The much-anticipated Parliamentary debate on the proposed HS2 rail scheme went ahead on 13 October – all be it, a bit late!
The cause of the delay: a long debate on the use of handheld devices in the House of Commons…. At one point Wycombe MP Steve Baker pleaded the business be allowed to move lest his ‘constituents flay me alive’.
Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council and Chairman of 51m – the alliance of 18 local authorities committed to challenging the Government’s case for HS2 watched the debate from the public gallery. Martin said: “It was definitely not Parliament at its best. To drag out a debate on ‘Twitter’ in preference to discussing the proposal to spend £32Billion of taxpayers’ money on a highly controversial project shows strange priorities.”
When the HS2 Debate did commence, Andrea Leadsom, Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, opened stating in opposing HS2 she was defending the taxpayers of the UK against the spending £32 billion on an unjustifiable and eye-wateringly expensive project.
She blasted the business case, saying it made ludicrous assumptions and would never cure the North-South divide, as claimed, indeed 73% of any jobs created would be in London. Heavily subsidised by taxpayers, 99% of people in the UK would use it only once a year, she said. Other alternative measures could, she stated, be delivered more cheaply and immediately, easing capacity problems now. “We may not land a man on Mars by 2026, but there will be technical advances made which will make HS2 outdated before it’s built.”
She concluded: “HS2 will be a white elephant. It’s not visionary, it’s not green and it’s not economically sound.”
Geoffrey Robinson, Labour MP for Coventry North West, told the chamber HS2 would be subsidised massively by the taxpayer, thinking behind it was the wrong way round – the line from London to Birmingham was not needed, and any new line should be built from the north to the south. He described HS1 as ‘the biggest flop ever. Sold off at a whopping loss’. Furthermore, he said, in all likelihood, the northern sections would never get built because of the enormous expensive.
Steve Baker, Conservative MP for High Wycombe also opposed the scheme wanting to know if the financial returns were as good as the Government claimed why wouldn’t private businesses invest in the scheme?
At the conclusion of the debate Martin Tett commented “I am delighted that the overwhelming majority of speakers were firmly against the scheme, including now MPs from inner London such as Frank Dobson (MP for Holborn and St Pancras) and the north such as Fiona Bryce (MP for Congleton). What the debate did reveal is the fundamental weakness of the HS2 case – the business case is flawed; there is no evidence that HS2 will bridge the north-south divide or achieve any regeneration benefits. It will be an environmental disaster, not just here in the Chilterns AONB but right along the line. There are huge disbenefits to our existing rail network and to many towns and cities in the Midlands and the North which will have the economic life drawn from them as they are bypassed by HS2 and suffer slower , reduced train services.
“It makes no sense at all to squander £32 billion on HS2 when local authorities are having to reduce services, small businesses, the backbone of our economy, are going bust for want of a few thousand pounds and we have two and a half million people unemployed.
“It is clear that those supporting the scheme were still unable to give any clear evidence in support of their views.
“It’s time for the Secretary of State for Transport to put this vanity project to rest, scrap the scheme, go back to the drawing board and look at better ways of investing £32 billion in this country.”