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11 Mar 2010 : Column 454

The hon. Gentleman was also right to ask me about the history of high speed rail in the UK. What he was alluding to, I think, was the fact that when other European countries were building high speed trains, the Government in this country were distracted from doing so because of their ideological obsession with privatising the trains.

The hon. Gentleman asked an important question about funding. All options are being considered. One option, which he will be interested in, is to work with Infrastructure UK to try to reduce the costs. As he knows, construction in the UK tends to be more expensive than in Europe. Why is this? We need to change that and ensure that the costs are reduced.

The final two points the hon. Gentleman made are very important. He asked about Scotland. He will be pleased to know that, in the first instance, high speed trains will connect with existing conventional lines, so that journey times from Glasgow and Edinburgh will be reduced by half an hour from the first phase of HS2. He will also be interested to know that the HS2 Ltd report talks about the benefits of the high speed line going up to Scotland and other parts of the country.

The hon. Gentleman's final point was about international connections, which are important. Our interest, as I referred to in my long statement, Mr. Speaker, is in connecting HS2 with HS1, and connecting them with Europe. We have asked HS2 to look into the possibility of connecting Euston with King's Cross St. Pancras, and we hope to report back later on how we can do that cost-effectively.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I am delighted that the vision that the Select Committee on Transport called for is now being translated into reality, but when does my right hon. Friend expect the economic regeneration that, together with the northern hub, is at the heart of his proposals to become a reality?

Mr. Khan: The HS2 report sets out a timetable for the next few stages, with the formal consultation to begin in the autumn and construction to begin in 2017. I suspect that those considering investing in various parts of the country will see that a high speed line is coming and will start investing now, so we could see some benefits sooner than we would otherwise expect. May I also thank the Transport Committee for its vision?

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr. Speaker: Order. No fewer than 26 hon. and right hon. Members are trying to contribute on this extremely important matter, so short questions and short answers are required if a large number of Members are not to be disappointed.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): The Minister will appreciate that for many of my constituents, today's statement will come as a pretty devastating blow. What, therefore, in his view, are the environmental benefits of the scheme that will outweigh the environmental costs both of driving a new railway very close to the homes of many hundreds of my constituents-in Aylesbury and Stoke Mandeville-and of destroying countryside that successive Governments, Labour and Conservative, have designated as of outstanding national importance?

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Mr. Khan: The hon. Gentleman raises a really important point. We have asked HS2 Ltd to look into what further mitigation can be done. It will be no comfort to those of his constituents who will be affected, but about 50 per cent. of the High Speed 2 line will use or be sited next to existing or disused rail lines, or be sited in existing transport corridors. We need to minimise the disruption caused to the hon. Gentleman's constituents, and we are carrying out as much consultation as we possibly can to mitigate the damage caused. That includes having meetings now, before the formal consultation begins, to see how we can address some of the serious, legitimate concerns that are being raised.

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that, whatever the merits of the proposal as presently drafted, the choice of the Euston terminus would have a devastating impact on my constituents? The railway engineers would treat it as though it were a greenfield site, but greenfield it is not. Does he acknowledge that the present proposals would involve six or seven blocks of affordable housing being demolished, and a small park being virtually concreted over? Will he ask the engineers to go back to their computers, and to be more imaginative in getting a lot more of what is needed into the existing curtilage of Euston station, a great deal of which is presently wasted? Will he also bear it in mind that, when the self-same engineers came up with the proposal to put the high speed link from the channel tunnel under King's Cross station, I suggested that they should use St. Pancras? That was a much better idea than the one the engineers came up with.

Mr. Khan: We are keen to learn the lessons from the channel tunnel experience, and that includes listening to my right hon. Friend's representations, as he often has very sensible ideas. I can give him an assurance that we will ask the engineers to try to rationalise the plans as much as they can. He will appreciate that about 27 sites in London were considered as possible termini for the high speed line, but all the evidence suggested that Euston was the best one. He made a good point when he suggested that more could be done to minimise the disruption to his constituents. He has been an advocate of ensuring that there is minimal disruption, and we will continue to work with him to alleviate some of the concerns he has raised.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): My constituents benefit from the existing domestic and international high speed links, but they suffered blight, disturbance and stress during the planning and building phases. May I recommend that the Minister and his successors learn those painful lessons so that individuals and businesses are not left to suffer planning blight for many years, as they did in the past? Will he also ensure that the initial compensation offers to those who are to lose all or part of their property are pitched at a realistic level? If he does those things, it will make a huge long-term difference to the acceptability of the project.

Mr. Khan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I take on board everything he has said. An example of the lessons that we have learned is that we have started consulting today on an exceptional hardship fund, so that there will be non-statutory as well as
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statutory blight provisions. We have also set up an inquiry line that people can ring if they have concerns about where the line will go, for example. We have deliberately chosen a preferred route, rather than four or five different routes, which could cause unnecessary concern and blight. There is a huge amount of detail on the website as well, but I take on board everything the hon. Gentleman has said. I hope we have addressed most, if not all, of the concerns and learned the lessons from the previous exercise with High Speed 1.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): I congratulate the Minister on these excellent proposals, and on rejecting the Conservative proposal for the line to go from Manchester to Leeds, cutting out all of Cumbria and south-west Scotland. Having said that, can we talk about the fork? When they get to the fork, do the Government plan to build both lines at the same time, or one after the other? I suspect that the west coast line is more congested. Also, does he agree that it would be nonsense to run a high speed line 90 miles through Cumbria and not permit it to stop anywhere in that county, especially in Carlisle?

Mr. Khan: I suspect that whatever answer I give on which line goes first will lose me the support of half the House. That is one of the things HS2 will be looking into when it considers the next phase in relation to Manchester and Leeds. My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that other parts of the country will benefit from the project. On having a stop in Carlisle, it is worth pointing out that one of the choices we have to consider is having fewer stops, and therefore faster trains between areas of mass population, which would free up capacity on the trains that do go to Carlisle.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): There will be real concern in parts of the east midlands such as Hinckley and Leicester that the connections to the new link might not be adequate. If the usage of the west coast main line were to decrease, the usage of the lines that feed into it could also decrease and the lines could possibly close. Can the Minister give me any reassurance on that?

Mr. Khan: All our forward projections tell us that usage is going to go up on the railways. Capacity is the biggest challenge we will face over the next two or three decades. I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that we will work with him to ensure that his concerns are not realised, and that there is no reduction in conventional rail services as a result of what we hope will be the success of high speed rail.

Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend tell me more about his Department's analysis of the interaction between this proposal and the Department's aviation strategy? The proposal to have a link at Birmingham International could significantly transform the way in which people think about the use of Birmingham airport. That link could also provide a fast link into London. Is he absolutely sure that these plans are consistent with his Department's intentions for Birmingham airport and with its national aviation strategy?

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Mr. Khan: As ever, my hon. Friend makes a good point. When High Speed 2 Ltd was looking at where the interchanges would go, it also considered any unintended consequences. Its report clearly states that, rather than the project fuelling demand for aviation, it will result in a shift from domestic aviation to high speed rail of between 8 and 11 per cent. It will also lead to better journeys for people travelling to airports further away.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): I welcome the statement; the project will be good for jobs, for the economy and for the environment. Does the Minister agree, however, that high speed rail really comes into its own for longer journeys? Many people travel from central Scotland to London by air at the moment, with 60 per cent. of the flights from Edinburgh airport going to other UK mainland cities.

Mr. Khan: At least 10,000 construction jobs will be created, along with a further 2,000 permanent jobs. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the real benefit of high speed rail is felt on the longer journeys, and we are optimistic that people will choose to go on a high speed train that is almost as quick as, and more environmentally friendly than, the alternative options.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): I give an absolute welcome to the proposal for a direct line to Yorkshire through the east midlands. That is great news for Sheffield. May I return to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew)? Will the Minister look carefully at developing sufficient capacity in the rail construction industry so that, come 2017, we shall be able to develop both legs of the Y simultaneously? It would be invidious for cities on either leg to have to wait for the other line to be completed before they could get the benefits of high speed rail.

Mr. Khan: One of the reasons why it would be daft to begin construction of the high speed rail in 2015, while Crossrail is still under construction, is that we would not be able to use the transferrable skills or build the necessary expertise. One of the advantages of the high speed rail project following on after Crossrail has been finished is that we shall be able to use that expertise and have a sustainable form of work using British expertise. If British companies know that we have made a commitment to high speed rail over the next two or three decades, they will invest in the facilities and skills necessary to ensure that they get the work. All the evidence from High Speed 2 Ltd suggests that British companies will also be able to compete for work overseas when European countries decide to build their high speed lines. Finally, my hon. Friend would not have the high speed route going through his patch if someone else had their plans realised.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): On this side of the House, we have always supported the principle of high speed rail because of the economic benefits it can bring to the United Kingdom. I am glad, however, that my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) has reserved our position on the route. My constituents will be as devastated as those of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) by the announcement today, and by the plans for tunnelling
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under Amersham, which would cause considerable disruption if they were to go ahead. What assurances can the Minister give me that my constituents, and all the relevant organisations and councils, will be fully engaged and consulted throughout the process? Will he arrange for me to meet the Secretary of State to discuss the plans in more detail?

Mr. Khan: I am happy to commit my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to a meeting with the hon. Lady. He and I are happy to meet any Member who thinks that their constituency will be affected by the plans. A lot of the tunnelling will be done in order to reduce the devastation that would otherwise arise in areas of outstanding natural beauty. One of the reasons why we could not rush in and start the construction within five years is that we need properly to consult. We need to go through all the hoops and loops to ensure that everyone is consulted, and we are not committing to a route until that consultation has taken place.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement about what might well be our most important transport project this century? Does he agree that it is understandable that we will want high speed trains coming into Edinburgh and Glasgow as soon as practicable? In that context, of course we accept that the first line will have to start at London and move north, but will the Minister do all he can to help us achieve what we want? It is a little bit of a disappointment-not a major issue-that he is still talking in terms of moving on to the conventional track before the high speed link to Edinburgh and Glasgow is built.

Mr. Khan: My right hon. Friend knows a lot about this, as in 1997 he had to pick up some of the pieces of privatisation. He is right to suggest that we want to go forwards as soon as possible to allow our colleagues in Scotland to have a high speed link. The initial intention is for the first phase of high speed to be connected to conventional railways. The intention-High Speed Two Ltd is quite clear about this-is to have high speed lines going to Scotland, and indeed Wales, as soon as that is practical.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): The Minister of State missed the very important point made by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) about the potential for high speed rail to divert funds from the rest of the regional rail network. Will the Minister address that point head on, and comment specifically on the south-west, which he did not mention at all, and its need for electrification and dual tracking? It would be a pity if those projects were put at risk, as they represent only a small sum, relatively speaking, of the budget he has discussed today.

Mr. Khan: I give the hon. Gentleman the reassurance he needs-that if this party forms the next Government, we will make sure that the promises we have made to electrify those lines will carry on.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): This announcement is really good news for the west midlands. The creation of a new station at Curzon Street will be an excellent gateway to the region, while an additional
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interchange close to Birmingham airport will help to establish the west midlands as the beating heart of England on the international stage. Given that short-term political games are now being played with this project by the official Opposition, what can we do to ensure that political consensus and confidence in the scheme are not jeopardised by those Conservative games?

Mr. Khan: What I advise my hon. Friend to do is to get from me the press briefing put out by the Opposition, to print out the comments of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) as recorded in Hansard and then to ensure that every member of the public sees them both and votes the right way whenever the election is called.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): While welcoming the Government's conversion to high speed rail, I am very disappointed, as are many thousands across the country, that this does not mean the end of the Government's plans for a third runway at Heathrow. To raise a key item for my constituents in Uxbridge, south Ruislip and Ickenham, has the Minister any idea how much wider the existing Chiltern line will have to be?

Mr. Khan: The second part of the hon. Gentleman's question is important. This is dealt with in the HS2 Ltd report, which is available in the Library today. If he cannot find the information and lets me know, I will send him the details about the width of the line, which is an important issue in respect of the blight caused to his constituents.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I am delighted that this scheme is coming up and I fully support the principle of the high speed rail network. Will the Minister of State say more about the sources of the capital funding going into it? We have put £9 billion into the west coast main line and huge benefits have been made from it, partly by Virgin Trains. Will he indicate who is going to run the trains when the service begins? Will it be a publicly owned company?

Mr. Khan: The current projections are for an average of £2 billion to be spent on construction each year. At the peak, about £3.9 billion will be spent on construction; it is comparable to Crossrail, on which £3.9 billion will be spent at peak. As to the details of timetabling and who is going to run which lines, information will be rolled out over the forthcoming period. The important thing now is to get the pre-consultation ready to ensure that consultation begins this autumn. A timetable in the HS2 Ltd report sets out the phases of what needs to take place before we can open the first high speed line in 2026.

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