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)
Kieran Mullan Excerpts
Monday 2nd March 2020

(12 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)
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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.

Kieran Mullan Portrait Dr Kieran Mullan (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con)
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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.

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash
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2 Mar 2020, 9:03 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend accept that originally the railhead was going to be in Crewe? It was only frustrated by decisions on housing grounds taken by the district council. In fact, it was dumped on Stone in my constituency without any notice.

Kieran Mullan Portrait Dr Mullan
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2 Mar 2020, 9:03 p.m.

I cannot pretend, as a new Member, to have my hon. Friend’s knowledge of the intricate detail and the history of the development of the railway line. However, whether we support or oppose it, we all have a duty, when decisions on individual stations are looked at in detail, always to be open-minded to change if things are undergoing scrutiny. Ultimately, as I will come on to say, if we are building a major new railway it is inevitable that some people will face a negative environmental impact and some will have some part of the railway deposited on their patch, which they are not happy with. If we allowed that to, in effect, put a moratorium on the development of major infrastructure, that would not be the right decision for this country, even if individual Members were unhappy with it.

On what does work for my constituents, they are not very interested in getting to London 30 minutes quicker; they really are not very interested in that. What they are interested in, and what we must remind them of in terms of what we get from HS2, is that it opens up capacity as we shift inter-city traffic on to HS2 so there are more routes and journeys available to them. Faster routes tend to push the local services off the track. They welcome HS2 because it means we can transport more freight by rail. Local businesses in my area cannot get freight on to rail. When they can do that, they will be more competitive and we will move congestion off the roads. If you drive around the A roads in Crewe at night, you will see lorry after lorry after lorry parked up. That is how things are moved around and we need to switch back to the railway.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant
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2 Mar 2020, 9:04 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend not realise that there is a danger that for constituencies such as mine that are not directly served by HS2—of which there are many along the west coast main line—moving freight on to the west coast main line could result in a diminution of passenger services to cities such as Lichfield?

Kieran Mullan Portrait Dr Mullan
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I go back to my original point: at the moment, those more local services are hampered by the use of the west coast main line for freight and inter-city services. We will see an opening up of local routes if we move ahead with HS2, not a diminution of them.

On passengers and peak-time travel, at the moment price control is used to control peak-time travel. People cannot come down to London at 8 o’clock because the tickets are extortionate, primarily because that is the only way that we can manage the over-capacity at peak times. If we move the inter-city journeys at peak times on to HS2, there will be more, cheaper, accessible peak-time travel on the west coast main line and it will still get people to London in an hour and a half.

Another thing that my constituents will welcome is the link to the northern regions through Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford (Bury South) (Con)
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2 Mar 2020, 9:04 p.m.

Many people have framed this argument as being between having only HS2 or Northern Powerhouse Rail. Does my hon. Friend agree that we can have both, and both can work together?

Kieran Mullan Portrait Dr Mullan
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Absolutely. It is not either/or; it is about working together. High Speed North is a rebranding and a new way of organising this—we should firmly hammer that point home—and it is about making this project one that is led in the northern regions by the northern regions, for the northern regions. I welcome that change in the governance.

Robert Largan Portrait Robert Largan (High Peak) (Con)
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2 Mar 2020, 9:04 p.m.

Further to what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) pointed out, people in London were not forced to choose between Crossrail and Crossrail 2. It is completely wrong to try to force people in the north to choose between HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and other key infrastructure projects.

Kieran Mullan Portrait Dr Mullan
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Absolutely. Inevitably, projects overrun. That is unfortunate and not something that we welcome, but they do, and the fact that this has overrun should not mean that we therefore cancel it, because other people have not had to make the same choice in the south.

HS2 is a fantastic opportunity for Crewe. We have an amazing heritage and enormous local expertise in the rail industry. Crewe is and has always been a fantastic railway town. Passing the Bill and the delivery of the railway will create thousands of skilled jobs in Crewe for people helping to build the railway line.

I understand the concerns about the natural environment and I commend colleagues from constituencies where the impact will be greatest for speaking up on behalf of their residents. That is absolutely the right thing for them to do, but as I mentioned, any new major railway line connecting our cities and towns will have some degree of environmental impact. That is inevitable. We must be realistic about whether some of the strongest critics—they are not all in this House; some are outside this place—will ever really be satisfied. If we listen too closely to the voices of opposition in terms of trees and the environment, we will put a moratorium on creating major new rail and road infrastructure in this country, and that cannot be the right decision.

It is simply not feasible to suggest that we can deliver significant new capacity on our railway networks through a piecemeal approach. Network Rail estimates that it would take almost 30 years of weekend closures for even less of a result in terms of increased capacity. When this was last done on the west coast main line, the budget exploded. It might be harder to track and there might be fewer newspaper-worthy headline figures, but hundreds of smaller projects are at just as big a risk of overrunning and overspending. We need to get better at controlling costs when building infrastructure, full stop. The answer is not to halt the big-ticket items where the failings are most easily seen, because they are there on small projects, too. It is just not so easy for a journalist to add up the figures over 100 different projects and put that in a newspaper. We should not listen to that kind of criticism; it is not valid.

I recognise the significant costs involved, but this is being spent across two decades. It will work out as approximately £4.4 billion a year. The context of the timescales is too often lost when we use the headline figure. Network Rail spends around £6 billion a year on maintaining and making much smaller upgrades to our rail network, and we are planning to spend £40 billion over the next five years on other projects outside HS2. The idea that we could build a brand-new major railway line for much less than the £6 billion a year already being spent is fantasy. Let’s be ambitious for our nation. Let’s look forward, not down at our feet, get on with delivering this project and send the message to the world that the UK is open for business.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
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2 Mar 2020, 9:10 p.m.

I note with interest that the motion talks about revival. To me, it is the revival of a corpse; it’s like a Hammer movie. We talk about connectivity. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) talked about the need for additional capacity, and I agree, but let us at least do it properly. The aim was to get people off aircraft—people who want to fly to Paris from Manchester, for example—but that isn’t going to happen, is it? Instead of going to St Pancras, connecting with HS1 and going straight through to Paris, people will have to change in London. It will not replace air travel. Yes, it will provide extra connectivity, as far as Crewe and London are concerned, but it will not meet the guidelines of what was originally intended for HS2.

Why is it going in straight lines? It is going in straight lines because it was intended to go at 220 mph, but the Oakervee review says it will not go at that speed; to save money, it will go at about 150 or 160 mph instead, in which case it could have gone alongside the M40 or the M1, as Arup originally proposed, which would have saved at least £20 billion of taxpayers’ money and been less environmentally damaging.

When it comes to a vote, if it does come to a vote this evening, I will vote against revival, but not because I am against extra capacity. Of course I want extra capacity and of course I recognise that the west coast main line is working at near-100% capacity, but I totally disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, who completely misunderstands the situation. It is fine for Crewe, but not for all those towns, such as Stone and others, along the west coast main line; extra freight on that line will mean less passenger traffic. Anyone with an ounce of mathematical or engineering skill can see that.

I am very angry about this. When I see a project that could have been done so well destroyed by people such as Lord Adonis and then rather stupidly adopted by a Conservative Government, when we could have had an HS2 based on the Arup plan, which would have been cheaper, connected better and been environmentally less damaging, I ask: has the House lost its mind? When I see the Labour party supporting the Government, I know the House has lost its mind, because whenever there is agreement between both sides of the House we know something is wrong.

Some might call this a revival, but for me it is a dead, rotten corpse that we are trying to bring to life. Despite the Government’s support—and despite the fact that the former Mayor of London said that Euston was not capable of moving traffic away from it now, let alone with HS2, because there is not enough capacity on tube trains or for buses for all the people coming down now—I am afraid I have to oppose it, not just for the sake of the people of Lichfield, but in the hope that maybe some day someone in this House will say, “Enough is enough. If we are going to do something, let’s at least do it properly”.