Sir Bill Cash’s HS2 Bill speech in the House of Commons 30 Jan 2018

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con)

 

I want to make clear straight away, on behalf of my constituents and in the light of my personal views on this Bill, my vehement objection to the proposals before us. I will vote against the Bill if there is a Division, which I rather think there will be. I have discussed my objections on various occasions both before the House and locally; they derive from the vast impact on my constituents in Baldwin’s Gate, Bar Hill, Whitmore and Madeley and the surrounding area, and Yarnfield and Stone and surrounding areas, as well as from my scepticism about the Government claims on the benefits of the HS2 scheme in general.

 

The Government in their 2012 national planning policy framework set out the three pillars of economic, social and environmental factors that all new plans must satisfy. I find it incomprehensible that the Government can so ignore their own framework on a national scale in relation to the HS2 scheme.

 

First, I shall comment on the lack of benefits in the proposed phase 2 scheme. Its cost is £3.48 billion, a figure that is bound to rise as the project proceeds. This has not been enough to stop it being characterised by the Country Land and Business Association as full of

 

“delays, secrecy, broken promises, and poor management.”

 

This has directly damaged already-strained relationships with those most affected by HS2 and is preventing the complaints of those involved from being heard effectively.

 

Moreover, the actual overall costs, which are escalating all the time, are incredibly badly accounted for. As the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) indicated, we have seen report after report, including economic reports and independent assessments, from the Public Accounts Committee and all kinds of other committees, and it is inconceivable that the amount of money that is currently expected to provide for all this will be adequate.

 

There is also the problem of providing proper compensation for those affected, including advance payments, as was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan). I also understand the concerns being expressed by some of my constituents, who are deeply worried about the possibility of terrorist threats to the service. Associated with those threats is the inevitable delay that will be built in to the security needed to avoid them. That will increase the amount of time it takes people to get on to the trains. HS2 might go very fast, and it might increase capacity, but there is no doubt that there will also be an enormous amount of delay, because its security arrangements will have to be similar to those used for other methods of travel such as air.

 

Phase 2 of HS2 will also have an immensely destructive effect on the environment. The Woodland Trust has noted that, unbelievably, given the impact on the environment that phase 1 will have, phase 2a will be more destructive per kilometre. The whole scheme will damage or destroy 98 ancient woods, with 18 alone coming from phase 2a. Over 10.5 hectares of irreplaceable ancient woodland will be lost in phase 2a, as well as at least 27 ancient and veteran trees. That loss is completely unacceptable.

 

The environmental impact does not end there. The National Trust has stated that phase 2a of HS2 will

 

“impact adversely on the conservation of the special places”

 

that it is charged with conserving, operating and managing,

 

“affecting both the experience of our visitors and the lives and livelihoods of our agricultural and residential tenants.”

 

The preservation of our natural heritage will be jeopardised by this project.

 

Michael Fabricant

 

I am listening to my hon. Friend with considerable interest. Does he not agree that the saddest thing of all is that Arup came up with an alternative proposal that would not have damaged all those ancient woodlands because it would have used existing transport corridors? We could have done this so much better.

 

Sir William Cash

 

I absolutely agree, but unfortunately that advice has not been taken.

 

Secondly, I have no confidence whatever in the Government’s stated outcomes for HS2 phase 2 in building costs or in social and environmental impacts. This comes from the dismal experience of their failures over their own reports on phase 1. The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee cast doubt on phase 1 from the beginning of the process, arguing that the evidence used to calculate the magnitude of benefit was out of date and unconvincing. The Library briefing shows how the benefit to cost ratio of phase 1 has fallen consistently over time. Nothing has been done to address these flaws in the economic modelling.

 

Progress on the delivery of phase 1 is similarly criticised by the National Audit Office in its 2016 review, which stated that the Department for Transport had

 

“set HS2 Ltd a schedule for achieving delivery readiness that was too ambitious”,

 

and that:

 

“There is a risk that the combined impact of cost and schedule pressures result in reduced programme scope and lower the benefit cost ratio.”

 

It also stated that:

 

“Effective integration of High Speed 2 with the wider UK rail system is challenging and poses risks to value for money”.

 

The NAO attacks the cost estimates for phase 2, which it says are

 

“at a much earlier stage of development than phase 1”,

 

with some elements currently unfunded. For the past four years, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority has put HS2 just one step above appearing what it defines as

 

“unachievable unless significant, urgent and often substantial action is taken.”

 

I ask the Minister what evidence there is that this will be done.

 

Cost overruns and delays have long been associated with public construction, but HS2 dwarfs the problems of the past. Think about the amount that could be made available to the public services if these billions and billions of pounds went towards something other than this white elephant in the making. We are doomed to exist in a perpetual cycle of departmental over-promising and under-delivering. In the light of concerns about the phase 1 Bill, it is impossible to trust the Government’s assertions as to the benefits of phase 2.

 

Thirdly, I must cast doubt over the ability of HS2 Ltd. The Public Accounts Committee accuses HS2 Ltd of having a culture

 

“of failing to provide full and accurate information to those responsible for holding it to account”

 

and states that it

 

“does not have in place the basic controls needed to protect public money.”

 

There cannot be a bigger condemnation than that. Those basic failures underline the incompetence with which the project has been conducted. Most damningly, the PAC accuses both HS2 Ltd and the Department of not appearing

 

“to understand the risks to the successful delivery of the programme”.

 

This is a Second Reading debate, and I am saying that all the reports indicate that we can have no trust in how the principal objectives of the project are being conducted. That is evident in the employment of Carillion as a key contractor on the project. A clear lack of oversight and due diligence has jeopardised public money. Those arguments mean that the Bill fails to meet the standards required of this House.

 

Moving to the local issues that affect my constituents, I am thoroughly dismayed with the entire project. Not only does the proposal carve through my entire constituency from top to bottom, without any immediate benefit to my constituents in terms of communication or railway stops, but many will acknowledge that the current west coast main line provides a good service and short journey times. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham has indicated, this HS2 project will be overtaken by new technologies, such as the possibility of a maglev system or a hyperloop system, and the technology used in the HS2 project is increasingly out of date. Within the timespan for the completion of the project, the money would be better spent on other programmes and public services.

 

Dame Cheryl Gillan

 

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the project involved running autonomous passenger and freight vehicles or other vehicles of the future up and down the line, it would probably be slightly more popular? The trouble is that the technology and the whole approach involved will produce something that is from the last century.

 

Sir William Cash

 

That is completely right. It is also perhaps true that travel times were quicker in those days than they are now. This project is about not simply capacity but efficiency, and I do not believe that its objectives will be achieved.

 

Turning to my local objections, a railhead will be established at Yarnfield during the construction period and will later be turned into a permanent maintenance facility. The relocation of the planned facility away from the original destination in Crewe has caused massive consternation to all my constituents in Stone and Eccleshall, and in all villages around the area, particularly Yarnfield. On 24 November 2016, I secured a half-hour Adjournment debate on the matter, and I have spoken in a variety of meetings both locally and in the House since then. Most recently, I had a meeting with the Stone Railhead Crisis Group on Friday 19 January. I will be offering help with petitions to anybody who wants it. I have invited the Clerk of Private Bills to meet the group, and I hope that that meeting will take place soon.

 

I reiterate that the way in which alternatives to the final proposition were considered was appalling. The original proposal for the railhead to be at Crewe was not selected. I believe that there has been serial misdirection and misinformation about employment and environmental issues. Crewe would have been far better, but now HS2 has decided to go for Yarnfield and the vicinity thereof, which will do appalling damage to my constituents, and their traffic and schools. Every single aspect of the development will have the most serious and deleterious effect on my constituents.

 

The disruption due to works at Norton Bridge has already started, and the HS2 works at Stone and Swynnerton belie the notion that disruption will be minimised—it is liable only to get worse. The HS2 phase 2 environmental statement draws attention to lighting being visible along Yarnfield Lane and on the north eastern edge of Yarnfield itself. That is on top of the significant and noticeable noise that the facility will generate, the destruction of woodland, the destruction of visual landscape and the substantial noise from construction traffic.

 

I am also deeply concerned about the impact on the elderly, and it is shameful that retired people who seek a peaceful rural life will find their area violated. I am also concerned about the communities that are being directly destroyed, such as two properties in Shelton under Harley. There will be noise from construction on Pirehill Lane. There are also problems for several grade II listed buildings, including Blakelow farm, the water tower on Stab Lane and the Swynnerton Heath farmhouse, in addition to non-listed heritage sites such as Darlaston pool, the milestone near Cash’s pit and areas of the Shelton under Harley farm. That is yet another example of the damage that will be done.

 

In an update statement on 17 July 2017, the Secretary of State for Transport assured me that Yarnfield Lane will remain open. I am afraid to say that that assurance is useless without any consideration of the impact of heavy goods vehicle travelling along that narrow road, rendering it impassable during peak hours as if it were fully closed. That is bound to have a very bad effect on my constituents’ health and welfare. The proposal to use Eccleshall Road as an access and supply route will block the whole area, which is already oversubscribed.

 

Cold Norton is a cluster of 40 dwellings within 500 metres of the M6, but it does not appear to be included in the documents. If the works lead to the closure of the B5026 and Yarnfield Lane, my constituents in Cold Norton, Norton Bridge, Chebsey, Yarnfield, Swynnerton and Eccleshall will not have access to their main travel route into Stone. There will also be an impact on Great Bridgeford and many other areas in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy).

 

Trains will go straight down my entire constituency, from top to bottom. Baldwin’s Gate, Bar Hill, Whitmore and Madeley are in a rural area of outstanding natural beauty. The proposed scheme will cut straight through it, with two viaducts at the River Lea valley and Meece brook valley, and two tunnels along the way. There will be an enormous amount of construction work in a delicate area.

 

I will meet the Whitmore2Madeley action group on Friday 2 February to examine the proposed Whitmore construction site. I met the group in July 2017, and I have organised a meeting so that the group can meet the Clerk of Private Bills.

 

The environmental impact assessments show there will be significant quality-of-life problems at the Stone railhead. The views from Rectory Lane, Manor Road, Madeley cemetery, Madeley Park, Bar Hill Road and Wrinehill wood will all be negatively affected, and there will be traffic problems, too.

 

Then we have the A51 London Road and A53 Newcastle Road to consider. At least five footpaths will be closed in the process of construction. Communities and cultural heritage in the area will also suffer. Viaducts at Lea valley and Meece brook will prove to be eyesores. Nine properties will be permanently affected, including Rose Cottage and Wood Croft. Construction will cause impossible chaos for 29 residential properties in Whitmore and Whitmore Heath, 20 on Manor Road, 43 on Bar Hill Road and Mallard Close, and five at Moor Hall and Bower End farms. Furthermore, Hey House, a grade II listed house, will have its setting permanently degraded.

 

I now turn to the environmental cost in the area. Most prominent is the destruction of at least part of two woods—Whitmore wood and Barhill wood. The Woodland Trust points out the possible cost of this damage, noting that the

 

“Stone constituency will suffer loss or damage to 11 ancient woodlands, totalling 8.9 ha of loss. Whitmore Wood will suffer the greatest single loss of ancient woodland on the entire HS2 route. Tunnelling must be considered to avoid this loss.”

 

That is an attack on our woodland environment.

 

An additional 0.2 hectares will be lost at Barhill wood to allow for the Madeley tunnel portal. This forms just a small part of the argument for a longer, deeper tunnel to limit the environmental damage of the scheme, which I know that the Minister is examining. Such a tunnel would not completely remove the damaging local impact of this proposal, but it would nevertheless prevent the inefficient upheaval generated by involving multiple sites. There is an argument about this tunnel and I have been given certain assurances, but I am deeply concerned about whether not the money will be made available in any case—we have no certainty about that at this stage. More specifically, the proposal for a tunnel from Whitmore to Madeley would, it is argued, avoid the destruction by HS2 works of 33% of Whitmore wood, the viaduct and embankments in the Lea valley, and the disruptive work on Manor Road. This has to be pursued vigorously so that we get to the bottom of exactly what will be involved. I understand the assurances that have been given, but there are also complications due to the relationship between the northern part and the southern part of my constituency, which will doubtless be the subject of petitions from the two groups in question.

 

In conclusion, I will be voting against the Bill, as I did on the previous Bill for phase 1. My constituents will be petitioning against the Bill and will appear in front of the Select Committee. I urge the Government and that Committee to do all they can to pay the most careful attention to these petitions if this Bill goes through today, and to provide my constituents with every opportunity to be heard. This is a very, very big thing for them—it is massive. Hon. Members should think what it would be like if this were to happen to any other constituency on the scale it is happening to mine, which is similar to the situation in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham. She has done a fantastic job and we will try to do the same in our area. At the moment, I am deeply disappointed with these proposals and I shall be voting against them.