Andrew Stephenson – 2021 Statement on HS2 (West Midlands – Crewe)

The statement made by Andrew Stephenson, the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, in the House of Commons on 19 January 2021.

Let me say at the outset that the majority of these amendments are clarifications, corrections and updated references. When a Bill has had such a lengthy passage through these Houses as this one, it is perhaps amazing that there are so few amendments that need to be made. Let me say also that the Government accept all the amendments made by the other place to this Bill.

As you would expect, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will provide some comment on the more substantial amendments, but before I do so, I would like to thank the other place for its careful scrutiny of this Bill. In particular, I thank my noble Friend Baroness Vere of Norbiton for her very great skill and diligence in steering this Bill through the other place. I also wish to extend especial thanks to Lord Hope of Craighead and his Committee for their careful and considered approach to the petitions against the Bill in the other place and for the way they handled their processes during the global pandemic.

Turning to the amendments, Lords amendment 2 introduces a requirement on the nominated undertaker to provide and publish annual reports on the impact of the construction of the High Speed 2 project on ancient woodland. This is a scheme-wide amendment: it applies not just to phase 2a of HS2, but to all phases, including those that the House has not yet considered. The requirement in this amendment to report is about ancient woodland, but I have also committed to wider environmental reporting on the impacts of HS2. I look forward to the first of these environmental reports being published, and I am absolutely committed to holding HS2 Ltd to account on environmental matters.

Lords amendment 3 introduces a new requirement on the Government to undertake the consultation prior to 1 May 2021. This consultation is to be for the people of Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire, and it is to seek views on various types of impacts from the HS2 works. The Government opposed this amendment in the other place, but that was on the basis that it was deemed unnecessary. There has already been considerable consultation with the people of Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire. Nevertheless, I think that accepting this amendment is the right thing to do. As the Minister for HS2, I have been charged with resetting the relationship between the HS2 project and local communities. I have worked continuously with colleagues across the House who represent communities along the line of route. I am listening, and I will not stand in the way of the opportunity to listen more through further consultation. I want to reassure the House that I am taking action on what I hear, where it is needed. Further, I will do all I can to ensure that officials and those working on the project for HS2 Ltd put any consultation responses to the best possible use.

I am acutely aware of the strength of feeling in the affected communities, and I am therefore mindful of the motivation and the sentiments of those who supported and voted for this amendment in the other place. As I have mentioned, extensive consultation has already been undertaken. It is crucial, though, that we remember that local communities are at the heart of this project. HS2 is a massive infrastructure project from which the whole nation will benefit, but there are those who will have to bear a burden for that to happen.

I cannot move on without mentioning that there is a price tag of around £350,000 attached to the consultation. However, the costs of running a consultation are minor compared with the costs of delaying the Bill and of not listening to those who are directly affected by the impacts of these works. Let me therefore be very clear about consultation and engagement. The passing of this Bill does not mean the end of engagement with local communities. Indeed, it is only the beginning of a renewed effort to try to mitigate the impacts of the HS2 works on them. Therefore, while there has already been extensive consultation, I see no harm in there being even more.

The last amendment to which I wish to draw the House’s attention is Lords amendment 5. It simply clarifies when a new road constructed under the powers in the Bill becomes specifically a public highway, and when a temporary highway ceases to be a public highway. This clarifies the position for local authorities and has been highlighted as necessary through learning the lessons from phase 1. The remainder of the Lords amendments—amendments 1 and 4, and 6 to 12—delete references to some specific phase 1 works that have been made obsolete by a Transport and Works Act 1992 order, delete references made obsolete by the repeal of some local Acts and update other references in relation to the Communications Act 2003.

The Bill has already taken far longer to go through Parliament than was anticipated when the legislation was introduced in July 2017. I do not want to delay it further today. I want this section of the railway to be built so that we can hasten the benefits of HS2 to the north as soon as possible and, given all that I have said, I urge the House to agree to the Lords amendments.