Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown contributions to the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill 2017-19 to 2019-21

Mon 2nd March 2020 High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill: Revival (Commons Chamber)
Bill reintroduced: House of Commons
motion to revive Bill: House of Commons
15 interactions (572 words)
Mon 15th July 2019 High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill (Commons Chamber)
3rd reading: House of Commons
Report stage: House of Commons
5 interactions (217 words)

High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill: Revival

(Bill reintroduced: House of Commons)
(Bill reintroduced: House of Commons)
(motion to revive Bill: House of Commons)
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Excerpts
Monday 2nd March 2020

(6 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Transport
Sir William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con) - Hansard
2 Mar 2020, 8:53 p.m.

In a nutshell, I am seeking an assurance from the Minister, which I hope I will be able to get before the end of these proceedings, that phase 2a should be reviewed by Sir John Armitt at the same time as phase 2b, for which he has already been given terms of reference. Basically, it boils down to this: it is being suggested that the construction of phase 2a should follow quickly after phase 1—this view has been reinforced by the Oakervee review, which concluded that the Government should consider merging the construction of phase 2a with phase 1—but this is not only an unnecessary but an undesirable idea, and furthermore it is unrealistic.

I refer now to the actual motion before the House, which says that the Bill

“if…presented to this House in this session in the same terms as those in which the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill stood at the last stage of its proceedings…the Bill…shall be deemed to have passed through all its stages in this House, and…the Standing Orders”

adjusted accordingly. Given this motion and the arguments I am presenting, that means that we are bound to have regard to what the Bill says, and the extent to which it will be dealt with under the procedures that follow these novel and unique changes to the Standing Orders.

As we heard from the Minister, phase 1 of HS2 received Royal Assent in February 2017. It has not progressed because the main works civil contractors have been unable to come up with a design that can be delivered for the budget available. Phase 2a has not yet received Royal Assent, so we are at least a couple of years away from all this happening. Given the proposed changes to the Standing Orders, and the manner in which it is deemed that the Bill is being carried forward, is important to note that phase 2a is required only if phase 2b west is constructed according to current proposals. Crucially, those proposals could be changed by the Armitt review, and all that phase 2a would effectively achieve would be to connect HS2 to the west coast main line approximately 58 km further north—at Blakenhall, south of Crewe—rather than at the Handsacre link. With the estimated cost of phase 2a now rising to £6.6 billion, it is not wise—this is the crucial point—to commit to phase 2a without knowing what Sir John Armitt might conclude regarding phase 2b.

This project will cause immense damage to my constituents, although I will not expand on that at this juncture as that point is related to ground conditions and matters that I could go into in more detail only if I had more time. In a nutshell it comes to this: HS2 Ltd produced a report in 2019, and it is clear that it faces a shortfall of fill along the entire length of phase 2a. Such fundamental questions can be taken into account under the proposed changes to the Standing Orders now being discussed only if realism prevails.

Will the Minister use this opportunity to give an assurance on the Floor of the House that phase 2a will be treated, in some shape or form, in the context of what Sir John Armitt will consider with regard to phase 2b? The two things are interlinked, and as this is a railway that goes from north to south, it is essential that it all fits together. If phase 2b is to be reviewed by Sir John Armitt, for the reasons I have already given it is essential that phase 2a is also considered in the review by Sir John Armitt. Otherwise—I say this with a great generosity of heart—the Minister may find that if he does not do what I am suggesting, they will get to phase 2b and find that phase 2a does not work. If that does not work, we will end up with a railway that is not be capable of being constructed.

In light of the changes to the Standing Orders, I am offering a realistic appraisal that will make possible a proper review not only of phase 2b, but of phase 2a, which is what the Bill is about. I do not need to expand on that any more. I am concerned about compensation for my constituents, and about a range of other matters that lie outside the motion before us. In a nutshell, it is essential that phase 2a and phase 2b are somehow brought within the framework of the terms of reference issued by the Government for Sir John Armitt to consider. If we get that, we will at least be able to have a proper consultation, and on that I rest my case.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con) - Hansard
2 Mar 2020, 9 p.m.

The most interesting speeches in this place are always given when one does not expect to make them. I am sure that what I am about to say will not find favour with a lot of my colleagues, but sometimes one has to stand up in this place for what is right. I spent over a year on the phase 1 hybrid Bill Committee. We delved into that railway in enormous detail. I am sure that my colleagues who served on the phase 2a Committee, which also took nearly a year, delved into that in huge detail as well. I commend the motion to the House. This resurrection motion is the correct thing to do.

I started my service on that Committee opposed to the railway on the grounds that it was high-speed rail. However, it is nothing to do with high-speed rail; it is all about capacity. Unless we take passengers and freight off the east coast and west coast main lines, our roads will clog up, journey times will become completely untenable and we will fail to meet our carbon targets in 2050. The revival motion is therefore right and we need to build this railway. We need to build not only phase 1, but phase 2 and phase 2b.

As deputy Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, I want absolute value for money. I have already seen, in the phase 1 Committee, some of the horrors that took place. The evidence before us was, in many cases, disingenuous. The costs of the things we were doing were not fully costed. Nor was it fully understood how they could be delivered. I would be very concerned if the motion led to the same things on phase 2a.

Let me, with a little bit of latitude, give the Chamber some examples of what we found. The chief finance officer for HS2 Ltd asked permission in writing to pay enhanced redundancy payments. He was told not to, but he went ahead and did it anyway. That cost the taxpayer nearly £2 million. On Wednesday, the Public Accounts Committee will examine the costs. We will consider why £2 billion of savings—most of this is expected to come from phase 1 and phase 2a, which is what we are negotiating tonight—are probably undeliverable. Whatever the costs at the moment, they will be higher than whatever anybody says.

We need to build this railway. We need to increase capacity on our railways. We need to get cars and freight off our roads, otherwise they will clog up. That is why I support the motion.

Dr Kieran Mullan Portrait Dr Kieran Mullan (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con) - Hansard
2 Mar 2020, 9:02 p.m.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, because this matter is hugely important to my constituency. I welcome the revival of the Bill, and hopefully its imminent passage, as evidence of the Government backing Crewe and backing the north. If you will allow me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I want to explain why I support the revival of the Bill.

I was glad to have had the opportunity to host the Minister at Crewe station just last week, where he got to hear first-hand about what is already happening locally: businesses opening up in Crewe and the plans Cheshire East Council has to create a new economic hub around the station. The revival of the Bill will accelerate the positive changes we see locally.

Break in Debate

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con) - Hansard
2 Mar 2020, 9:14 p.m.

I am pleased that the Government have finally made a decision on HS2, and I welcome the fact that the uncertainty over the project is now at an end. Many of my constituents who are directly affected disagree with the project but have told me over the last few weeks that the overwhelming feeling now is that if we are going to do it, we should get on with it but do it properly. However, throughout my constituency, compensation claims remain unresolved, house purchases have entered another year of limbo, and farms and local businesses have been left wondering whether they can prevent themselves from becoming insolvent before HS2 will agree to a settlement.

Let me give some specific examples. Mr and Mrs Tabernor have told me that their farmhouse may be demolished, and they have been told by HS2 Ltd that they cannot retire and move to their farm cottage, allowing their son to live in the farmhouse, because that would invalidate their blight notice. They have already been waiting for years for a resolution, and that, in my view, is simply unacceptable. After five years or more of negotiation, Ingestre Park Golf Club is also still waiting for HS2 to come to the table and finally thrash out a reasonable agreement, and that too is not acceptable.

Residents of Hopton, Marston and Yarlet, whose house sales remain in limbo, have told me that they cannot make an offer for a new home because some Stafford estate agents now refuse to deal with anyone selling to HS2. It concerns me that they view HS2 as either too unresponsive or too difficult to deal with: that hardly gives confidence to me or my constituents.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
2 Mar 2020, 9:16 p.m.

May I tactfully suggest to my hon. Friend—my friend, indeed, whom I congratulate on winning her seat—that this may be the moment of maximum leverage for her to secure a settlement on behalf of her constituents, and that she should send all the details to the Minister and ask him to look at them carefully?

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke - Hansard
2 Mar 2020, 9:19 p.m.

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I shall be doing that.

On a general note, when it comes to negotiating, let me make something clear. When people from HS2 visit the homes of my constituents, say that they are there to listen to their concerns, sit there having a cup of and a biscuit, and then tell them that they are being over-optimistic to expect to be paid the price at which their house or business has been valued and give them the silent treatment when they do not agree, that is not a negotiation; it is a bullying tactic. I was pleased when the Prime Minister, responding to my recent question to him in the Chamber, acknowledged that compensation needed to be paid, and I agree with him that we need an overhaul of HS2 Ltd, which, in my opinion, has managed the project poorly.

I was devastated to learn from so many of my constituents that they had agreed to sell their homes—in some cases, their long-standing family homes, where they had raised their children—for less than the market value, and that their mental health could not cope with the pressure that they felt they were being put under by HS2. If I sound angry, it is because I am. Let me provide some context for that

My very first piece of constituency casework on HS2 involved a member of my team who was counselling, and helping to secure mental health support for, one of my constituents who had told me that he could no longer cope with the pressure he was under. He said that everything was going to the wall because HS2 had refused to finalise negotiations. After lengthy and protracted work in an attempt to reach an agreement to move his family business, he was told by HS2 that it would prefer to “extinguish” the business. If a private company were operating in that way, it would be featured on the BBC’s “Watchdog” programme. HS2 must be held to account for its actions.

Let me be very clear. If my constituents are forced to take the strain of this project, they should also reap the rewards. I am pleased that the Government have finally committed themselves to the Handsacre link, which is vital now that the project is going ahead in Staffordshire.

Break in Debate

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson - Hansard
2 Mar 2020, 9:32 p.m.

I appreciate that my right hon. Friend has been a long-term opponent of the scheme, but I would say that the motion before the House tonight is very limited. There will be many future occasions to debate the issue, I am sure.

There are about six minutes left, so, Mr Speaker, if you will allow me, I must make some progress in responding to some of the comments made by right hon. and hon. Members. The Prime Minister has made a firm commitment that we will get hold of this project and have a firm grip on it. It goes alongside a programme of wider transport investment. The Prime Minister outlined a vision for a revolution in local transport to ensure that our towns and cities in every region have the modern joined-up network needed to fire up economic growth.

Let me turn to the points raised in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) has been a vocal opponent of HS2 for many years, speaking frequently and eloquently on behalf of his constituents, and I understand the concerns he has expressed tonight. He asks whether I would consider not providing phase 2a until the phase 2b review has been completed, so that phase 2a can be looked at again in the light of the integrated rail plan. What I would say to him is that in giving his go-ahead to HS2 in this House on 11 February, the Prime Minister committed the Government to getting on with building phase 2a immediately and this has been reflected in the terms of reference set out for the integrated rail plan. However, I appreciate my hon. Friend’s concerns, and although I cannot change the terms of that review I am keen to work with him to ensure that the views of his constituents are heard throughout this process. I am therefore happy to commit to working with him and facilitating meetings with HS2 Ltd to address the deep concerns that I know he still holds as the Bill completes its passage.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
2 Mar 2020, 9:33 p.m.

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson - Hansard
2 Mar 2020, 9:33 p.m.

I am sorry, but we are perilously close to running out of time. My hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) spoke eloquently in support of the motion. He is right on capacity and he is right in what he said on carbon. I want to reassure him that the Government are taking decisive action to restore discipline to the programme and I welcome the oversight that will be brought by the Public Accounts Committee to that project.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
2 Mar 2020, 9:33 p.m.

On that point, will the Minister give way?

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson - Hansard
2 Mar 2020, 9:33 p.m.

indicated assent.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
2 Mar 2020, 9:34 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend. The Public Accounts Committee has had two inquiries and we are about to have another. There is universal agreement on this side of the House tonight that we need to get control of the governance of the thing and we need to get control of the cost. Will my hon. Friend give an absolute assurance to the House tonight that he will redouble his efforts to get control of the costs?

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson - Hansard
2 Mar 2020, 9:34 p.m.


High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Excerpts
Monday 15th July 2019

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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HM Treasury
Jeremy Lefroy Hansard
15 Jul 2019, 6:09 p.m.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I have had a number of similar cases. In fact I was about to refer to one involving a constituent of mine who does not mind being mentioned: Mr Jim Prenold has a farm that is bisected by HS2 and has been trying to negotiate a proper solution to the problem caused by HS2. After several years—it is now more than six years since the route was initially published—there is still no solution for Mr Prenold and his family. Again, I urge the Minister to instruct HS2 to sort this out. That can be done very easily and quickly, and with good will.

Let me return to a matter that has an impact on costs and is therefore relevant particularly to new clauses 1 and 4: the whole question of the reuse of soil from the line, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Stone is very knowledgeable. HS2 considers that it can reuse on the line something like 80% of the spoil from cuttings and other excavations. If that is the case, I welcome it, because it would cut down the number of lorry and truck movements required to take away the spoil and to bring in the new spoil needed for embankments and other works. But what we understand—this needs to be proven or disproven—is that the percentage of excavated soil that can be reused on the line is in many cases as low as 20% and possibly even less. Hon. Members can do the maths and understand that we are talking about hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of tonnes of spoil that have to be taken off site because they cannot be used on site, and which then have to be replaced by millions of tonnes of spoil for use on site. That has two major implications: cost, and impact on the transport network in our neck of the woods.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) were here, he would refer to junction 15 of the M6, which is already one of the most difficult junctions on the motorway network and needs to be remodelled. The number of truck movements through that junction will increase enormously if the figures about the use of spoil that are built into the provisions of this phase are not correct. The A51/A34 Stone roundabout would also be affected, because it is directly on one of the routes used by vehicles, as would many other parts of my constituency and the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Stone and for Stoke-on-Trent South and the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) and for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly).

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 Jul 2019, 6:13 p.m.

May I take my hon. Friend back to his remarks about his constituent’s farming problem? When I was on the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill Committee, we had some problems like this and representatives of the National Farmers Union gave evidence to the Committee. The NFU is constantly in touch with HS2 Ltd. There are well-known valuation techniques for dealing with all the problems relating to land that may be taken; it is just a question of getting HS2 round to actually doing it. May I suggest that if my hon. Friend’s constituent were to contact the NFU, he might get some action?

Jeremy Lefroy Hansard
15 Jul 2019, 6:14 p.m.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. My office has been in touch with the gentleman in question for many years and we are also in touch with the NFU. I agree that there are many cases in which the course of action that my hon. Friend describes has been successful. The NFU has done a great job, as have local land agents and my constituency office. I particularly want to mention my chief of staff, James Cantrell, who has done a fantastic job on this for many constituents over six years. However, there are unfortunately still too many exceptions to the rule. I do not want to do down HS2’s staff, a lot of whom work very hard and try their best to work for my constituents, but they are often frustrated by decisions higher up that do not give them the latitude to make sensible decisions locally on behalf of my constituents.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
15 Jul 2019, 6:14 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. On the Committee, we also found that cases tended to get resolved much quicker when a Member of Parliament got involved on behalf of a constituent. I say to the Minister, who I hope is listening, that HS2 should have sufficient staff that it should not be necessary for a Member of Parliament to get involved in every single individual case, whether it involves the taking of a house, a bit of a farm or whatever. Unfortunately, it is all too often necessary for a Member of Parliament to get involved, as my hon. Friend has demonstrated with his examples.

Jeremy Lefroy Hansard
15 Jul 2019, 6:15 p.m.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but sadly we have had to get involved in almost every case, and some cases have taken far too long to resolve partly because of the lack of delegation.