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By contrast the high speed line, routed via the west midlands, would not only slash the journey time to London from Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield, but nearly halve journey times from those cities to Birmingham, so the east midlands, the north-west and the north-east gain dramatically improved connections within the midlands and the north, as well as to London. Those connections
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would be further enhanced by the northern hub proposals to upgrade the trans-Pennine route from Manchester to Leeds.

Fourthly, the high speed network would enable key local, national and international networks to be better integrated. In particular, by including on the approach of the high speed line to central London an interchange station with the new Crossrail line just west of Paddington, the benefits of both Crossrail and the high speed line are greatly enhanced. Such a Crossrail interchange station would deliver a fast and frequent service to London's west end, the City and docklands, giving, for example, total journey times from central Birmingham to Canary Wharf of just 70 minutes, and from Leeds to Canary Wharf of just 1 hour 40 minutes. That Crossrail interchange would also provide a fast, one-stop Heathrow Express service to Heathrow, in place of the long and tortuous journey to the airport currently experienced by passengers arriving at Euston, Kings Cross and St. Pancreas. Similarly, an interchange station close to Birmingham airport would provide an efficient link to the M6 and M42, the west coast main line, the wider west midlands and the airport itself.

Fifthly, high speed rail would be a sustainable way forward. High speed trains emit far less carbon than cars or planes per passenger mile, and the local impact of high speed lines is far less than that of entirely new motorway alignments in terms of land take and air quality. For those reasons, the Government take the view that high speed rail is preferable both to new inter-city motorways, and to major expansion of domestic aviation, even if those were able to deliver equivalent inter-city capacity and connectivity benefits.

Finally, HS2 Ltd assesses that all those benefits far outweigh the estimated costs. With the project yielding more than £2 of benefit for every £1 of cost, HS2 Ltd estimates the capital cost of the first 120 miles of the line from London to the west midlands at between £15.8 billion and £17.4 billion. That is broadly similar to the cost of Crossrail, which is being built over the next seven years. The cost per mile beyond Birmingham is then estimated to halve, taking the overall cost of the 335 mile Y-shaped network to about £30 billion. That cost would be phased over more than a decade after the start of construction, which would not begin until after the completion of Crossrail in 2017. Indeed, the high speed line would be the transport infrastructure successor project to Crossrail, deploying its skill base and project management expertise, and with a similar annual rate of spend.

I now turn to the specifics of the recommended route. As with any major infrastructure project, there will need to be extensive and detailed consultation, particularly with the local communities affected. Significant time will be needed to ensure that that consultation is properly conducted and considered before the finalisation of Government policy and the introduction of a hybrid Bill. Subject to that consultation, the London terminus for the high speed line would be Euston; the Birmingham city centre station would be at Curzon Street; and there would be interchange stations with Crossrail west of Paddington and near Birmingham airport.

HS2 Ltd's recommended line of route between London and Birmingham is also published today. The Government endorse that route, subject to further work on mitigation that I have commissioned, and to subsequent public
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consultation. HS2 Ltd's recommended route would pass in tunnel from Euston to the Crossrail interchange west of Paddington, and leave London via the Ruislip area, making use of an existing rail corridor. It would then pass by Amersham in tunnel towards Aylesbury, before following the route of the A413 past Wendover.

North of the Chilterns, the recommended route would follow in part the disused Great Central rail alignment before passing Brackley and entering Warwickshire. It would then skirt to the east of Birmingham, to enter the city via a short link alongside an existing rail line beginning in the Water Orton area, with the main line extending north to the west coast main line near Lichfield.

In developing its route, HS2 Ltd has been very conscious of the need to minimise the local impacts while achieving the wider objectives of the high speed line. The company will be publishing a full appraisal of sustainability, including noise and landscape impacts, before formal consultation begins, and I am today publishing details of a proposed exceptional hardship scheme for those whose properties may be directly affected. I would like to assure the House that only once full public consultation on the Government's proposed strategy and recommended route is complete, and its results fully appraised, will the Government make firm decisions.

I turn now to the issue of Heathrow. It is important that Heathrow be connected to any high speed line. A prime purpose of the proposed Crossrail interchange is to provide such a connection, via an 11-minute direct service to Heathrow. However, the overwhelming majority of passengers on a high speed line south of Birmingham would be going to or from London, which is the other reason why the Crossrail interchange station is so important. Crossrail, which is a very high capacity line, will provide fast services direct to the west end, the City and docklands, catering for an estimated one third of all the passengers travelling on the high speed line. Without this interchange to Crossrail, congestion on the tube from Euston would be exacerbated, and passengers would be severely disadvantaged in getting in and through central London.

The question is whether there is a case for an additional station at the site of Heathrow itself. HS2 Ltd, after thorough analysis, advises that the business case for such an additional station appears weak, given the estimated cost of at least £2 billion for the additional tunnelling required to serve the site. Furthermore, Heathrow is not a single place; it is an airport with three widely dispersed terminal centres.

I am conscious, however, that, as foreshadowed in the Government's January 2009 decision on adding capacity at Heathrow, there may be a strategic case for a high speed station at Heathrow, particularly in the light of that planned expansion. I have therefore appointed Lord Mawhinney, a former Transport Secretary, to advise on the best way forward, having fully engaged with all interested parties. A complex decision of this nature should not be taken in a knee-jerk fashion, but after a full analysis of the facts and options.

There are many other benefits of a high speed project. An estimated 10,000 jobs would be created, with benefits too for UK companies competing abroad. Regional economic growth and regeneration would also be boosted, with released capacity on the west coast main line supporting housing growth. All this is set out in the Command Paper I am publishing today and laying in the Libraries of both Houses.

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High speed rail is a long-term strategic project to equip Britain with the transport infrastructure it needs to flourish in the 21st century. Now, as we emerge from recession, is the right time to be planning. The Government's view is that high speed rail could play a crucial role not only in meeting reasonable future transport capacity requirements, but in transforming the connectivity between our major cities, regions and economic centres. It could help to boost the economies of the midlands and the north in particular; help to overcome the historic north-south divide; strengthen the ties that bind Scotland and England; and, through connecting to the channel tunnel and High Speed 1, reinforce our links with the European mainland where high speed rail networks already extend from the north of France to the south of Spain and Italy, and to the east of Germany.

High speed rail is a policy of huge strategic significance for the country. The time has come to create a credible plan, and for this to be a national cause. This is the spirit in which I set out today's proposals, and I commend them to the House.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): I thank the Minister for advance sight of the statement.

Less than three years ago, the then Secretary of State for Transport stood at the Dispatch box and presented a 30-year strategy for the railways that had no place for high speed rail. The Conservative party refused to accept that because we believe it is vital to start catching up with the high speed revolution on which much of the rest of Europe embarked more than a generation ago. The Conservative party totally transformed the debate with our promise to build a north-south high speed rail line as the first step towards the creation of a national network connecting major cities across England, Scotland and Wales.

Ever since then, the Government have been running to catch up with the lead we have set and the momentum we have generated. So we welcomed Labour's change of heart on high speed rail with their establishment of HS2, but we made it clear that we regretted the fact that the remit they gave to HS2 lacked ambition and focused only on the west midlands as stage 1, whereas we want to go further and faster with our guaranteed, costed and timetabled commitment to take high speed rail to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds-as that crucial first step to a national network. The second step should, of course, be a connection with Scotland.

We need to test Labour's last-minute conversion to high speed rail with some searching questions. Will they match our commitment to start work immediately on taking the line beyond Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, as part of stage 1? Will they set a timetable, as we have done, for delivering a line to the north? Why will they not match our commitment to start construction by 2015? What guarantees can they give that fares will be kept within the reach of ordinary families on modest incomes? Will they match our promise to review the blight rules to see whether we can do more to help those affected by whichever route is ultimately chosen? And will they guarantee that the communities affected will have the chance to make their voices heard?

Let me make it clear that we are not prepared blindly to accept the route that Labour propose, and let me also say that when it comes to Heathrow, Labour still does not get it. If we are to get the full environmental
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benefits of high speed rail, it is crucial that we make it as easy as possible for people to switch from the plane to the train, with the carbon benefits involved. It was a major setback when HS2's chairman confirmed that modal shift from air was not to be a key objective in its report. Now we know that the closest HS2's proposals will get to Heathrow is about 10 miles away, at Old Oak Common.

Although we do not rule out use of that site for dispersal, the idea that some kind of "Wormwood Scrubs international" station is the best rail solution for Heathrow is just not credible. It is bizarre that the party elected on a mantra of delivering an integrated transport system is proposing to leave our most important airport out of an upgrade to our transport network that, under Conservative plans, would become the most important for half a century.

At the eleventh hour, however, we have the promise that the Government will think again about the points we have been making for years about the importance of integrating Heathrow with high speed rail. We therefore welcome their decision to appoint Lord Mawhinney to try to find a solution that will command the cross-party consensus we all want.

Although the Conservative party is part of the growing consensus backing high speed rail, we are adamant that Britain's high speed solution must be the right one for the environment and for the economy. In leaving out Heathrow and setting out plans that do not give costed, timetabled and watertight guarantees to take the line north of the midlands, Labour's plans are flawed, lack credibility and are undermined by their inability to grasp the basic truth: that high speed rail should be an alternative, not an addition, to a third runway.

The decisions we make now will have a profound impact on our transport system for generations to come, and I can assure the House that a Conservative Government would have the energy, leadership and values to deliver high speed rail's full potential for this country.

Mr. Khan: I find that incredible! I am shocked by the hon. Lady's response. If ever evidence was required of why that lot are unfit to form a Government, she has provided it. Last Sunday, her leader boasted that he is proud to be a salesman. This is the same person who, at the same time as ending the cold war, so he claimed, was planning high speed rail.

Let us be clear: on the one hand, the hon. Lady says that she wants work to begin immediately, which is confirmation-if it is required-that the Conservatives' plans and route are written on the back of an envelope. That route is: London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. They want to begin construction work in 2015, but they also claim to want to consult. How can they consult as fully as possible with the people affected, follow the guidelines and advice and go through a hybrid Bill-and still start construction work in 2015? They claim to have done the work, but most of the costs will come when construction begins, whether in 2015 or-as we plan-2017. It is quite remarkable that the hon. Lady is asking us to accept 2015 as an ideal start date for any construction, when chapter 5 of the High Speed 2 Ltd report gives a detailed explanation of the work that needs to take place between now and the beginning of any construction.

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The hon. Lady also raised the issue of Heathrow. It beggars belief that she has not understood what the people who looked into the report said-I have the evidence here, and it is slightly thicker than the back of an envelope-in working out the value-for-money case for a station at Heathrow, bearing it in mind that most people in London, as well as most people coming into London from Birmingham or elsewhere north of the capital, do not want to be delayed by going to Heathrow. She completely rules out the possibility of an interchange station to the west of Paddington at Old Oak Common, at the same time that Hammersmith and Fulham council and Ealing council are lobbying for an interchange station there. She says that there should be an interchange at Heathrow airport, and goes on to say that this is the most important priority for her party-

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I interrupt the Minister of State for a moment? This has been a most curious exchange so far. First, the statement was a bit on the long side, although it was highly informative to the House, and I am sure that hon. Members appreciated that. Secondly, rather unusually, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) did not pose any questions in her response, which is the norm- [ Interruption. ] Order. She responded as she thought fit, and I was happy to allow that, but there did not seem to be a series of questions, which is the proper way to proceed in these matters. I fear that the Minister of State is now following suit and devoting quite a considerable amount of time to a dissection of the Opposition's policy as he sees it, but I know that he will now return posthaste to the Government's policy.

Mr. Khan: I said that I was surprised by the response of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers), and I will end with a question: are this lot fit to form a Government?

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I thank the Minister for today's welcome statement. Britain has trailed behind Europe for a long time on high speed rail. I also very much welcome the fact that something for which we have been calling for years-long before the Conservatives, while they were still winning the cold war-has finally been brought forward by the Government. Can the Minister confirm that the Government's high speed rail scheme will provide extra capacity for the railways, enable modal shift from air, and help economic development in the regions? Will he also confirm that it will be very popular, as I think it will be, given the enormous response to the Javelin trains in the south-east?

I acknowledge the cross-party attempts by the Secretary of State to involve all parties in the House in a constructive dialogue on the issue and to make it a national project. I thank the Minister for the access I have had to HS2 and for the private briefing the Secretary of State gave me a few weeks ago, which for some reason the Conservatives apparently rejected. Does the Minister agree that we are talking about a matter of national importance that requires consensus in the House, and that all parties ought to approach it in that way? Does he therefore share my concern at the Conservatives' attempt to create a kind of synthetic candy-floss row, rather than trying to move forward in a sensible, constructive way? They appear to be putting short-term politics before the long-term interests of the country, which brings into question their commitment to high speed rail.

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Will the Minister acknowledge that funding is a difficult issue, given the current state of the public finances? Will he consider the suggestion put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), the Lib Dem shadow Chancellor-the construction of a national infrastructure bank, perhaps using pension funds, which will help to guarantee stability in the funding for such major national projects? Does the Minister also agree that it is important when such projects are under way that there should be no cuts in existing rail budgets that are designed to promote the network in other ways for passengers? Will he give an undertaking-as my party will, and as all parties should-that other rail budgets will not be raided to pay for high speed rail?

I congratulate HS2 on producing a route that, I think, minimises environmental damage while maximising the usefulness of the line. Obviously the route is a matter for consultation, but what we have now is a useful start for consultation purposes. Can the Minister also confirm that there is a long-term commitment to get to Scotland, and not simply with high speed trains on conventional lines but with a high speed network? Does he have any idea when that will feature in the time scale of the current project?

Will the Minister say something about the link between HS2 and HS1, which he referred to obliquely in his statement? It is important that people should be able to get to Paris and Brussels directly from Manchester and Birmingham, without having to change in London. Lastly, does he accept that if the route goes through Heathrow, there will be a 15-minute penalty for those coming to London from Birmingham or Manchester, which would be severely disadvantageous for the economics of high speed rail?

Mr. Khan: That is how you do it, Mr. Speaker.

The hon. Gentleman is right that having 1,100 passengers in 400-metre trains will not only lead to more passengers being able to use high speed trains, but release capacity on the west coast main line to start with, and, when the line goes to Leeds, on the east coast and midland main lines. That increase in capacity will help the housing growth channels north of London, too.

As for modal shifts, the figure for those who will shift from domestic aviation to high speed rail is between 8 and 11 per cent. There will also be a shift of 57 per cent. from conventional rail to high speed rail, which deals with the hon. Gentleman's capacity point as well.

The hon. Gentleman was also right to ask about the benefits of high speed rail to the regions. All the evidence-he has been through the HS2 report-is that it will regenerate parts of the country. There is evidence from parts of France that have benefited from high speed connections, such as Lille and elsewhere.

The hon. Gentleman also paid tribute to the work that High Speed 2 Ltd has done in engaging with stakeholders; let me join him in that. He mentioned that he spoke to HS2 Ltd and met the Secretary of State to discuss the plans and proposals. I am sure he will be disappointed that the cross-party consensus broke down recently, and that there seems to be an attempt, in the lead-up to a general election, to create artificial dividing lines that should not be there.

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