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)
Robert Largan Excerpts
Monday 2nd March 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
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.