This morning, I made a written statement to the House announcing my decision to give the go-ahead to High Speed 2 (HS2) - a national high-speed rail network. With the exception of High Speed 1 - a 68 mile stretch of line - it will be the first major national railway line to be built in Britain since the Grand Central line opened to passengers in 1899. I would like to provide Members with further detail of the substance of, and rationale for, my decisions.
I weighed up the evidence after one of the largest public consultations in our history. We wrote to more than 172,000 people living or working near the proposed line from London to the West Midlands, visited communities along the 140 mile route and held 41 days of roadshows attended by almost 30,000 people over the five-month consultation period. Almost 55,000 responses were received from individuals, businesses and organisations across the country representing a wide spectrum of views. Many of those views were expressed strongly both in favour of and against high speed rail, and I have considered them carefully in making my decisions.
Since becoming Secretary of State for Transport, I have examined all the available evidence, including the work undertaken by my Right Hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond) and by the previous Labour administration in developing the consultation proposals, the evidence submitted during the consultation, and the further work undertaken by the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd. My decision had to consider not only the full environmental impact of HS2, but its benefits to our economy, jobs and our competitiveness - not just today but decades into the future.
I also had to be clear about the implications of not investing in high speed rail - about how it would affect our leading cities, and how that would affect the road network and aviation. Generating growth, helping people back to work and supporting Britain’s companies and wealth creators so that they can compete and win in the global marketplace are at the top of the government’s priority list, and, from day 1 in office, the coalition has had a laser focus on investing in and modernising our country’s transport infrastructure with unprecedented levels of investment.
When it came to HS2, I could have made the easy choice: I could have gone for the short-term option, relying on a patch-and-mend approach and leaving our rail networks overstretched, overburdened and less resilient. But let us be clear: the price for that would have been paid in lost business, lower growth, fewer jobs and more misery for passengers on a network without the capacity to cope. We would have failed future generations depending on us to create the prosperous country that they will want to live in.
Good government is about acting in the long-term national interest and about taking decisions, however difficult, to improve people’s quality of life and the country’s economic prospects not just for the next 4 or 5 years but for the nex t4 or 5 decades. Our Victorian predecessors would have been immensely proud to see their railways providing massive benefit today - more than 100 years later - but as a result of today’s announcement the railway revolution that they started is happening again. We are ready for a new chapter in Britain’s transport history - one designed to boost our economy and our country just as the first coming of the railways or the motorways did for previous generations.
That is why I have given the green light to HS2. In spite of the challenges of rising demand, our railways have been a huge success since privatisation. Passenger demand is growing year on year, particularly in the inter-city market. I recognise, however, that further rounds of upgrades to our major north-south lines, even if they offer apparently good value for money, can only provide a short-term fix - one that is incapable of meeting the long-term challenge. In truth, they could add only limited further capacity, they could not offer the step change in performance that passengers wish and need to see.
What is more, upgrades would consign rail passengers and the vitally important rail freight industry to years, if not decades, of future engineering disruption, delay and unreliability - something that users of the West Coast Main Line will remember only too well. The question, therefore, is not, “Do we build new lines?” but, “What type of line should we build?” And when we weigh up the economic and social rewards, there is only one answer: high speed rail. A high speed line will deliver £6.2 billion more in benefits to the country than a line running at conventional speeds, at an extra cost of only £1.4 billion. Therefore, by slashing journey times, as well as providing the step change in rail capacity that we need to keep the country moving, a high speed line will give a return on the additional investment of more than 4 to 1. A modern, reliable and fast service between our major cities and international gateways, as befitting the 21st century, will transform the way we travel, and promote Britain’s economic and social prosperity.
HS2 will be built in two phases, to ensure delivery of its benefits at the earliest possible opportunity. Phase 1 will link London to the West Midlands, as well as delivering a direct connection to the continent through the channel tunnel via High Speed 1. Even in the first phase, cities and towns off the HS2 network - such as Stockport, Warrington, Liverpool, Preston and Glasgow - will be served by trains able to use both HS2 and inter-city lines, saving over half an hour on journeys to London. Phase 2 will provide onward legs to Manchester and Leeds, with intermediate stations in the East Midlands and South Yorkshire, plus a direct connection to our international hub, Heathrow airport. HS2 will also mean substantial time savings between Britain’s cities, reducing Birmingham to Leeds journeys from 2 hours to just 57 minutes, and Manchester to London journeys from 2 hours 8 minutes to only 1 hour 8 minutes. Edinburgh and Glasgow will benefit from a 3-and-a-half hour journey time from London, encouraging modal shift from short haul flights to high speed rail.
In delivering HS2, I look forward to working with the Scottish government and others to identify and evaluate options for developing the high speed network and further reducing journey times. However, I want to emphasise to the House that in making my decisions, I have been particularly mindful of our responsibility to safeguard the countryside and its wildlife, and to protect local communities as far as possible. I have worked hard to look at more tunnelling, to lower the route into cutting to reduce visibility, and to move the route away from homes wherever viable. I have looked hard at how we can better protect our landscape, our wildlife and our heritage. For that reason, my engineers have carefully re-examined the route in the light of all the evidence. I can therefore announce a package of alterations that I believe will significantly reduce the railway’s impact.
Those improvements include a longer, continuous tunnel under the Chilterns from Little Missenden to the M25, and a new 2.75 mile bored tunnel along the Northolt corridor to avoid major works to the Chiltern line and impacts on local communities in the Ruislip area. Of the 13 miles through the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty, less than 2 miles will be at or above the surface. The rest will be in deep cutting or tunnel. There will also be a longer green tunnel past Chipping Warden and Aston le Walls, and another longer green tunnel to reduce impacts around Wendover, as well as an extension to the green tunnel at South Heath. There will also be a green tunnel past Greatworth. Those are just a few examples from the suite of improvements detailed in full in the Command Paper that I presented to the House this morning.
The changes will bring significant benefits to communities and the environment. Compared with the consultation route, there will be a more than 50% increase in tunnel or green tunnel, now totalling around 22.5 miles. In addition, around 56.5 miles will be partially or totally hidden in cutting, as a key way of helping to reduce noise in neighbouring communities, and 10 miles less track along viaduct or embankment. In all, that means that around 79 miles–more than half the route–will be mitigated by tunnel or cutting. The revised tunnel alignment through the Chilterns will avoid an important water aquifer - significantly reducing impacts on water. You see, Mr Speaker, I am always happy to listen to people when they see a better way of doing things.
There will also be a reduction in the impacts on ancient woodlands and heritage sites. Communities affected will benefit from the changes, with a near 50% reduction in the number of dwellings at risk of land take, and the number of households experiencing noticeably increased noise levels reducing by a third, to just over 3,000 properties.
I have always been clear in my mind, however, that, whatever the mitigation measures, there can be little comfort to someone in knowing that the country will benefit enormously from HS2 when it is their house, or their business, that has to be knocked down to make way for it. The meeting that I had with MPs earlier last year allowed many of those representing communities along the proposed route to communicate the views of their constituents to me directly.
So, to help people, we will bring in a package of compensation measures over and above those that affected homeowners are already entitled to under law. These include: a streamlined purchase scheme to simplify the statutory blight process for property owners; a sale and rent back scheme to give homeowners within the safeguarded area more flexibility, a streamlined small claims scheme for any construction damage; and a package of measures to reinforce confidence in properties above tunnels.
Homeowners will be offered before and after surveys, a thorough assessment of the impact of similar tunnels, an explanation of the measures that will be taken to prevent perceptible vibration impacts, financial compensation for the compulsory purchase of subsoil, and a legally binding promise that HS2 will be permanently responsible for resolving any related settlement or subsidence issues. There will be also be a refreshed hardship-based property purchase scheme, and, finally, we will work constructively, and in a structured way, with local authorities along the line of route to minimise the negative consequences of HS2 and maximise the benefits.
Having made the decision to press on with HS2, my intention is to drive it forward as fast as is practicable, so that we can gain from its benefits as early as possible and end the unwelcome uncertainty for those affected. A key part of this will be to engage fully and actively with organisations, communities and individuals along the whole route of the Y network. People presented legitimate concerns in the consultation and, even though we have made significant improvements, I am keen to work hard with local communities so that as many concerns as possible are properly addressed.
I have instructed HS2 Ltd to undertake a range of activities to prepare for and deliver both phases of the network. It is my intention to introduce a hybrid Bill in the House by the end of 2013, including a detailed environmental impact assessment to provide the necessary powers to construct and operate the line from London to Birmingham. I have instructed HS2 Ltd to deliver this project at pace, but within milestones that will stand the test of time and with regular reporting to me on progress. The Major Projects Authority, which this government launched last March to improve the performance of major government projects in delivering on time and in budget, will provide critical support and oversight.
This spring, we will consult on the draft directions for safeguarding the proposed route from London to the West Midlands, as well as separately consulting on detailed compensation proposals. I aim to bring final safeguarding directions and an agreed compensation policy into effect later in the year. In March this year, HS2 Ltd will advise me on the route and station options to Manchester and Leeds, and in autumn 2012, we will start an engagement programme on a preferred route to discuss local views.
I warmly welcome the political consensus on HS2, on the basis that it will help to ensure that the planning and construction of this transformational scheme are carried through to completion. HS2 matters to the long-term success and prosperity of the whole of Britain. It will help to create jobs, support growth and regenerate our regions. It will better connect communities and improve people’s opportunities, and, with its potential to attract people and freight on to trains and away from long-distance road journeys and short-haul flying, combined with the increasing decarbonisation of the grid, HS2 will be an important part of transport’s low-carbon future.
Britain has faced such challenges before. The Victorian railway pioneers had the vision to build a rail network that has promoted growth and created jobs for more than a century. Those innovators transformed this country’s fortunes. Our industries flourished, our exports multiplied, and our economy grew wealthy. Half a century later, another generation had the vision to start building the motorway network. Post-war planners developed the motorway network, connecting major cities and transforming the capacity of our road network. Half a century on again, we now need to do for our Victorian railway what previous generations did for our road network. The time has come again to seize the moment, to be ambitious and to show the world that this is a can-do country. The lesson from history - and the lessons from our global competitors - is that no matter how hard times are, we cannot stop planning for the future or investing in our infrastructure if we want Britain to flourish. HS2 will be the backbone of a new transport system for the 21st century, offering the vital capacity that we need to compete and grow as a country. It will transform the economic shape and balance of our country, linking our major cities to a level previous generations could only dream of. By backing HS2, this government are backing Britain, and I commend this statement to the House.