Fiona Bruce's Speech on HS2

I thank you for allowing me to speak in the debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, because it gives me an opportunity to put on record my views and those of many of my constituents regarding HS2.

I have never voted for any motion relating to HS2 in the House, over many years, and that will be my consistent position today. That is why I will not even be voting for any of the amendments or for the Bill in due course. I cannot condone any expenditure in relation to this project, and I do not believe that the further reviews and reports proposed in new clauses 1 and 4 will do anything other than reinforce my view and that of so many of my constituents that the business case for HS2 has simply not been made.

It is a hugely expensive project. It will not proportionately benefit my constituents, who time and again say to me that the huge amount of money involved would be much better spent on improving local transport services, whether it is the cycleways; the bus services, which have been reduced and need reinstating, particularly for the elderly; a bypass for Holmes Chapel; or better facilities at Sandbach station.

I need hardly mention the catalogue of concerns about local rail services that have been brought to my attention. I held a surgery a little while ago at Congleton railway station, and almost 40 constituents turned up to express their concerns about local rail services. They want to see better local rail services. That is a particular concern. If money is going to be invested in some form of Crewe hub, that will simply not be of benefit to my constituents unless there are appropriate local rail services fanning out from Crewe to Alsager, Congleton, Sandbach and Middlewich. That assessment needs to be done. I find myself in agreement with the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who said that we need an assessment of the benefit of these proposals to local towns, not just cities. That is what my constituents have been saying for many years—what is the benefit to them?

I am entirely in agreement with many of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), in particular regarding the current west coast main line. We need a proper business case for what will happen post-HS2 for the west coast main line. I use it every week, and I know that I am not alone among my constituents in thinking that the service currently supplied by Virgin is perfectly satisfactory. My constituents cannot understand why there is a need for them to contribute to the huge expense of HS2, particularly as only a tiny proportion of them are likely to use it.

My constituents have often argued that solutions can be put forward using the west coast main line as it stands and that it should not be necessary to have the additional infrastructure that HS2 necessitates.

Moreover, there is real concern about the high—possibly too high—ticket prices that HS2 is likely to incur, when many rail charges are already very expensive for those who want to travel down to London. Speaking of London, many of my constituents are concerned that all this will do is draw business down to London. For a constituency like mine, which will not have a direct connection with HS2, there will still need to be local connections, whether it is from Crewe or coming up from Birmingham or down from Manchester. There is no confidence that HS2 will attract business to our area. There are many other reasons why business would be attracted to my part of Cheshire. It is a wonderful place to live—it is very attractive, with great schools and a good quality of life—but there is no confidence that the huge expenditure of HS2 will lead to increased business in our area. A proper business case has never been made for this.

That is exactly the point that I am seeking to make. I agree. It is very interesting that the Lords Economic Affairs Committee found evidence that the costs of HS2 appear to be out of control. That does not inspire confidence in my constituents. If there is going to be improved connectivity outside our constituency, many of them would prefer to see it across from Manchester towards Leeds and Yorkshire, rather than further connectivity down to London, which they already think is quite satisfactory for their purposes.

The case for speed has never been made. People work on the train and, because my constituents will have to make a connection—whether it is from Crewe or elsewhere—they are not convinced that the slim time saving justifies the expenditure that will be incurred. If the aim of the project is to narrow the gap between the north and London, the investment needs to be in the north.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford referred to the series of junctions on the M6. Junction 17 of the M6 at Sandbach in my constituency needs improvement to take the additional traffic that is increasingly burdening it, particularly because of the additional house building. It is one of the few junctions in the country without a roundabout serving it. Each morning, we see huge pressure, in particular from those commuting from Sandbach to Manchester and elsewhere. It is highly unsatisfactory and another priority that needs to be looked at—in my constituents’ view, looked at in preference to the proposed investment in HS2.

There is going to be an impact in my constituency, because while HS2 does not pass through it, it passes within yards of it. It will pass through Stanthorne and the Bostock Hall estate, literally within yards of Middlewich. Many of my constituents will be impacted—the quality of their lives will be impacted—by this without any compensation being available to them.

Of course, there are also environmental concerns. New clause 1 proposes a review of those concerns, but they are self-evident. The Wildlife Trusts says that hundreds of special wildlife habitats are under threat from HS2, including ancient woodlands, lakes, meadows and other important habitats. We do not need an assessment to tell us that—it is obvious.

It will do so much damage at a time when we are becoming increasingly aware of how important it is to address issues such as environmental protection and climate change.

My constituents are frustrated that HS2 will effectively terminate at Euston. So many of them would prefer not to fly to the continent from Manchester airport, but to take a train, but it would be impractical to have to trundle heavy suitcases across London.

We started with a cost of £35 billion and the latest figure is in the region of £56 billion. No one believes that the costs will not escalate, and there are now credible reports of up to £80 billion. Those are still only estimates, and that is unacceptable. My constituents do not see HS2 as a value for money enterprise.

In the Lords Economic Affairs Committee, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean said:

“Commuter services in the north of England are badly overcrowded and reliant on ageing trains. Rail connections between northern cities are poor”— and between northern towns— rail infrastructure in the north should be the Government’s priority for investment, rather than improving north-south links which are already good. The north is being short-changed by the Government’s present plans, especially as construction on HS2 is starting in the south. Any overcrowding relief from HS2 will mainly benefit London commuters.”

If we are to have any assessments, reviews or reports, we need to look at how we can ensure a fair and proportionate benefit to constituents such as mine from an investment of this size.