4 Baroness Mallalieu debates involving the Department for Transport

Tue 31st Jan 2017
High Speed Rail (London–West Midlands) Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 10th Jan 2017
High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill
Grand Committee

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Lords & Report stage: House of Lords & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Lords & Report stage: House of Lords & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Lords & Report stage: House of Lords & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Lords & Report stage: House of Lords
Thu 24th Oct 2013

Rural Bus Services

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Wednesday 11th November 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My Lords, we believe that local authorities have a significant role to play in ensuring that we protect rural bus services. To that extent, local authorities receive £43 million from BSOG, and in September 2019 we announced a further £30 million of local authority funding. Now we need to ensure that local authorities step up and support the more vulnerable services.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, in April last year the Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy was told about the spiral of decline in both the funding and provision of rural public transport. It recommended that the Government should review the different funding schemes, aiming to put them together in a single investment pot in each area, and then let local people develop integrated, demand-led, case-based systems. Has anything been done?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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As I mentioned, the Government are working extremely hard on the national bus strategy. The sort of proposals that the noble Baroness outlined are the sort of things that we are looking at. It is very much time for local accountability for local bus services, taking into account the needs of the local community.

High Speed Rail (London–West Midlands) Bill

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 31st January 2017

(7 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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This House has a simple choice before it this afternoon. If it believes that the HS2 project provides good value for money and will benefit the British public, it will vote against the amendment. But if it agrees that this was an ill-conceived project from the start, which has been entirely discredited, even during the three years it has been passing through Parliament, and that if allowed to proceed, it will result in massive expenditure and huge disruption in both London and the countryside for no discernible benefit at all, the House will support the amendment and stop this scheme before any more harm is done. I beg to move.
Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab)
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My Lords, I understand that this House will be reluctant to vote on a Bill at this stage, particularly one which has seen detailed scrutiny in both Houses—which, I have to say, was mainly directed at the line of route. However, despite all that, and despite the fact that those who served on those Select Committees devoted a considerable amount of time and that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, has sought to be helpful and open, and indeed has been patience itself at every stage in steering the public Bill through this House, I cannot but support the amendment.

I do not live in fairyland, and I suppose that there is little realistic chance of the amendment being passed if it is pressed to a vote, because the Whips on all sides of the House are apparently intent on nodding the Bill through. However, I would see it as a failure of my position as a Member of this House if I did not speak now and vote if necessary later in opposition to the passage of the Bill.

As I have done before, I declare my interests as president of the Countryside Alliance and someone who knows personally much of the stretch of countryside between London and Birmingham which is about to be devastated, and many members of the rural communities which will be destroyed along that route. However, I am speaking today not to repeat my views on the devastating environmental damage but because there is a question which surely must be answered before the Bill—this folly—goes any further. That is, simply: does HS2 phase 1 now represent value for money? Is this the best way to spend £55.7 billion—the National Audit Office figure—of taxpayers’ money?

The project we were originally sold was to cost £30 billion in 2010—these are the Department for Transport’s own figures. By 2015, the estimate had risen to £57 billion. Independent estimates are now in the order of £80 billion, or £87 billion if it is adjusted for inflation. The estimate for both phases 1 and 2, taking this railway line on beyond Birmingham, is somewhere in the region of between £138 billion and £147 billion.

The original project was sold to us as one which would have direct trains through to Heathrow and also to the Eurostar, both of which have been ditched. The original argument was based on reducing the journey time to Birmingham by, as I recall, about 20 minutes. When, not surprisingly, that found little favour, the argument became about the need for future capacity—that is despite the urgent immediate need for capacity on trans-Pennine routes, with all the people standing like cattle on trains coming into London day after day.

The train, we were told, was going to run into central London. What is not widely understood, however, is that the present plan goes only as far as Old Oak Common station. It is planned to end there for a good seven years after phase 1 is completed—that is, seven years after the projected completion of phase 1 in 2033. The MP for the area, Sir Kier Starmer, believes it will cause “decades of blight”. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has called for the redevelopment to be put on hold unless less disruptive plans can be made.

The cost of making the necessary acquisitions for taking the trains on into Euston with rising London property prices are frankly unquantifiable. The reality is that it is likely to be cheaper to fly than pay the fares which will have to be charged on this line. So where does the demand for this now come from? It comes from politicians who have put reputations on the line —some of them the most articulate of advocates. It comes from people who have already put money into trying to sell this project. And it comes from people who are hoping to make money, either from the construction work or from the developments around the out-of-town stations—that is, the few of them that are on the route.

Yet ex-Treasury Ministers of all colours have said that more, smaller, infrastructure projects are of greater value to the public and to the country as a whole. This project has already gone badly wrong, as a range of those who have examined it have pointed out. The Treasury Select Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and the Economic Affairs Committee of this House—as has already been mentioned—as well as the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which only last year gave it an amber/red warning, have all cautioned that it is not likely to be on time or within budget.

The warnings are all there and senior personnel have gone very recently, including the chief executive. A financial crisis during construction, which will require major curtailing of the present plans, or a bailout, and the likelihood of there being insufficient money for phase 2 from Birmingham Northwood, are increasingly odds-on prospects.

The Prime Minister, on taking office, called in and re-examined the Hinkley Point project. She then let it proceed. This project surely must be called in to answer the question: does it still represent value for money? We keep saying, to critics of this place, that the value of this House is to hold the Government to account. If we let this through without raising our voices, we will have failed in our purpose.

Lord Young of Norwood Green Portrait Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab)
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My Lords, as someone who spent six months of my life serving on the Select Committee, I feel I have to answer some of the points that the noble Lord made, in particular that the Bill has not been scrutinised. It had two years’ scrutiny in the Commons and a further six months on every aspect imaginable. Whether concerns were about the environment, noise, or construction, every aspect of the route and its impact was carefully examined. There will always be those who argue against infrastructure expenditure, especially on the levels that we are talking about. When it started, Crossrail was by no means universally accepted, yet now it is praised to the skies as a scheme that was necessary and was delivered on budget and on time.

This is the first railway out of London in something like 120 years. Whether or not the proposal started from the point of view of increasing speed, there is a capacity argument and this project will relieve capacity. It was certainly news to me when my noble friend suggested that the trains would stop at Old Oak Common. If they do, that will be a new development. We debated that not long ago and rejected amendments to that effect from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and I believe that my noble friend Lord Berkeley was associated with that as well. Therefore, we examined the impact of the line very carefully. Can it be accommodated at Euston? Yes, it can. Allowances have been made for the integration of Crossrail 2 and a new classic railway station.

Thousands of jobs are dependent on this scheme. Somehow we seem to have lost the vision that we started off with in terms of what we need in infrastructure capacity. I suppose that that is not surprising when one looks at the length of time that the scheme has been under consideration. I sincerely believe that the House will recognise that this Bill has been scrutinised in great depth and that it would be a decision of great folly to follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham.

High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Lords & Report stage: House of Lords
Tuesday 10th January 2017

(7 years, 5 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Framlingham Portrait Lord Framlingham (Con)
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My Lords, we have dealt with only two amendments so far, and any member of the public sitting listening to the Committee will be asking themselves: “Why on earth are you going ahead with this project?”. All we have are problems, which seem to me almost insurmountable; we have no answers to them. When we ask about the trek from St Pancras to Euston, the answer is, apparently, offer £3 million to the local authority as a prize if it can come up with the answer. That does not sound to me like much of a solution.

I know that this is not Second Reading, but we must ask ourselves whether there is any sense in going ahead with this whole project. We have not yet dealt with the environmental problems, which will be huge and last for years. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, whose amendment I support, that the whole scheme is not properly costed and nobody knows what will happen in the long run.

The Minister described it as a vital scheme. It is not. The money could be much better spent on all sorts of things: hospitals, schools, or Liverpool-to-Hull transport. If we pursue it, I think we will regret it for a long time. As this matter proceeds, I hope that your Lordships’ House will think it through very carefully and perhaps have second thoughts about proceeding with the whole scheme.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab)
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My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group, particularly Amendments 5 and 6, tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Stevenson who, I understand, cannot be here today but will be here to make some remarks if Committee continues on Thursday. These amendments call for further things which need to be done before work starts on the project, the first being the cost-benefit analysis of the environmental impact of the work and the second being the traffic management requirements.

I apologise to the Committee: I was unable to speak at Second Reading and should therefore declare my interests. I lived in the Chilterns for 36 years, not in an area directly affected. Further along the proposed line, I know personally every one of the villages mentioned in the amendments on the Marshalled List today. Quainton, Twyford, Chetwode, Mixbury and Barton-Hartshorn—I know them all and have known them for 50 years. I do not just know the villages, their names and the roads; I know the farms, fields, the woodlands and some of the people still living there, and I have seen the devastating effect that the Bill is already having on their lives and their communities. The environmental, not to mention the social impact, is enormous. I know that I am not allowed to make a Second Reading speech, although I did not make one before, and I shall strain every sinew not to do so.

The Government tell us that the public have a right to require value for money, and I totally agree. The cost changes each time I see a figure, but £57 billion is the latest one, and no one with the slightest grasp of reality believes that it will stop there. This House, in the detailed report of the Economic Affairs Committee, chaired by my noble friend Lord Hollick, has already drawn attention to the need for a number of the central questions to be answered. Those questions were posed and not adequately answered by the Government’s very flimsy response in July 2005; nor do I believe they have been since, although I know the Minister said at Second Reading that he thought they had been. Where is the answer to a key question in that list, as to whether HS2 is the best way to spend £50 billion—although I up that now to £57 billion—to stimulate the UK economy?

One thing that has not been done is that the environmental impact has not been subject to any cost-benefit analysis. Surely the public, who are going to have to pay for this project in so many ways and relatively few of whom will see any actual benefit, are entitled to a proper cost-benefit analysis before our countryside is destroyed. As for the pressure to carry on with this project without a cost-benefit analysis, I will come to how it was conceived in a moment, but I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, when he spoke in this House on an earlier debate on this topic, that the Labour Cabinet was searching for a legacy project and someone suggested that China and France had high-speed railways. I do not think the pressure for it comes from the rail users on Southern, from the commuters standing on trains day after day coming into London or even from those whose businesses in the north of England are hampered by the absence of a good trans-Pennine rail link. We are told there is going to be a lack of capacity, but it is not visible to me as I stand on the excellent Chiltern line stations and see an excellent service at present—not overcrowded —from London to Birmingham. What about spending money on capacity which is really urgent right now, as we have all been seeing in the last few weeks and indeed right up to today?

The reality is that, in choosing that legacy, scant consideration was given to the devastating environmental damage which will inevitably result to a very special piece of English countryside. My noble friend Lord Stevenson was going to talk about the Chilterns, and I will just say a few words about it. It is a unique area of beech wood but has also become, in the 36 years I have lived there, the lungs of London. Anyone who goes down to the Chilterns on a weekend will see people pouring out of London to walk and enjoy the peace which reigns over most of it. Beyond that, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire—the area I know well—is not tourist country. It is not even really walkers’ country but it is old England—the England that we ought to preserve and celebrate. If we destroy those things and take them away from the public, at vast expense and for relatively little benefit to very few people, without making a proper cost-benefit analysis of what we are doing, I do not think we will be forgiven. Indeed, not having such a cost-benefit analysis would be pure vandalism, and I hope the Minister will say that the Government will address all the things set out in the five amendments in the group before anybody starts work with the bulldozers and the concrete and does damage that can never be repaired.

Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape
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My Lords, my noble friend who has just sat down started her speech by saying she was not going to make a Second Reading speech and then, if I may say so, did exactly that. We can all make the sort of Second Reading speech that the noble Lord opposite made too, but we are supposed to be talking about particular amendments to the Bill. Thirty-something years ago, I made a speech in the other place in favour of the Channel Tunnel. The response, largely from my own side of the Chamber, was that there were lots of other priorities that we should spend our money on, such as housing, social services, hospitals, et cetera—the sort of speech that the noble Lord opposite has just made. It was Dennis Skinner who objected to my advocacy of the Channel Tunnel, so the noble Lord opposite has now become the Dennis Skinner of the Conservative Party—not a label I would have thought that he would go out to seek normally.

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Viscount Astor Portrait Viscount Astor (Con)
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My Lords, my amendment—and possibly those that follow—may rehybridise the Bill. However, as this is Grand Committee there are no votes and that is not likely to happen today. I have tabled them to elicit a response from the Minister. While rehybridising and recommitment does not often happen, it is not unprecedented. As a Minister in a long-past Government, it happened to me on a Scottish transport Bill. Lord Burton put down an amendment about badgers and otters crossing roads—a subject which your Lordships would get rather worked up about. My speaking notes from the department at the time said: “Resist at all costs”, which I gamely tried to do. However, I was somewhat undermined half way through the debate by the noble and learned Lord who had chaired the Select Committee standing up and saying that there was an omission that the committee had failed to debate or look at. He therefore supported Lord Burton’s amendment that it be looked at again, whereupon I had to retire hurt. It did work, and the Bill finally came forward with Lord Burton’s amendment.

These amendments are important because the Select Committee had a very limited remit when it looked at the Bill. It could not stray from its rather narrow route. That said, it produced a good and admirable report. It made some general points about the promoter engaging in effective and timely public engagement and noted that it found the complexity of the process difficult for petitioners to understand. Petitioners sometimes also found the documentation provided by the promoter, “arcane, opaque and unhelpful”. They were also sometimes unfairly treated by late replies after months of silence, suggesting that their concerns had perhaps been met. I am sure the Minister will be the opposite this afternoon: clear, helpful and responsive.

In its report, the Select Committee noted the issues that surround Wendover and reported that it had directed a longer Chilterns bored tunnel, greater noise protection for Wendover and better construction arrangements in Hillingdon. It did not comment on the evidence presented on the proposed mined tunnel further along the route. It could not consider changes that require an additional provision without a direction from the House. We have the opportunity at a later stage of the Bill to give that direction for it to be looked at via a transport works order. The initial longer, mined tunnel was rejected by the promoter on grounds of cost. Although it is obvious that a longer tunnel is more costly and complicated, the promoter did not fully take account of the possible savings on the compulsory purchase of land and housing and the effect on the environment. There were two experts and, as we all know, experts on both sides of the argument hate being proved wrong. Those who wished for a longer tunnel provided an expert—described by the Select Committee as a credible witness—who disputed the costs. Indeed, those costs were not greater but actually a saving on the promoters’ costs. That is because the mined tunnel would be 4.2 kilometres long and it would save just over a kilometre of viaduct. As we know—as the experts tell me, anyway, and I think they are right—viaducts are expensive to build and maintain. There could be a saving on property, there could be a saving on costs, and it would solve noise issues. Mined tunnels are cheaper and have been done before. The area is virtually the same type of chalk as the other Wendover tunnel. Indeed, the water table does not present an insoluble problem.

I am no expert. I hesitate to say who is right between tunnelling and rail experts. I leave that expertise to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who does know about these things. But I do know that this is an issue that should be re-examined as there is clearly a difference between acknowledged experts. In the overall scheme of timing and costs, it is actually quite minimal but for the people of Wendover it is extremely important and there is no excuse for the Government and the promoters not to get it right. Those affected by the route have a right to have their case heard and their petitions properly scrutinised, not rejected out of hand for the convenience of the process. I have tabled this amendment to ask the Government to look again at the issues of cost and to ask the Minister whether he will consider having a short, quick, independent review into whether this is feasible. I beg to move.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu
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My Lords, I support the noble Viscount’s amendment. It appears that this provision was not in fact looked at by the Select Committee. It is a provision which, unlike the concerns that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Snape, is likely to save money rather than cost more—

Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape
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“My noble friend”.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu
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My noble friend, I am sorry. On the face of it, it will not require any delay either. The Select Committee was not able to look at it. It was told that the proposal that was then before it was additional provision.

The end result is that Wendover, which I think members of the Select Committee will remember is the village from which they had the largest number of letters, received the benefits, I suppose you could call them, only of a rejection of any sound barriers, which, although they were thought by the committee to be effective, would have been visibly intrusive. It was told that the donation to the church of £250,000 was generous. It is a very musical church which is going to have great difficulty in continuing as the centre for various concerts and performances. A new cricket pavilion was to be provided by the promoters on an alternative ground. That was the end result of Wendover’s concerted effort to bring about some changes in the proposals.

This proposal—if it is right, and I have no means of knowing whether it is—would appear to be one that would have the support of that community, would go a considerable way towards helping to ameliorate some of the worst parts of the line and, as I said, would result in some savings and no delay. Surely it would be possible for the Minister to say that this is one of the proposals that, respecting what the committee has said, was not before it and should be looked at before it is rejected out of hand.

Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape
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My Lords, I do not necessarily oppose the amendment, although I listened with interest to what my noble friend said about how this would save money. I am not sure what costings the noble Viscount has carried out. There has been some criticism of the costings so far as the whole project is concerned, yet we are told by the noble Viscount and my noble friend that this will actually save money. Perhaps, for the clarification of the Committee, they could tell us how their conclusions have been arrived at. I am no expert. My noble friend Lord Berkeley might tell me. I am not quite sure what a mined tunnel is and what differentiates a mined tunnel from a normal railway tunnel.

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. After the interventions by the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Young, I feel that there is little left for me to say except to clarify that they are both correct. It is important to underline that point for the record.

I will start with the amendment in the name of my noble friend. As he recognised, the issue would lead to a rehybridisation of the Bill. He talked of his own experience and I fully accept that it is procedurally possible for this to happen, but we need to think long and hard about whether such amendments should be made. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, that, as we heard from a member of the Select Committee, this was given a fair and detailed hearing by that committee, as well as in the other place. Despite not being able to consider changes that would require an additional provision without a direction from the House, your Lordships’ Select Committee nevertheless heard further arguments on the case for a mined tunnel at Wendover, on the supposition that an order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 could be used to enable further powers to be secured if needed. After that extensive and exhaustive review, neither Select Committee felt the need to recommend that additional work be undertaken to investigate the merits of or provision for a mined tunnel—we all know what that is now—at Wendover.

I reiterate that we have provided a range of additional assurances for the residents of Wendover, which, as well as the ones that I have spoken about, include noise barriers on the Small Dean embankment, an assurance relating to noise mitigation measures at Wendover Campus School and funding for a bespoke package of noise insulation at St Mary’s Church, Wendover, to allow it to continue to function as a concert venue. I have already talked about the 100-metre Wendover tunnel extension and the noise barriers that were secured in the other place. I have also alluded to the independent review of costs—the noble Lord, Lord Young, also mentioned it—conducted by the non-executive director, Ed Smith. I reiterate the hope that the noble Baroness will reflect not just on what I have said today but on the appropriate sections of the Select Committee report, which also considered this matter.

While I continue to recognise the valid concerns that my noble friend raised about remaining impacts on Wendover, the area has been given many commitments to manage the impacts of the new railway. I believe that this House should respect the decisions of the Select Committees in the House of Commons and in your Lordships’ House.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu
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I apologise for interrupting, but I just want to be clear about this. I am looking at the relevant section of the report—120—and it appears that the committee looked at a bored tunnel but not at a mined tunnel. If I am wrong about that, I would be grateful if I could be corrected. Notwithstanding the fact that the committee was in some doubt about whether it should look at it, it looked at a bored tunnel, whereas the proposal that is now being made by the noble Viscount is a somewhat different project.

Lord Young of Norwood Green Portrait Lord Young of Norwood Green
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I can assure your Lordships that we looked at all the alternatives at great length on many occasions. Although I did not always enjoy the repetition, it was important that we heard the arguments. We heard from experts on both sides, so if there is one thing this Committee need not worry about, it is whether these alternatives were given a lengthy and fair hearing.

High Speed 2

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Thursday 24th October 2013

(10 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab)
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My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I must declare that I live in the Chilterns but not in an area affected by the proposed route. However, for most of my life I have known that stretch of countryside from where the line drops off the escarpment and cuts a swathe through Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire. It is not picture-book pretty. Unlike the Chilterns, it is not an area in which walkers such as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to whom we are indebted, come out in numbers at weekends or visit for its views. It is old England, big blackthorn hedges, pasture, beef cattle, hidden woods and coppices, and small villages and farms in which people have been born and lived all their lives. Through that countryside the route goes past Grendon Wood, in which Shakespeare is said to have been inspired to write “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and—this is for my noble friend Lord Grocott—Doddershall, a remote moated house built in 1520. The route also goes through 24 sites of special scientific interest and 67 irreplaceable ancient woodlands. It is proposed to drive HS2 through that, and for what? I will come to that.

The project was agreed by the Government in 2010 without any strategic environmental assessment having been carried out, probably quite deliberately because this is an act of sheer environmental vandalism. A judge has already described that as “an egregious breach” of the guidelines. Litigation is going on at the moment and there will, no doubt, be a Supreme Court judgment next month. For that tract of our countryside and its people the impact is quite devastating.

However, that was not the only flaw in the original decision-taking process. The business case was flawed, as is now generally accepted. The cost-benefit analysis, whether it should have been used or not, never supported the proposal. The budget was hopelessly understated, as has now become clear. I am aware that the lack of any proper consultation and the weakness of the economic case concerned a number of those at the heart of government at the time. I would like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, and to Mr Alistair Darling in another place for having the courage to speak out about this. I am quite sure that others will follow.

The decision to support this project in the first place by both main parties was a political one, not an economic one. I do not for a moment dismiss the genuine passion for the project of some, including the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for whom I have the greatest admiration, but it is a passion which I believe led to a very expensive mistake. Nor do I underestimate the pressure that was put on politicians of both sides to go ahead from others who stand to profit: mainly the rail and engineering firms and also from a number of local authorities on the direct route who stand to benefit. They make up a rich and powerful lobby, but they are not succeeding with the public and nor must they. To misallocate transport investment to a high-risk, low-return scheme such as this instead of putting the money to low-risk, high-return infrastructure investment with far greater economic benefits in the long run is sheer madness.

In the mean time, before the plug is pulled, the resources of the Department for Transport are being drained by efforts to try to create a new and better case and generate public support, while also delaying decisions on other necessary investment in our transport system. As we know, the original argument was speed—we will get you there quicker—but that failed, so the department is now trying the capacity argument in a desperate appeal to those standing in the corridors of our creaking infrastructure, where investment really is needed.

It will not work; nor will the unconvincing assurances about future cost, because the public simply do not believe it. They have seen the figure going up and up. I think the public will be astonished to know that the figure which we are currently being given, £42.6 billion, does not include trains, without which the railway cannot operate, nor, as I understand it, does it include the essential infrastructure to create links to the city centres where the station is on the outside. Estimates that I have seen go higher and higher. Even in the north, last year’s polling showed that only 32% of the public thought it was a good use of money. If the people who have to pay for it do not want it, do not do it.

This debate is about the expected impact of HS2. There will be some who benefit: the big rail and engineering companies and their employees and the towns and cities with stations on the direct route. But there are rather more places that believe they will lose out, and badly. The biggest losers of all are the poor souls who have to pay for it, who are the British public. What is more, HS2 is unlikely ever to generate enough income to cover its running costs. Construction has to be taxpayer funded, because it is unlikely ever to make a profit and no private money would touch it. The Public Accounts Committee in another place—its report is in the Printed Paper Office today—is utterly damning.

I would like to hope that the impact of this whole saga is that no major infrastructure project will be handled like this ever again, determined by political expediency and not sound economics. HS2 is not yet the dead duck that it ought to be, but it is looking terminally ill. A huge amount of money and energy, much of it paid for by the public, is being devoted to try to breathe some life into it again. It has been called a vanity project, a white elephant on wheels, and a high-speed gravy train. Will someone with political courage please come forward and put it out of its misery?