damage and I would not want to see that outcome; I hope very much that a solution can be found to avoid that demolition. I would back any amendment to the plan that could avoid the destruction of homes.
Mr Mark Field: So, doing that in Labour-held seats is acceptable, but not in Conservative-held seats?

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I want to make a brief point with a constituency interest…to consult on High Speed 2 without consulting on the Heathrow link at the same time undermines the consultation process.
My constituents have successfully fought off the blight of the third runway, despite BAA buying up half of Sipson village and not selling off the houses, but they are now affected by the blight from high-speed rail, because we do not know the exact route into the airport. If we could at least have had the full consultation at the same time, my constituents would have more certainty about their future and would be able to reach a view. Staggering the consultation is breeding suspicion—unnecessarily, I hope—that their homes will again be affected.
The Government have gone about the matter in completely the wrong way, and I urge the Minister to ensure that information on the Heathrow link is published no later than the autumn, and that the consultation starts no later than the autumn. We would then have an accurate view of what Hillingdon residents think about the concept of high-speed rail.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab)…My second point is more negative, because we should also look at the disadvantages of the scheme. Will the Minister look at the issue in the context of Euston station, where the redevelopment for the high-speed rail link would take place? I know that the Transport Committee heard evidence about that yesterday, but the case for high-speed rail would be slightly undermined if there were to be a long period of redevelopment at Euston. As was said yesterday, it would take up to eight years to redevelop that station, and services to the north-west and north Wales would be cut during that period.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): …. High-speed rail is not in itself a low-carbon form of transport, as should be obvious, because machines that run at very high speeds need more power than machines that run at low speeds….I want the Government to make doubly sure that this new venture is not what some have said that it will be—a costly train for the well-off.

….Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab):… Thanks to the decision to take only the powers needed for the route from London to Birmingham, there is considerable scepticism about the Government’s commitment to take a new line further north.
….That suggests that, for the Government, the policy is not necessarily about narrowing the north-south divide, but a fig leaf for their lack of an aviation policy and, I might even add, a growth policy…
There is widespread incredulity at the fact that the cost of actually using the new lines does not feature at all in the current consultation, when, surely, that is a critical factor. If the whole point is that passengers will make the switch from the existing lines to reduce overcrowding on them, how can any assessment have been made of the likelihood of that happening without any knowledge of the likely difference in ticket price between the two lines?

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers):….Questions were asked about a hybrid Bill and yes, the first hybrid Bill will cover the first phase, but we hope to go on in due course to an informal consultation next year on phase 2 to the north of England, with a hybrid Bill in due course in the next Parliament….

18 comments to “Wednesday’s Westminster Hall debate on HS2”
  1. @MartinH: “I’d say dishonest. This is one big package and consultation should have been done in one go.”

    I’d agree with you @MartinH but that’s how politics works. It’s all about shaping the debate according to your agenda, rather than allowing your opponent to dictate the rules of the game. I didn’t mean that I particularly supported Mr. Hammond’s tactics – just that they were probably the best approach given the circumstances.

    I’d much prefer both of the publicised phases of HS2 to be underaken as a single enterprise, with further extensions to the North East and Scotland (HS3?), plus westward extensions to South Wales/West Coutnry (HS4?) planned in outline. This would at least give some succour to those advocating a policy to include the whole of the UK in the high speed rail revolution.

    The problem here is essentially political. Such plans would enable articulate, well funded and well connected opponents to spread their net much wider, building momentum behind their cause. Hammond and the Dft need that development like a hole in the head, so for the present time, until the case for HS2, phase 1 is set in stone, he has to proceed on an incremental basis.

    • If the full plan HS2 was known, more people would object to it, so the government should sneak it through in phases? What a dismissive view you show to people who will look at the second phase and say “this is a bad plan”.

      • @Joanne: “If the full plan HS2 was known, more people would object to it, so the government should sneak it through in phases? What a dismissive view you show to people who will look at the second phase and say “this is a bad plan”.

        Not really @Joanne, it’s merely a very candid observation on the dysfunctional nature of British political discourse, which is essentially adversarial in nature, driven in large part by the majoritarian voting system we (the British public) apparently insist on preserving – I can’t think of a good reason why they do but I’m just one person.

        In Britain political power is concentrated in a virtually unique fashion. The winner takes all, I’m in charge now culture engendered by First Past the Post, combined with the uncodified nature of our constitutional framework empowers the winners of elections with virtually untrammelled degrees of influence – effectively they can make the rules up as they go along and often do.

        High Speed Rail is actually one of those rare policy areas where consensus applies, at least accross the mainstream political parties, but that doesn’t entirely preclude its use as a political football if the opportunity presents itself, if only in the short term. Mr Hammond has to be seen to be doing the right thing, in terms of process, yet he must keep a clear majority of his backbench supporters (of official govt policy) onside at all times, just in case. Those MPs in the affected constituencies (14 of them) are obviously placed in an invidious position because of the vociferous localised campaigns orchestrated by the likes of StopHS2, HSActionAlliance, et al – you can at least claim that honour. What he does not need at this stage of events is another couple of dozen localised campaigns starting up, adding their voices to the clamour generated by current groups.

        Mr. Hammond (along with more or less every other rational observer) knows that the anti campaign groups represent a relatively tiny audience of self-interested individuals but that doesn’t mean he can just ignore their voices, though he almost certainly would like to. Blanking them completely would be unwise, casting him and his team in the role of arrogant and contemptuous overlords dictating policy from on high with little or no accountability for their actions – the fact that this is pretty close to reality is largely irrelevant; it’s all about public presentation.

        Take the present furore over News International as a good example – more or less everyone in the media and public life (except those at NI) knew that they were a bunch of bottom feeding, amoral ****bags but you couldn’t actuall say that in public, at least you couldn’t until the truth came out in public – suddenly they’re fare game for anyone to take potshots at and Mr. Murdoch is now viewed as a virtual pariah, even by those in the political firmament, such as Cameron, who were only recently captive to his bidding.

        That’s how politics works in the UK, whether you and I like it or not. When it comes to HS2, I’m afraid the anti-camp is on a hiding to nothing. Unless you can come up with some masterstroke by convincing a largely disinterested British public that HS2 is going to seriously and immediately damage their wellbeing, you haven’t got a chance of winning the argument long term.

        HS2 will happen, so what you should be doing is arguing strongly for beefed up mitigating strategies and some mechanism whereby your particular locality might benefit from its implementation, such as a Parkway station somewhere as close as possible to Oxford. This pragmatic approach would make sense – anything else is just wasting your time and effort?

        • In other words, when the details aren’t known, there is a political consensus, because the government hopes that everyone will agree with what is currently a vague idea.

          But when the full detail is shown, and Stoke discovers it really doesn’t have a station, or people find the East Midlands station is convenient for one city and not another, they will realise the reality doesn’t match the hype. And then they will object: and you don’t want them to object, because you’ve decided You Know Best, and let’s all forget democracy.

          • @Joanne: “In other words, when the details aren’t known, there is a political consensus, because the government hopes that everyone will agree with what is currently a vague idea.”

            It’s not a vague idea at all, the details of HS1 phase 1 are known and Labour would have rolled out more or less the same strategy as the current coalition – you just don’t like the details of the current plan because it means a new railway line through your backyard. At least have the decency to be honest about the basis of your objections rather than dissemble and dress them up in some kind of specious rhetoric!

            @Joanne: “But when the full detail is shown, and Stoke discovers it really doesn’t have a station, or people find the East Midlands station is convenient for one city and not another, they will realise the reality doesn’t match the hype.”

            You can put any spin you like on it @Joanne – HS2 is coming down the line; better get used to it. Your response simply reflects the shallow, divide and conquer, set one town against another opportunist tactics. Facts are HS2 is a massively beneficial project overall for UK PLC, in the longer term. Of course there will be losers (those in close proximtiy to the new line) and winners (more or less everyone else) and it’s hardly surprising to find those impacted adversely complaining but pragmatism should be your guiding principle, rather than narrow minded bitterness and ultimately futile gestures.

            • I do not believe that those not close to the line would be winners .There is a huge area that it will not service in any way,and although a large portion who have signed the petition are directly affected, there are a large number that are not. they also disagree with you,Certainly you are far in the minority in those wanting it, on their petition.

          • @John: “The business case is seriously flawed and the ecomomic case uncertain”

            According to you @John – I beg to differ

            By way of rebuttal, see this relatively recent addition to the debate, which is a withering critique of the case for RP2.

            Given that there is virtual consensus regarding the need for increased capacity over the long term, the credibility of any proposed alternative to HS2 is pivotal to the debate. It would seem that Jerry Marshall and Chris Stokes have been playing a disingenous game of lies, damn lies and statistics. This factual evidence demolishes the argument for RP2 so that only leaves one man standing (if we go down the rail route – are you advocating a raft of new motorway construction?) – it’s called HS2!

            • According to you @John – I beg to differ

              I suggest you read the report requested by the select cttee

            • @John: I suggest you read the report requested by the select cttee

              You’ll have to be more specific @John

              The Transport Select Committee have requested many reports from a diverse range of witnesses giving evidence to them over the last few weeks. What was the name of the report and who did they request it from?

              Don’t suppose you have any comment regarding the demolition job on RP2?

  2. when contemplating something as costly in terms of money and peoples local environment and even carbon emissions, you need to have a cast iron case for doing it. No room for experiment. Enough said

  3. So is your argument that the government (any government) should never progress anything long term because someone else might change the policy in future, or things might change?

    That a bit naive and makes no sense. If no government had the guts to do anything beyond its five year term of office, nothing would ever happen. The house you live in now would never have been built – all you see around you is someone taking a long-term policy decision, or else you’d be living in a tent.

      • Half of a HSR network is pointless.
        From HS2 Ltd’s website:
        “High Speed Two Limited (HS2 Ltd) is the company set up by the Government to consider the case for new high speed rail services between London and Scotland.”
        But HS2 (the route) only goes as far as Leeds, so it is an incompleate.

  4. I have concerns about the phased development of HS2 and the further HSR network.
    What will happen, for example, if the first Hybrid bill gets voted in, but then the second doesn’t?
    Or HS2 gets built, but then in 10-20 years, a new govt has a different policy.
    We’re be stuck with a half built HSR.
    A single line to Birmingham isn’t worth it, I don’t think that HS2 should be approved until a full Anglo-Scottish HSR network is planned out and the route on the table.
    By all means construct it in stages, but don’t plan it in stages.

    Secondly, in my view, this govt doesn’t seem to be what I think of as conservative.
    They a rushing on a number of policies, not just HS2, they are not seeking to preserve nor are they being cautious.
    To commit this country, and future generations, to a lengthy build project, lasting many decades, using outdated technology, with only slight time improvements, that isolates each branch of the Y network from each other, that will destroy many homes and business, that will wreak untold damage to the environment; is not only a foolish mistake, but it is very reckless indeed, and not at all conservative.

    • @Luke: “By all means construct it in stages, but don’t plan it in stages.”

      Have you considered another scenario @Luke?

      Might it just be that the incoming government was well aware of the contentious nature of HS2 and the articulate opposition marshalled by a relatively tiny but well heeled and well connected individuals impacted adversely by the proposed line of route.

      Does the idiomatic phrase “Don’t eat the elephant all at once” not spring to mind?

      Why give your opposition more ammunition to fire at you if you can avoid it – for example, publishing a line of route up to Scotland would enable the Chiltern based protest groups to start agitating amongst other communities, spreading their invidious divide and conquer message far and wide, sewing the seeds of discontent and enabling them to build even more momentum against the first phase.

      Much better to get the hardest part of the job done first, where there are more obstacles to be overcome. Once the line of route is firmly set in stone for phase 1, phase 2 should be much easier because the 1st phase will be all the more tangible by then and communities in the more peripheral Regions of the UK, such as NW.England and Yorks-Humber can more easily perceive the benefits flowing from HS2.

      Actually I think Mr. Hammond is playing a very canny game of high stakes poker.

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