Oral statement to Parliament
High speed rail: 24 March 2014
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Responding to Sir David Higgins' and the HS2 Growth Taskforce reports.
Mr Speaker, the last few days have brought important proposals to make the most of High Speed Two.
They will help us build the line better.
Bring benefits to the north sooner.
And support job creation and economic growth.
I want to update the House at the first opportunity and I am sorry that - for unavoidable reasons - I was not able to do this last week.
These proposals are welcome. Because HS2 is a vital project.
It can do for future generations what Victorian railways did for previous generations and the motorways for ours.
That is why it has the strong support of the government.
And it is why cities in the midlands and the north are calling for its benefits to be spread as widely as possible.
We must heed that call.
But of course for this to happen we also need to get the basics right.
Stick to cost.
Respect the environment.
Build what really works and what we really need for the future.
And of course make sure people get the benefits as quickly as possible.
And I know too that HS2 is just part – but a vital part – of our long-term economic plan.
One that will see better infrastructure for all parts of the country.
A clear and ambitious plan.
A plan that is already paying dividends.
Shown by last week’s welcome decision by Hitachi - the company that invented the bullet train - to move its global rail headquarters to Britain.
That is the sort of opportunity presented by HS2.
So first, let me respond to the report by Sir David Higgins.
He began work as Chairman of HS2 in January.
The first task I set was to look at how to maximise the benefits of HS2 and manage the costs.
Last year Parliament backed the principle of a high speed rail link to the north, with 350 votes in favour and only 34 against.
Now it is up to us to make it happen.
And given his great track record there is no one better suited to the job than Sir David.
Let me turn to his proposals.
First, on costs.
Sir David has reviewed the cost estimates for constructing Phase One and confirmed they are realistic.
The budget set by the government in 2013 stands.
As experience shows, in Britain we can build great projects on time and on budget.
Like High Speed One and Crossrail.
But at this early stage, before Parliament has considered the hybrid Bill, we must include a proper contingency.
Of course for popularity’s sake, one option would be to slash the contingency and claim it as a saving.
Sir David says that would be the wrong thing to do.
But as he also says, with growing certainty comes growing confidence.
That will be the stage to bring contingency down.
Let me turn to his second proposal.
I have heard many Hon members ask why we can’t build in the north sooner.
I agree. We can.
His report suggests opening the line to a new hub station in Crewe 6 years earlier than planned.
Direct trains will of course be able to run off HS2 lines to serve places like Stoke, Liverpool, Manchester, north Wales – and Scotland - faster too.
And a line to Crewe sooner would mean journeys that are shorter than they would be with just the current Phase One:
Quicker to Manchester.
Quicker to Liverpool.
Quicker to Scotland.
This is a welcome proposal and I am commissioning HS2 Ltd to undertake work on to allow it to be considered in detail.
But this must be as an acceleration of Phase Two – not an alternative.
Sir David says we must make the most of this investment so that as many towns and cities as possible benefit.
I agree. And we will make sure that happens.
Let me turn to the third proposals - for the southern end of the line.
Our priority must be to get the benefits to the midlands and the north as soon as possible.
In short, we must put our money and time where it can do the most good.
Sir David is clear that he does not think existing proposals for the HS2 and HS1 link meet that test.
The HS2 and HS1 link proposed in the hybrid Bill has not secured a consensus.
The link requires too many compromises in terms of impacts on freight, passengers and the community in Camden.
I, therefore, intend to remove the link from the hybrid Bill and withdraw safeguarding as soon as possible.
I will also commission a study into options for ways to improve connections to the continent which could be built once the initial stages of HS2 are complete.
I also agree with the report that much more can be made of Euston station.
Not just to build something we can be proud of…but to maximise the economic potential of the line and use a site which has been neglected.
And to generate private sector investment which can reduce the overall burden on taxpayers.
I will, therefore, ask HS2 Ltd and Network Rail to develop comprehensive proposals for the redevelopment of Euston.
Our ambitions for Euston must not, however, conflict with our commitment to control costs.
I want to see substantial private sector investment to ensure this.
It’s from an impressive panel. Business leaders like Sir John Rose, Alison Nimmo and Ray O’Rourke.
City leaders like Julie Dore from Sheffield.
And the General Secretary of the TUC Frances O’Grady.
I thank everyone involved and in particular the Commercial Secretary for his committed leadership.
Their message is clear.
We need HS2 and we need to act now to squeeze the most from it in terms of jobs, skills and growth.
The taskforce’s recommendations are plain common sense.
Things that business, government and cities can do together - and must start doing now.
On skills - proper training to make sure our young people get the best jobs on the project.
On planning - making sure the line brings new strength to our cities.
On transport - making sure we link the existing road and rail network properly to HS2, and plan investment in them together.
Regeneration and economic growth are vital parts of HS2.
City leaders have already started to put plans in place.
But government has a role to play as well.
That is why I am asking HS2 Ltd, and London and Continental Railways – who developed the Kings Cross St Pancras site - to come forward with proposals for a regeneration company that will respond to the growth taskforce’s recommendations on regeneration. This matters because as I have said before HS2 is a project that will be built over many parliaments and no doubt governments too.
And it will serve people through many generations.
It is not the only answer to our transport needs…but it is a central part of the answer.
That means designing it carefully and building it right.
Something that works.
Something we can be proud of.
Something that benefits as many people and places as possible for the lowest cost.
We are on schedule to open the line in 2026…which by the way is exactly the date the last government set in 2010…or ahead of it in the case of the Crewe proposal.
The government is keen to rise to the challenge.
I hope that Hon members on all sides of the House will do the same.