High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill: Revival DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Theo ClarkeMain Page: Theo Clarke (Conservative - Stafford)
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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”.
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?
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—