An important issue for my constituents that I have received much correspondence on recently has been High Speed Two (HS2).
I recognise this issue has generated very strong views and there are various concerns about the project, as well as calls for it to be halted. While I share the concerns raised by many constituents around the rising costs and the environmental impact of HS2, I do, however, support HS2 as a vital infrastructure project.
First and foremost, I believe this new rail network will bring economic benefits across the North of England, addressing capacity constraints on our rail network and rectifying decades of disproportionate investment in London and the South East. After decades of underinvestment in strategic rail infrastructure and transport in the North, HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (if combined with a clear commitment to much needed investment in our intra city transport networks) will provide the basis for a once-in-a-generation programme to secure the levels of investment and productivity in our northern cities that is essential to transform the North’s economic output and the life chances of residents here.
There are concerns that have been made by constituents, many have contacted me about the rising costs of HS2. The Chairman of HS2 Ltd recently estimated that its cost has increased from £62 billion to between £81 billion and £88 billion. I believe this is very concerning, as it contradicts repeated assurances from the Government that this project would be delivered within budget. Furthermore, the Chairman has also said the current schedule for running the initial services between London and Birmingham (phase 1) will be delayed by up to five years, and the Secretary of State for Transport recently said he was now expecting phase 2b to Manchester and Leeds to be open between 2035 and 2040.
Concerns have also been raised about the impact on the environment. While the construction will undoubtably have some impact, the Government has said it wants HS2 to be more environmentally responsible than any other major infrastructure project in history and is committed to reducing its effect on the countryside. I will hold the Government to account on its environmental commitments as part of the HS2 development and ensure that it sets the gold standard in environmental mitigation and in promoting plant and animal life along the route. Furthermore, high-speed rail offers some of the lowest carbon emissions per passenger-km, much lower than that of cars and planes, and I believe HS2 will help us move towards a sustainable, low-carbon transport system.
The HS2 tunnel into Manchester Piccadilly will be passing through this constituency, if you want to find out more, see here for the recent Government report. There have been concerns raised at local level about the impact on the lives of residents. I have met with residents, local councillors and the HS2 engagement and engineering team. I am supporting my constituents on these issues.
The Government has now launched an independent review of HS2, chaired by Douglas Oakervee, which will consider the benefits and impacts of the project, its deliverability and scope, its affordability and its phasing. A final report is expected in the autumn – updates can be found here.
I will be writing to Douglas Oakervee, with my Greater Manchester MP colleagues, with a submission to the review to highlight the importance in delivering Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 Phase 2b for our city-region, and ask that the economic impacts for Manchester, the North of England and UKplc are considered in the review. I welcome this review and we will await the outcomes.
Overall, I believe that the North needs an advanced railway network fit for the 21st century. I support measures to invest in and develop our rail capacity, including high speed and digital rail, to address the climate crisis and better connect our towns and cities.
Thanks to the constituents who contacted me on this important issue, I can assure you I will monitor developments on this very closely.