HS2 'disaster' damaging levelling up agenda and must be scrapped, says Tory Red Wall MP

HS2 is a "disaster" which is actually damaging the levelling up agenda and the Eastern leg to Yorkshire should be scrapped, a Red Wall Tory MP has said.

Alexander Stafford, who represents Rother Valley in South Yorkshire, made the call during a Westminster Hall debate on Monday night attended by Rail Minister Andrew Stephenson.

Mr Stafford’s constituency would see the intended Eastern leg from Birmingham to Leeds run through it but with no stop in the local area.

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At a Westminster Hall debate into a petition signed by over 150,000 people calling for HS2 to be cancelled, Mr Stafford said 700 of his constituents had signed it, with a further 8,000 local people supporting a similar petition a few years ago.

Rother Valley MP Alexander Stafford has called for the Eastern leg of HS2 to be cancelled by the Government.Rother Valley MP Alexander Stafford has called for the Eastern leg of HS2 to be cancelled by the Government.
Rother Valley MP Alexander Stafford has called for the Eastern leg of HS2 to be cancelled by the Government.

“In Rother Valley, a northern seat and a seat that the Government want to level up, we say that we do not want HS2,” he said.

“I want to challenge this fallacy that HS2 is involved with levelling up. It is quite the opposite: HS2 takes money and resources away from levelling up. I say that HS2—I am particularly talking about the 2b arm that runs roughshod through my constituency, destroying 400 homes—damages the levelling-up process.

"Why is that? First of all, we have heard about £150 billion. What my constituency could do with £15 million would be transformative. Give us some of that; do not give us a rail line that we cannot get on to. That money is what we need.”

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He said that he is supportive of the Northern Powerhouse Rail project, designed to improve speed and connectivity between Liverpool and Hull - but believes that project would be held back should the Eastern leg of HS2 go ahead.

“We have talked about the trans-Pennine route here today; that is what we need. But what I hear from suppliers and construction companies is that there are not enough resources.

"There is not enough concrete; there are not enough tradesmen at the moment actually to build anything else. That is because HS2 is this gaping maw that is sucking in resources, sucking in money and sucking in everything, but not actually delivering anything. That undermines the whole concept of levelling up, so I say to the Government: we need to stop HS2 and the 2b arm.”

With rumours growing that the Eastern leg of HS2 will be scrapped or mothballed once the delayed Integrated Rail Plan is published, Mr Stafford said he hoped the Government would take the former option.

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“Hundreds of my constituents, whose homes are being destroyed or compulsorily purchased, are being left in limbo. They do not know what is going on. We cannot just mothball it. We need to cancel it so that they can get on with their lives.

“We are destroying 400 homes in the Rother Valley. At the same time, Rotherham council is building new homes on the green belt, which is ridiculous. We are destroying the homes that we have and building on the green belt to make up for the loss. The HS2 project is a disaster, and 2b needs to be fully cancelled.”

Rachael Maskell, Labour MP for York also spoke in the debate and said the economic opportunity of HS2 is not becoming a reality, with Network Rail planning to build luxury apartments next to York railway station "so people can commute down to London, sucking the wealth out of my community".

“In Crewe, we are talking about 36,000 jobs, and in Curzon Street, 37,000, yet in York there will be just 6,500 jobs, in areas adjacent to the rail system—on Network Rail land, which comes under the Minister’s Department,” she said.

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“The question I want answered today is: why is the economic opportunity of HS2, which the Minister has espoused, not translating into reality? Network Rail will redevelop that land for luxury apartments—not for anybody in my constituency to live in, but so that people can commute down to London, sucking out the wealth from my constituency.

"It does not make economic sense. It does not make sense for transport, and it comes at a cost to our environment. Therefore, the project needs to re-examine its purpose.”

She added: “We see that 2,500 housing units are to be built adjacent to the station. My constituents simply cannot afford them because of the high cost of living.

“I have to say to the Minister that in the light of HS2’s economic suction from the north and my constituency, and its environmental impact, he has not yet presented a case that stacks up, and that says that HS2 will benefit places such as York.”

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But Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn said he had a “deep concern” HS2 would not reach the city given recent media reports and asked Rail Minister Andrew Stephenson to “make it absolutely clear” the Government remained committed to building the line in full to Leeds.

Conservative MP Jason McCartney, who represents Colne Valley, was another to speak in favour of the Eastern leg going ahead.

He said the scheme is as vital as going ahead with Northern Powerhouse Rail.

“Can we get rid of a myth this evening? Investment in HS2 is not instead of but as well as upgrading the TransPennine route, as well as Northern Powerhouse Rail and local infrastructure. We will get all the benefits only if the eastern leg is delivered and all those investments are made. That would improve jobs, connectivity and the environment, and it is good for our constituents.”

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Rail Minister Andrew Stephenson told the debate that HS2 was still going "full steam ahead" - but failed to provide assurances the Leeds to Birmingham leg will still happen as requested by Leeds MP Hilary Benn and other MPs at the debate.

“HS2 is going full steam ahead,” he said.

“It is a railway of which we hope the country can be proud for many generations to come. Construction has now begun in earnest, with more than 300 active construction sites along the line of route from Birmingham to London.

“Many Members have expressed various concerns, and I am more than happy to meet them after the debate. I know that HS2 is a project that inspires strong feelings on all sides, as all major infrastructure projects do. The Government carefully considered the merits of proceeding with HS2, which has almost certainly been subject to more parliamentary scrutiny than any other infrastructure project.

“Our firm conclusion was that HS2 should go ahead, and it is now progressing. In setting out the decision to proceed, we made a clear commitment to draw a line under past problems. This is a once-in-a-generation major infrastructure project that will shape this country for well over 100 years, showcasing our skills in engineering and construction.”

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