High Speed Rail (West Midlands – Crewe) Bill: 30th January 2018

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way; he is being very generous so early in his speech. I agree with him: it is about capacity. We cannot have an effective, modern society unless we have capacity, and we have to have good infrastructure, which means connectivity. Would he therefore consider advancing the Government’s excellent plans for HS2 by bringing on the other piece of the Y to Leeds? I believe that people throughout the whole of the east midlands support HS2, and we want it as soon as possible, please, especially at Toton in Broxtowe.

Chris Grayling
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. Toton is going to be a fantastic centre in the east midlands for commercial development—transport and residential—whose benefits will ripple out across the area and have a hugely positive effect on the whole of the east midlands. I understand her point. We are working as fast as we can to bring before the House the powers we need for the east midlands and Yorkshire leg. I want to get it right—there are sensitivities on the route, as she will know—and I have travelled much of the route myself and looked at the issues as and when they arrive. We will do everything we can to minimise the impact on residents—I understand that such major projects have a negative effect on some people—but I assure her that we will bring the measure for the rest of the route before the House as soon as we can.

I have talked a bit about the north. Let me now talk about Scotland, because I want it to benefit from HS2 on the day it opens. When the full Y network opens in 2033, HS2 trains will run seamlessly on to the west and east coast main lines from the network that is then built. My Department and Transport Scotland are working closely with Network Rail in looking at options that will go beyond HS2. We want to identify options for strong business cases that can improve journey times, capacity, resilience and reliability. Our ultimate ambition is for three-hour rail journeys between London and Scotland’s central belt—a further strengthening of the Union that we all hold so dear. That, I think, is the point: HS2 will be a transformative project for the entire United Kingdom, including the parts that it does not serve directly. The benefits in terms of job creation, business opportunity and technological development will be enormous for the whole country.

Anna Soubry
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way and for his excellent speech. Does he agree that capacity and speed are not mutually exclusive? Not only will we get a world-class new line to deliver new capacity, but we are improving our existing lines. With that in mind, will he confirm how much is about to be invested in the new signalling programme in Derby, a place he knows very well?

Sir Patrick McLoughlin
More than £200 million is being spent in Derby on re-signalling and a new platform to ensure that London trains no longer have to cross the lines going to other parts of the country, thereby enabling those trains to go straight through on the main line. That is the kind of investment that is already happening in our railways up and down the country. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been successful in securing extra investment not just for HS2, but for all the other railway lines that so badly need the kind of upgrades that we will see in Derby. We will no doubt complain when the station has to be closed for a period over the summer, but such a thing is inevitable if we are to achieve such overall benefit. We saw something similar just a few years ago at Nottingham station.

Anna Soubry
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I do not agree with the overall drift of where his speech is leading us to, but he makes a very good point, which is about the importance of connectivity. There is no point in spending billions of pounds on a brilliant new service unless the connectivity is there. Does he agree that, when we look at other projects, we know that the ones that work—wherever they are in the world—are ones where a person can get off one line, and move swiftly and easily, in comfort, to another line, or another piece of transport.

Michael Fabricant
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. And that, really, is my main criticism of HS2—that it is not integrated. We cannot get on in Birmingham and end up in France and it does not connect with HS1. The sadness is that Arup originally came up with a proposal that would have done just that. The original Arup proposal would have been more on the surface, using existing transport corridors, so it would have been £10 billion to £12 billion cheaper. At the same time, it would have been less environmentally damaging, and that would have made sense. Under Arup’s plan, ​we would have been able to get on a train at Birmingham New Street and, as a consequence, end up in France. But no—because we were at that point obsessed with running at ultra-high speed, we decided that we would do this project with straight lines going through virgin countryside.

Thank goodness that there will now be kinks and loops—thanks, in part, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales—so that HS2 does not go smashing through the middle of Lichfield cathedral or, indeed, so that it does not damage Tatton. I remember that my former right hon. Friend, George Osborne, managed to get a few kinks in the line as well. But do you know what the irony is, Madam Deputy Speaker? The irony is that, because of all the kinks and loops, HS2 trains cannot now travel at ultra-high speed. Quite frankly, with the benefit of hindsight, we could have had a more connected train service that was less environmentally damaging and £12 billion cheaper than the present one. At the same time , it could have been something that people would cherish in years to come. Yes, they may cherish the route from Coventry to Birmingham, but I think that young people wanting to travel seamlessly to the continent by train will be sorely disappointed.

Now, I mentioned how phase 2a would affect Lichfield. By the way, Lichfield has had a double whammy because we were affected by phase 1 and are now being affected by phase 2a. Phase 2a will cause the loss or damage of 18 ancient woodlands—just on that short route—and the loss of 27 veteran trees between Lichfield and Crewe.

Anna Soubry
Twenty-seven?

Michael Fabricant
Twenty-seven, yes. Do not knock that, though. We are talking about ancient trees and woodlands, which cannot be repeated. We cannot dig them up and then replant them because—hey!—they are not ancient anymore. The definition of an ancient woodland is that it has to be 400 years old with a soil structure that can only be generated when it is 400 years old. As the Secretary of State said, all large infrastructure projects will cause damage, and of course I accept that. But if we had gone with the original Arup route, which Lord Adonis thought would be far too slow—it would only run at high speed, not ultra-high speed—we would not have had so much damage.

I am very pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Sir Robert Syms) in the Chamber. He ought to be a right hon. Member because he chaired the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill Select Committee for phase 1. I praise all the Members who served on that Committee, because at least I can offer my constituents the hope that, if the Committee that will be set up if this Bill goes through Parliament is half as good as his Committee, there will be improvements. If people petition and petition well, there will be changes to the route.

Finally, I re-emphasise the point I made earlier in a question to the Secretary of State. It is important that we do not lose sight of the west coast main line and continued passenger services. I believe that 44 railway stations on the west coast main line will not be directly affected or served by HS2. We still need our Virgin trains and our slower trains including the excellent service that is now being provided by London Northwestern ​Railway, which succeeded London Midland, which, incidentally, started off badly but improved a lot during its franchise period.

There will come a time when the Pendolinos will become unusable because they have reached their age limit. It is hugely important that the Department for Transport begins to start thinking about a replacement for that high-speed service, because Lichfield commuters do not just commute into Birmingham, Stafford and places like that—they are commuting down to London daily. One very senior guy at the BBC said to me, “Michael, I don’t have to send my kids to a private school”—this is the BBC for you, but we know about their salaries—“because the schools are so good in Lichfield, and I can afford to live in a large house with lots of land around me, which of course I could never do in London.” That is thanks to the Pendolino service.

Rachel Maclean
With regard to broadcasters and where they could be located for their jobs, does my hon. Friend not think that HS2 is a great argument for Channel 4 to be relocated to the west midlands, because the Channel 4 executives could commute from London, or wherever they like to live? They could be based in Lichfield and make their programmes there.

Michael Fabricant
They could be based in Lichfield, yes, or in Birmingham. I hope that Channel 4 will indeed move out of London. I know that this is completely out of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am now putting in our bid for the west midlands on that.

I have explained why I cannot support this Bill. I will not press my amendment to a vote, but if, as I expect, there is going to be a Division on the substantive motion, I am afraid that I will have to vote against the Government on this occasion.

Anna Soubry
Shame!
 
Michael Fabricant
It is a shame, as my right hon. Friend says. I very rarely vote against my own Government, because we are so successful in what we do, but there is this blindness about the design of HS2—and it has permeated across to the Labour Front Bench as well. I could not believe it when the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) said that it is an integrated railway line, when it very clearly is not. I will vote against this Bill, and I hope that other colleagues in the House will join me.