High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill (Instruction) (No. 3) Debate

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Department: Department for Transport

High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill (Instruction) (No. 3)

Graham Stringer Excerpts
Tuesday 21st May 2024

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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To be clear, I give a commitment that HS2 will not be going through my hon. Friend’s constituency, and therefore any petitions that were going to be relevant should lapse. This is a matter for the Bill Committee, but that would be the logical extension. Any petitions already made on this 15-mile stretch, which will continue to be within the remit because it continues to be the preferred route, will be heard by the Committee if this motion is passed. If there are amendments, such as from an environmental statement or any that I may propose, that reopens the window for petitions. On that basis, if there is anything new a petition can be made, but if there is not, the petition should already be in. I feel that is the right outcome.

I shall make some more progress. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) made clear on Second Reading, and as I have mentioned, part of the Bill’s original purpose was always to deliver this section of Northern Powerhouse Rail, the first half of the line between Manchester and Liverpool. Following today’s motion, the Committee will be able to go back to considering petitions from people and organisations still affected by the scheme. The Committee will also assess any changes to the Bill that I may bring forward to adapt it to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail.

The proposed changes to the Bill will, quite rightly, prompt a new environmental assessment that will consider how any new element in the scheme will affect local areas. Where possible, I will use this as an opportunity to further reduce the construction impacts on communities, and the changes will be provided to the House in the usual way. Although this is a rather technical motion, holding this debate demonstrates good progress in developing the Government’s long-held ambition to improve connectivity between Liverpool and Manchester.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab)
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Can the Minister tell the House when Northern Powerhouse Rail will be complete?

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman
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I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an exact and firm date, but I am seeking to put the Bill Committee back on track, rather than restart the entire process—something that has been championed and supported by the Mayors of Manchester and Liverpool, and others. By its very definition we will be looking to deliver the Bill back, so that we can crack on and give the hon. Gentleman an earlier date than he may perhaps believe will be the case.

Since the Network North announcement, we have been engaging local leaders and MPs about the form the connection between Liverpool and Manchester will take, and we have held many discussions with local leaders to establish what their communities want from such a link. Alongside that, we must ensure that the options being considered represent the best possible use of the £12 billion funding available. On 25 March I was able to deposit a written statement in this place on the outcome of those discussions. We have heard clear support for a railway with stops at Liverpool, Warrington Bank Quay, Manchester airport and Manchester Piccadilly. Local leaders also supported the plan that the new railway should follow the broad alignment set out in the 2021 integrated rail plan.

The section of railway that we are discussing today is part of the plan’s larger Northern Powerhouse Rail network. We will improve connections on both sides of the Pennines, both by building new lines and by upgrading existing ones. Trains on this line will go past Manchester and on to York via Leeds. We will also upgrade the existing railway between Leeds and Bradford to reduce journey times and increase capacity between those destinations. Stations will also be upgraded and made more accessible. The environmental impact of the network will be reduced by further electrification.

With this plan, towns and cities across the whole of the north will benefit from direct services to Manchester airport. Passengers travelling to the airport from Liverpool could see their journeys slashed by almost an hour, while passengers from Leeds could benefit from a 41-minute reduction. The new station at Manchester airport will unlock the potential to further promote the international airport, acting as a catalyst for growth across the north-west.

That is just one of the benefits that Network North—our new long-term plan for transport—will deliver. We are refocusing on the journeys that really matter to people, connecting towns, cities and rural communities in all regions of the country. Every penny of the £19.8 billion committed to the northern leg of HS2 will be reinvested in the north. Every penny of the £9.6 billion committed to the midlands leg will be reinvested in the midlands. Bradford will get a brand-new station and connection, reducing journey times from Manchester from 56 minutes to 30 minutes.

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Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton
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I thank my hon. Friend for those very thoughtful points. I entirely agree that the instruction is wide-ranging. It is concerning to see those sorts of powers being put forward to the Committee. It really does show the abuse of the hybrid Bill process. If any services are to use the line, the railway would have to secure much wider enhancements and additional complex infrastructure, and there is no guarantee of that being delivered. As I said, the delivery of any services on this line will depend on permission being secured for the rest of the section, and that will be approved under a completely separate planning process. The approach being taken really is totally back to front.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer
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As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have a principled disagreement with him on HS2, but I respect his position. He is making a powerful case for dividing the House on this matter. Will he divide the House on it?

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton
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We may come to that shortly, but I am very concerned about this. Certainly, we may consider dividing on the motion.

We should focus first on properly understanding the connectivity enhancement need, and then design the infrastructure to meet that need. Instead, we already have the infrastructure design, and are trying to make it fit with the improvements that we would like for connectivity across the north, because we do not want to spend time doing this properly and restarting the hybrid Bill process. It might have made sense to use the proposed route when the track would be shared with HS2, but it does not make any sense now that phase 2 has gone. It is neither the optimal route for benefits nor the most cost-effective to deliver. I am afraid that this really is an abuse of the hybrid Bill process.

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Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab)
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I do not think I will detain the House long. I want to say two or three things. The first is that there is an element of unreality about this debate, as there has been about many debates on Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 phase 2b. Mr Deputy Speaker, you may remember this as a northern MP—I am sure the Minister will remember it, too—but almost exactly 10 years ago, on 23 June, George Osborne as Chancellor of the Exchequer went to the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester and announced Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Since that time, the rail system across the north of England has had three names: it has been HS3, Crossrail of the north, and Northern Powerhouse Rail. How much work has been done on it? There has been no design work, no land purchased and no money dedicated to it. Ten years later, we are here, and the Minister says, “We will crack on with it.” “Crack on”, if I may say, after 10 years of complete inactivity when it was a Government commitment, is a rum old phrase to use for Northern Powerhouse Rail, if the Minister does not mind me saying so. He has made a decent fist of a cackhanded decision by the Government on HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

At different times and for political reasons and for other reasons, people have counterpoised against each other the Crossrail of the north, or Northern Powerhouse Rail, or HS3, against HS2. That is a strange thing to do, because if we increase the capacity of the rail system with HS2, those passengers have to have somewhere to go. The same applies if we increase the capacity, as I hope we do, with Northern Powerhouse Rail. If we have a good system going from Manchester to Hull via Bradford and Leeds and York, those passengers have to go somewhere.

If we have a new station at Manchester airport, we want people to come through it in great numbers, not just east-west but from the south as well. So that is a mistake, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan). While I respect the hon. Members for Stone (Sir William Cash) and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), they have been consistently opposed to HS2 for constituency reasons and how they see the impact of HS2 on Stafford, for example. Many of us on this side have seen the economic and transport benefits of HS2.

What I do not accept at all is the Prime Minister, unselected by his own party and unelected by the people of the United Kingdom, turning up after manifesto commitments from both parties—all three parties, in fact, if we go back to the original decision in 2009 when all three parties supported HS2—and saying, “We will stop it.” Whether we are talking about Northern Powerhouse Rail or HS2, the economic development of the north of England has, in effect, been abandoned by this Government. I do not know if the Prime Minister has ever driven up—or been driven up—the M6, but it is at full capacity. The decision to not go ahead with HS2 will reduce not only the capacity of the rail system but the speed because the trains will have to be split and they will not tilt. So the Government have isolated the north of England, and Manchester in particular.

Incidentally—this is not the main point of what I was going to say—I hear the Minister using the pork barrel politics of this Government by saying, “Well, Bradford can get this, so therefore it will not be supporting HS2.” When I chaired the board of Manchester airport, people in Yorkshire, the north-east and across the north of England knew the economic benefits of transport coming to Manchester. There was a North of England regional consortium that supported both Manchester airport and better links to it. So it is completely wrong to juxtapose investment in Bradford—which Bradford needs, as it has been neglected by most of the north of England—against investment in HS2 going to Manchester airport and to Manchester.

Mark Hendrick Portrait Sir Mark Hendrick
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I declare an interest, in that I was a director of Manchester airport as well, some years back, as a Salford city councillor appointed to that position. Many in the House—although not the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton)—will remember phase 1of HS2, and I sat on that Committee for the best part of a year and a half. The whole process was very elongated—I will try not to make my intervention too elongated—but what it boiled down to was that when members of that Committee, particularly those on the Government side, had constituency interests, they tended to be far more accommodating, and the costs spiralled because there were tunnels going here, there and everywhere instead of going direct. That inflated the price. The reason we are in this mess now is that the Government have realised that we are close to an election and they want to spend £12 billion of the £37 billion that should have been spent on phase 2. They are now scattering it around certain places in the north of England in the hope that they can use that promise to get more—

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Order. This is a very elongated intervention.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his very long intervention. He is obviously right. Cheryl Gillan did a fantastic job.She was opposed to HS2, and she increased the costs enormously by getting tunnels built under the hills in her constituency.

Another way of looking at the economic nonsense we have had from this Government is that we do not have a high-speed route for the nation; we have an extension of the London underground. We have tunnels leading out of London to Birmingham. I do not know the train times, but my guess is that the times going to Birmingham, going through the tunnels out of London, will be shorter than using the Elizabeth line to travel across London. HS2 is just part of the underground system. It is a London scheme now, not a national scheme.

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash
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At the moment, travelling from Stoke-on-Trent or Stafford down to London Euston, as Conservative Members do, takes just over an hour. I would have thought that most people regard that as pretty fast.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer
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Indeed, but we are talking about major national infrastructure. I always hoped that HS2 would not just go to Manchester and Leeds but, for both political and transport reasons, would go to Scotland. As someone who believes in the Union between England and Scotland, I think that would help, and it would be very good transport policy, too.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for taking another intervention. Does he agree that cancelling the northern leg of HS2 has taken away capacity that is now ending up on the roads, and that we therefore have more congestion, more pollution and more environmental damage?

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer
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I agree with the hon. Lady, and I hope I have already made that point.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton
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The hon. Gentleman mentioned Scotland. Of course, it was always intended that HS2 would be compatible with the conventional network that serves Scotland. Why does he think the Department for Transport specified HS2 trains that are not able to tilt and are not the right size to go on the classic network?

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer
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I cannot answer that question. It was a Government decision, and the Minister has indicated that he will answer.

I respect those who oppose HS2. This House has supported HS2, which has been in all of our manifestos. I think it is outrageous that HS2 to Manchester has been cancelled by an insulting edict from the Prime Minister. The most important point in this debate was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan), who said that the elected Mayors of the west midlands and Greater Manchester have put together a plan to consider alternative methods of funding HS2. I hope the Minister can reassure the House that the Government will not follow a “burnt fields” policy of destroying it to make it more difficult for an incoming Labour Government to resurrect it.

The Conservative Members present say that they will remain opposed to HS2, and I remain supportive, because HS2 is good for the country, good for the environment and good for the economy of the north of England.