Northern Powerhouse: Lancashire – 14 Oct 2015 : Column 227: why the money would be better spent on improving northern rail links.
14 Oct 2015 : Column 226
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, the Minister has mentioned the transport links from Lancashire to other parts of the north-west of England. Could she say more about that, bearing in mind that many of the roads in Lancashire feeding on to the M6 motorway are frequently gridlocked because of the absence of good public transport links from Lancashire, especially railway links—the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has raised this issue previously—which need attending to? What can she tell the House about that?
Baroness Williams of Trafford: I am very pleased to be able to tell the noble Lord about the Blackburn to Bolton rail corridor, which will make a huge difference, the Burnley to Pendle growth corridor and the work done on the M65, which is a particular congestion point off the M6. Maintenance on the Burnley Centenary Way viaduct is under way, and there is the East Lancs cycle network for those who are interested in cycling. There is also the restart to the electrification of the trans-Pennine rail network and the Todmorden curve, for which I campaigned many years ago and am glad to see is now up and running.
Lord Shipley (LD): My Lords, is the Government’s rail investment priority in the north of England HS2, HS3 between Manchester and Leeds or the electrification of the trans-Pennine route; or do they intend to do all these at the same time?
Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I do not think it would be logistically possible to do them all at the same time, given the passage of the hybrid Bills through the House of Commons. However, the Government, and certainly the localities the noble Lord speaks about, would say that they are all important and complement each other, and that local, regional and national transport—in terms of HS2—all add to their economic strength. To take a very local example, the investment in the Metrolink from Wythenshawe to Manchester Airport has opened up a whole new jobs market in an area of high employment need.
Lord Berkeley (Lab): My Lords, the Government are trying to demonstrate that the northern powerhouse balances the City of London in investment and so on. When is it going to get enough new and longer trains to reduce the dramatic congestion during the rush hour in many cities such as Manchester and Leeds, and to reduce journey times between these cities?
Baroness Williams of Trafford: The new, unpaused trans-Pennine electrification will hopefully do just that. I know that the noble Lord and I share a particular interest in this issue, and he will be very pleased to hear that the Pacer trains are going.
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Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):
My Lords, although I am one of the sceptics, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on giving the House the opportunity to have this important debate and for the way in which he introduced it.
Since first arriving in Parliament, in another place, in 1979, I have been a regular user of the west coast main line from both Liverpool and Preston. Virgin provides a superb service and most journeys to London take just over two hours. It is specious to suggest that we need a faster rail link, which is no doubt why Patrick McLoughlin shrewdly sought over the summer to alter the terms of the debate away from the question of journey times to that of capacity.
If the raison d’être for HS2 is a moving target, so are the estimated costs. In 2008, it was estimated that the project would cost £17 billion. By 2010 the figure was £30 billion. By this year it had reached a staggering £42 billion, according to some estimates, and nearer £50 billion once the cost of the rolling stock has been added in. The Financial Times—hardly part of a disreputable conspiracy—reported a private Treasury calculation of £73 billion, and all of this before a single sleeper has been laid. Having said that he has been changing his mind about HS2, the former Chancellor Alistair Darling is right to warn that this is a project that could easily run out of control. He says the business case has been exaggerated and that there are better ways of encouraging growth outside London. That is the main reason why I share his view.
For the avoidance of doubt, I believe in public transport and have always supported the enhancement of our railway network, like the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson. I have supported capital projects that improve infrastructure, provide demonstrable economic benefits and create jobs. It is claimed that the region I live in will be a principal beneficiary of HS2. However, for reasons I will explain, and not simply because of the runaway costs, I have been opposed to this project in its present form from the outset.
For a fraction of the cost of HS2 we could enhance the capacity of our railway system, by upgrading stations and platforms, lengthening carriages, improving railway stock, using new technologies and through timetabling and the reintroduction of services such as overnight sleepers to northern cities and towns. We could make significant improvements to our railways.
Think of the opportunity costs at stake.
A far higher priority for railway improvements should be commuter services and town-to-town links. Travel times between northern cities and towns are diabolical. To travel from Preston to London takes just over two hours; from Liverpool to Preston takes one hour, and from Leeds to Liverpool takes one hour and 47 minutes. Liverpool to Sheffield takes one hour and 41 minutes, and Liverpool to Hull takes three hours and 13 minutes. Those cross-Pennine, east-west services, not north-south services, are impeding economic development in the north.
If we were really serious about the north of England, we would reopen passenger railway links in north Lancashire and link Manchester and Liverpool airports with express trains. I welcome the news, which the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, whom I welcome to the
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Front Bench, gave me in a parliamentary written reply on 21 October, that there will be some improvements to those services. Perhaps she will tell us today how much money will be put into those projects compared with the investment on HS2.
Liverpool will be placed at a serious disadvantage by HS2, which is why some of the colleagues of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in that city, recently tabled a motion to the city council pointing that out. They are not alone. The CPRE suggests that,
“it could risk Liverpool’s longer term regeneration”.
Why? Because, unlike Manchester, which will have a direct line to the city centre, Liverpool will not, and there will be a requirement to change trains to reach some important destinations. At the very minimum, reconsideration should be given to the decision to build a second HS2 station outside Manchester in the green belt.
I am also certain that, if these proposals go ahead, the magnetic appeal of London, with its fabled streets paved with gold, will suck people and businesses away from the north. KPMG’s report may point to overall benefits but, strikingly, it says that Greater London will be a £2.8 billion winner while 50 places in the UK, such as Aberdeen, Bristol and Cardiff, will be worse off. They estimate that Dundee and Angus could lose as much as 2% of GDP.
Many of us will have heard from some of those already affected by HS2. Tim Ellis, a Staffordshire farmer whose family have farmed there for three generations, wrote to me to describe how the project, which will be just 145 metres away from his land, has already blighted their property and business. He wryly commented:
“What we really need is super-fast broadband—any broadband would be nice—not super-fast trains”.
I do not live in one of the 70 constituencies through which HS2 will pass. If I did, I would deeply resent being accused of nimbyism for questioning the effects of this project on some of our most beautiful countryside. Alison Munro, chief executive of HS2, is wrong to characterise opponents as “a noisy minority” and imply that anyone who questions this project is an antediluvian luddite. Taken with the Government’s road-building plans, which will impact on five national parks, I am glad that many are in open revolt and demanding protection for our landscapes and the tranquillity of the countryside. We are too obsessed with bigger, faster, better and more. There needs to be further reflection before HS2 is allowed to proceed.
The CPRE is right when it says:
“Deliverability is trumping all other considerations”.
Attempts to push through enabling legislation by May 2015, without due process and adequate consultation, would be an abuse of Parliament, and should be fiercely resisted. I hope that today’s debate will serve notice on the Government of your Lordships’ determination to do precisely that.