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)
Theo Clarke Excerpts
Monday 2nd March 2020

(12 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Transport
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”.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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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.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
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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
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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.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant
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2 Mar 2020, 9:18 p.m.

I fully understand my hon. Friend’s stance on the Handsacre link, but, given that it is in my constituency, does she understand the distress that it is causing people in Armitage with Handsacre?

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke
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2 Mar 2020, 9:18 p.m.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.

When people in my constituency say that they are opposed to HS2, it is not because they are nimbys—as some have accused them of being—and I have not met a single resident who has not told me that that they want more investment in the north, and specifically in the west midlands. However, those residents are opposed to being treated as an inconvenience because their homes happen to be in the way of a railway that the Government want to build. They shudder when they hear that savings need to be found, because if past experience is anything to go by, it will not be HS2 salaries that go down; it will be the purchase prices and compensation paid to my constituents. However, I hope I am proved wrong.

Let me be clear: HS2 is going to happen, and if there is a vote tonight, I will reluctantly support the Government, but if HS2 is going to hang over the heads of my constituents, we must get on with it as soon as we can. Our first priority must be to finalise all the negotiations that are taking place and let my constituents get on with their lives. The advert once said “Let the train take the strain”, and I hope it does, because at present the strain that it is putting on my constituents is unacceptable. I support the Government in building national infrastructure, but the lack of adequate compensation for my constituents and the delays by HS2 are simply unacceptable. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his assurances on compensation, but I would like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister for clarity on when it will be delivered. I also want to ask the Minister and his departmental officials to sit down with me to go through every single outstanding case in Stafford to ensure that my constituents are no longer left in HS2 limbo. They deserve that from the Government.

Owen Paterson Portrait Mr Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con)
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2 Mar 2020, 9:21 p.m.

I will be brief, because I am sure that others want to speak. I remember hearing the news about this when I was in the Cabinet. In 2010, we were told that the project was going to cost a little over £30 billion, that it would give a direct link from the north straight to HS1, opening up all the opportunities of the continent, that it was going to go directly to Heathrow, with all the advantages that that would bring, and that it would cut out short flights from Manchester and Liverpool down to Heathrow. That is not going to happen. Instead, we are going to go to somewhere called Old Oak Common. This might be a very charming place. It might have many attractions, but my constituents do not want to go to Old Oak Common. They want a direct link to HS1 and the continent, or they want to go to Heathrow.

And what has happened to the money? The money is absolutely out of control. It was £30 billion. Then we were told it was £80 billion. The latest estimate is £100 billion. The very worst figure I saw in a Sunday paper was £230 billion. Put brutally, this is Victorian technology: rolling around the country in steel boxes on steel wheels on steel track is Victorian technology. It was revolutionary at the time, but now we have broadband. The chief executive of Openreach has said that for £30 billion, the original cost of HS2, we could provide superfast fibre to every single one of the 30 million properties in the country. That would deliver far greater social, educational and economic benefits than spending this titanic sum.

It is with some regret that I have seen this project slip and slip. I have seen it with my own eyes, locally, in the village of Woore. It is effectively a salient of Shropshire sticking out into Cheshire and Staffordshire—a village of 1,200 people, a large primary school and an already busy main road, quite a lot of which has no pavements. This means that small people go to school without a pavement to walk on. HS2 announced suddenly—notices were put up in Woore, and we were told this at a meeting—that there would be 600 vehicles a day passing through the village during the construction phase. At 24 vehicles a day, a project has to get permission under section 17 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, but we are talking about 600. We have had numerous meetings with HS2. I give all credit to HS2: it has always come along, but it has not budged an inch. All that we have done is double the time of the construction phase, so that instead of 600 vehicles a day, there will be 300 a day—