After Philip Hammond finished his statement on Monday, MPs had a chance to ask him questions about the proposed HS2 route. Here is a selection of the questions – the full session is available from Hansard.
Maria Eagle, the shadow Transport Spokesman, confirmed that they were reviewing all Labour policies, including high speed rail. She expressed concern about other rail investments that were being delayed and cut. She also questioned his concern about the North-south, referring to the Conservative support for high speed rail as a “fig leaf” to hide their lack of strategy for “investment, jobs or growth in the north”.
In answer Philip Hammond said that the government had decided to take a new approach to the North-south divide, and confirmed that the HS2 budget was ring-fenced (although we should remember it is ultimately our money being spent on HS2).
He also said that “The operator of High Speed 2 will have a very large number of seats to fill,” and suggested that the “marketplace will create opportunities for passengers … to get bargains”
If potential passengers need bargains to get them to use HS2, what does that do to the business case? HS2 Ltd say the case depends on a huge growth in demand for travel, which can’t be met by alternative means – but Philip Hammond says that potential travellers will have to be enticed on with cut-price tickets.
Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): was concerned that people in Primrose Hill “will feel a little surrounded … because they will have a tunnel on both sides” and said “The idea that the connection of a significant network will be dependent on a spur connecting HS 2 with HS 1 is preposterous”.
PH defended the spur as “carefully worked-out engineering solution” for people who believed that HS2 should connect up with HS1.
However, this link was self-evidently necessary, and should have been included in the original plans announced in March 2010, not mentioned months later as an afterthought.
Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): questioned whether the “the demand for seats really going to grow by 3% every year”, and was concerned whether other trains were going to be axed.
PH stated that other trains would not be axed to make way for Hs2 trains – and then called the growth forecasts “robust”.
Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): asked about noise mitigation and said that the railway should not be “a series of new ugly concrete constructions”.
PH said that by the time they are ordering the trains, the designs should be quieter. He went onto say “where we can hide this line, we will hide it. Where we cannot hide it, we will ensure that it is architecturally designed and that it is something that people are pleased to look at, not a British Rail engineering-style eyesore.”
However, PH told Stop Hs2 in September that noise barriers which were “acousticly effective” were not necessarily “aesthetically pleasing”. So is the noise mitigation another example of realising a vital bit of the infrastructure had been overlooked? Or will the structure only look nice, as long as you don’t mind the noise?
Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): asked why the government was “wasting billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on this scheme?”
PH said because the capacity problem could not be dealt with by upgrades to the WCML.
Ignoring the Public Accounts Committee report that said the railway industry should stop trying to solve all its problems through growth.
Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): asked about services from Coventry.
PH said that after the railway was built, “places such as Milton Keynes and Coventry will be well within commuting range of London”.
Does the Secrtary of State for Transport not realise that already lots of people commute from Coventry and Milton Keynes?
Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): asked whether the Secretary of State will attend the roadshows for the new proposals,.
PH said he would attend at least one. He also said that there would be “specific, locally focused roadshows at multiple points along the line of the London to Birmingham part of the route” and meetings across the UK to discuss the “broader principles of high speed rail and some of the more strategic issues about the route choices”.
Stop Hs2 hopes that people on the route will also have a chance to discuss the “the broader principles”, and not just be expected to talk about purely local issues. People directly affected have spent much longer studying the HS2 documentation then most people elsewhere, and will have insightful and knowledgeable questions about the principles and strategic issues, as well as the local effects.
Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): was concerned that this was yet another railway scheme which, like Crossrail, was concentrated on building new capacity in the south east. He suggested that the railway should be started in the north and work its way south.
PH‘s answer was that the route will get to Manchester and Leeds eventually.
Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): asked when the track would get to Scotland.
PH said it would be a third phase.
Other MPs asking questions were:
Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con)
Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op):
Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD)
Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con)
Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con):
Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con)
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD):
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab):
Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con)
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab):