Lord Greaves on the Economic Benefits of HS2
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I believe that I am one of the majority of people in the north of England who are in favour of HS2, if not necessarily of all its details. I thought that the report was a little disappointing because it cannot seem to make up its mind whether it is against the whole project or is simply making some specific—in some cases, quite positive and constructive—suggestions. I suspect that this was the compromise that the committee came to in order to produce an agreed report.
That might be a little ambitious, but the decision should certainly have been made with reference to a co-ordinated plan for passenger and freight traffic on the railways and perhaps beyond that. This criticism, which I think is right, is not of HS2 but of the infrastructure planning system in this country, which does not do this; it puts projects forward in a piecemeal way, not as part of a co-ordinated national planning system. Noble Lords who have attended debates on planning and planning Bills will know that I consider that the whole planning system in this country is fairly bust; this is an example of that at national level. However, we have the system that we have and we are not going to get a super-modernised, streamlined planning system that works in the short term or indeed beyond that, so we have to deal with HS2 as we have it.
“many taxpayers would derive no benefit from the project”.
The use of the word “taxpayer” in this context is sloppy, ideological right-wing language of the sort that has taken over in this country. I find that disappointing coming from a committee of your Lordships’ House, from which I expect better.
As far as the money is concerned, everyone is talking about £50 billion, although, as we know, the figure is £28 billion plus contingencies plus the rolling stock. Some people think that the existing network can be fettled in such a way as to cater for the required extra capacity, but that would need the extra rolling stock anyway, so at least some of that rolling stock is to be discounted, and we do not know how much of the contingencies might be required.
Even if the cost is £50 billion, I wonder why people are upset about it. Perhaps it is because it is a railway line to the north of England—to Manchester, Leeds and strange foreign places like that where people talk a bit odd. Let us look at the London schemes that are around. There is Crossrail, costing £15 billion—a super scheme with some fantastic engineering, but expensive. We have Crossrail 2, which is forecast to cost £25 billion, although I do not know whether that includes contingencies. Thameslink has cost at least £6 billion. The proposed extensions to the Bakerloo line could cost £3 billion or £4 billion, depending on how far they go.
Investment in HS2
So we are talking of investment in London that is of the same order as HS2, but no one says that these projects are too expensive, cannot be afforded, are going to bankrupt the country and all the technical stuff that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, came out with, which I am afraid I did not understand, although I am sure that it was all very good. Why? Because it is in London. Not very long ago, the Mayor of London, bless him, was calling for a scheme for a great ring rail around the outside of London—a sort of M25 railway, as I understood it—and he was happily saying, “Oh, it’ll only cost £40 billion, that’s all right”. That seems to have been put on one side for the moment, but who knows? If you are talking about things in London, money does not matter; when it comes to the rest of the country, people say that it cannot be afforded.
I associate myself with everything that my noble friend Lady Kramer said in her excellent, passionate speech. I also associate myself with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Snape, who talked about line capacity with more expertise than I could, so I shall not try to say some of the things that I might have. However, the meaning of capacity seems to have been misunderstood both in this report and in a lot of what is said. People look at capacity as being the proportion of the seats that are occupied on the trains that are running. If one is running a transport service, be it bus, rail or some other service, capacity is about the whole service provided. One cannot expect to run late-night trains and to have them as full as at peak times, such as teatime. Without the late-night service, there is no overall service and some of the daytime trade that would go back at night will be lost. Therefore, a proper, comprehensive and regular service is bound to have lots of trains that are not full. That does not mean to say that they are under capacity.
My time is up. Some of the points in this report should be taken forward. We should get a better response from the Government, because the Government’s response was pretty pathetic. However, for goodness’ sake, let there be no more delay. Once people start putting their feet on the brakes, this scheme will never happen. For the economic good of the north of England and the Midlands, of all the cities, the towns and the whole area, we need this railway line built as soon as possible.
Contact Lord Greaves
Anyone wishing to contact me on the subject of HS2 or any other matter can do so directly through the contact page on my website.