For over five years Alec has been working closely with the Swillington, Oulton & Woodlesford HS2 Action Group (SOWHAT) in order to put forward alternative routes, make the case for better compensation and to raise key issues that are wrong with the project. The team has had some successes but also some disappointing outcomes – one such outcome was that Labour-run Leeds Council actively lobbied HS2 for the current proposed location of the HS2 station in Leeds, which in turn scuppered plans to re-route the rail line away from Woodlesford, Swillington and Oulton and onto existing transport corridors.
In early February, Alec wrote to Labour MP Lilian Greenwood, who is Chair of the Transport Select Committee in the House of Commons. In his letter, Alec called for the committee to investigate the process of choosing the location of the HS2 station in Leeds, as well as issues of capacity.
Here is the content of Alec’s letter to Labour MP Lilian Greenwood:
RE: High Speed Rail 2 (HS2)
It is my understanding that you have received a request for a Select Committee investigation into High Speed Rail 2 (HS2).
Whilst it is the case that the HS2 project continues to have cross-party support in Parliament and indeed in the North of England, where local authorities such as Leeds City Council are steadfast in support of rail improvement, there are a number of issues that remain unresolved.
Leeds HS2 Station Location
The proposed Phase 2b route of HS2 runs through my constituency, particularly impacting upon the communities of Woodlesford, Oulton, Swillington and Garforth. For over five years I have argued that there are alternative routes, including different routes through my constituency, which would be less environmentally damaging, more direct and more economical.
Sadly, these routes have now been discounted due to a desire by Leeds City Council to adopt a HS2 Station location that requires the branch line to route through the communities listed above.
Any investigation should, in my opinion, include within its scope an analysis of Leeds City Council’s role in negotiations regarding the location of the HS2 Station in Leeds, and whether alternative options to reposition the station would allow alternative routes to be considered that are less destructive, more direct and more economical.
It was always my understanding that HS2 was envisaged to address a capacity problem on the East Coast Main Line and, in turn, free up the line for additional local services which are currently running at capacity.
I’ve long held the view that speed is merely a benefit that comes with any modern day rail infrastructure project. Given that the last rail project to the North was built by the Victorians, it is my understanding that the network is proving unable to deal with the pressures of modern day rail use. Some years ago we were informed that our railways will need an additional 40,000 passenger places into the next decade if they are to keep up with demand. With little capacity on the existing East Coast Main Line, successive governments have cited obstacles to putting double-decker trains on the existing lines due to the Victorian tunnels being too small to accommodate them. Similarly, we were informed that the cost of re-building the existing tunnels is not much less than HS2 once line closures, replacement buses, lost revenue and construction are accounted for.
In my opinion, the scope of a select committee investigation should also explore capacity concerns in order to provide an accurate picture of capacity requirements.
Alec Shelbrooke MP
On 27th February, Alec received the following reply from Lilian Greenwood MP, stating that her committee were satisfied with their current ‘watching brief’ on HS2. No confirmation of a pending inquiry was given.
Here is the content of Lilian Greenwood MP’s reply to Alec:
Thank you for your letter of 4 February, about High Speed Rail (HS2). I note your concerns.
On the matter of Leeds station and other issues associated with Phase 2b, as you know the Government’s intention is to bring forward a hybrid bill for this phase of the project by the end of 2020. People directly and specially affected by the provisions in the Bill will be able to petition the Committee concerned directly. Member of Parliament have appeared before Phase 1 and Phase 2A Committees giving evidence directly affecting their constituencies and on more general principles such as compensation.
The Transport Select Committee keeps a watching brief on the project and has at regular intervals questioned Ministers and senior officials at HS2 Ltd about the progress of the project and concerns that have been raised. For example, the session in April 2017 on HS2’s links to CHm2.
We intend to continue in this regards and I can confirm that the committee will be questioning the new Chair of Hs2 Ltd, Allan Cook, on Wednesday 13th March. Further details on the session will be announced on the Committee’s website closer to the time.
Lilian Greenwood MP
Chair of the Transport Select Cmmittee
For some months now Alec has been preparing a case to put to the Petitioning Stage when the Phase 2b Hybrid Bill comes before Parliament by the end of 2020. Alec is specifically looking at detailed technical reports that may make the route undeliverable and continues to work closely with the SOWHAT residents group in this respect.
As and when the Hybrid Bill reaches the Petition Stage in the House of Commons (some time before the end of 2020) Alec will lead a delegation of residents from his constituents to address the committee.