HS2 and the North

Thank you for contacting me about HS2 and the North.

Reliable transport networks are essential for growth and productivity, so I am pleased that the Government is committed to delivering the biggest investment in the railways since Victorian times. Around £40 billion has been invested between 2014 and 2019, and investment between 2019 and 2024 is expected to be around £47.9 billion. This will benefit millions of passengers across the country by delivering more trains, more seats and better stations.

Britain’s railways require additional capacity, and the Government believes that HS2 represents the most effective way of both alleviating pressure on the current network and ensuring capacity growth. With destinations including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, and Crewe, HS2 is expected to relieve the East and West Coast mainlines of congestion by offering fast, direct services between major cities on new and improved lines.

Phase Two will extend the High Speed network from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds, with connections allowing HS2 trains to continue to other cities including Newcastle, Carlisle and Scotland. The East Coast Main Line will go to Newcastle and the West Coast Main Line will go to Carlisle and into Scotland. It will significantly reduce journey times to the North and Scotland, and dramatically improve connectivity between the Midlands and the North, supporting growth and regeneration, and bringing new opportunities to millions of people, providing better access to jobs and markets as well as increase freight capacity in some locations to the existing rail network. HS2 will serve the North East as it will integrate with Northern Powerhouse Rail and local transport which will help relieve congestion, improve reliability as well as speed up journey times.

The completion of HS2 will see the journey between Newcastle and London reduced to 137 minutes, with the journey time currently taking 170 minutes. The journey from Carlisle to London will be cut from 195 minutes to 154 minutes. Newcastle to Birmingham currently takes 172 minutes, which HS2 will reduce to 118 minutes and Newcastle to the East Midlands Hub will takes 96 minutes on HS2.

The HS2 will cement Newcastle Central Station as an ‘international gateway for North East England’. It acts as a hub connecting Newcastle International Airport, Sunderland and South Tyneside, East Durham, Northumberland and Cumbria. Local interchanges mean the people of North will have valuable access to HS2. The Carlisle Station Gateway Plan could add an additional £40 million a year for the economy. The plan involves cementing Carlisle’s station as an integrated transport hub. There are also plans to redevelop the area to make the most of the city’s heritage. The North East Combined Authority is also working with Network Rail on options to upgrade East Coast Main Line, local rail services and provision for freight.

Currently, across the Tyne Valley line, there are extra rail services being implemented; the stations are being improved, an increase in the number of journeys, a refurbish of the fleet of trains, a decrease in fares and the pacer trains are being replaced. These improvements are strengthening the links between Newcastle and Carlisle, providing new connection opportunities and more frequent and reliable services.

In addition to spending on HS2, Ministers expect to invest nearly £48 billion into wider rail investment between 2019 and 2024. The new Azuma trains which are beginning to operate on the East Coast main line are being built by Hitachi, who currently employ 700 people at Newton Aycliffe. Network Rail are embarking upon a £2.9 billion upgrade of the Transpennine route between York and Manchester via Leeds and Huddersfield. Over the next 20 years it is forecast that passenger numbers will double. Providing better links between some of the North’s most important economic centres by increasing capacity and reducing journey times will improve connections for businesses, create jobs and support economic growth.

HS2 is key to the future of our transport system but it does not come at the expense of investment in the rest of the rail network and significant rail improvements have already been delivered. It is important to consider that the £40 billion and £47.9 billion improvement programmes are in addition to a £55 billion programme to build HS2, a new railway linking London to our other great cities. HS2 will reach Birmingham by 2026, and Manchester, Leeds and the North by 2033.

The Government will publish an updated business case of HS2 by the end of 2019 based on the latest assessment of costs and schedule. I am aware that the project has a funding envelope set in 2015, and HS2 Ltd is in ongoing discussions with its suppliers in order to take steps to ensure that the costs of the project remain within its budget. The National Audit Office has found the strategic case for HS2 to be convincing. Indeed, HS2 will deliver more than £2 of benefits for every £1 of investment, representing good value for money.

I was pleased to hear that the Government’s strategic vision for the railway includes plans to end the operational divide between track and train and changes to the franchising system, bringing an end the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to franchising. I also welcome the steps being taken to ensure those working on the railway will see staff reward linked to the success of the business.

It is welcome that the Prime Minister has launched an independent review of the HS2 project. Through thorough analysis of evidence, the review will consider whether and how HS2 should go forward. The review will look into HS2’s benefits and impacts, affordability and efficiency, deliverability and scope, as well as its phasing, including its relationship with Northern Powerhouse Rail. I understand that the review intends to offer clear advice on the future of HS2 to the Government in the autumn, and it will inform how the project proceeds. It is important to note in the meantime, limited work on the project will continue.

Not only will HS2 significantly enhance intercity rail services, it will drive regional regeneration and support job creation. It is supported by all the major conurbations that it will serve, as they recognise the key benefits that it will bring to their areas. With work well underway across 250 sites, HS2 is now supporting 9,000 jobs around the UK. HS2 is likely to generate over 30,000 jobs during peak construction and 3,000 when the line is running. It will also support growth in the wider economy, worth an additional 100,000 jobs. Over 62,000 people in the North East work in advanced manufacturing. HS2 will bring manufacturing hubs, suppliers and research centres closer together, encouraging collaboration and growth. Over half of all companies delivering work for HS2 are small and medium sized businesses, with the number growing as the pace of construction increases. I understand that the aim is also to create at least 2,000 apprenticeships, thereby boosting the next generation’s skills base. Ensuring that HS2 strikes the right balance between the needs of affected communities and the environment, and the long-term needs of the country as a whole is essential.

The independent review will also consider HS2’s environmental benefits, in particular for carbon reduction in line with net zero commitments. As matters stand, HS2 Ltd’s Sustainability Policy commits to the protection of the environment through seeking to avoid significant adverse effects on communities, businesses and the environment, including the prevention of pollution. The policy also commits to minimising impacts where they occur, and delivering enhancements as far as reasonably practicable to attain no net loss to the natural environment. I am pleased that a green corridor is being created alongside the railway, including the planting of seven million new trees and shrubs along the Phase One route from London to the West Midlands. Archaeologists have begun exploring over 10,000 years of history through excavations along the 150 mile Phase One route from London to the West Midlands. This archaeology project is Europe’s largest, and the largest ever in Britain, with 60 sites along the Phase One route identified for work.

The Government is also committed to providing support for local communities whilst HS2 is constructed, first along the Phase One route. An overall £70 million funding package has been made available which will help enhance community facilities, improve access to the countryside, and help improve road and cycle safety in towns and villages along the HS2 Phase One route. It will support local economies where businesses may experience disruption from the construction of the line.

As the UK leaves the EU, I believe it is vital Britain is focused on making the most of global opportunities. The Government has committed to helping UK rail companies peruse export opportunities and support overseas companies interested in investing in the UK.

I will continue to lobby for a rise in upgrades to the Tyne Valley line and an increase in connectivity for the East to West corridor and support the Great North Rail Project.

Thank you again for contacting me about this important issue.