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Patrick McLoughlin MP: Why Margaret Hodge and her committee are wrong about HS2

McLOUGHLIN PATRICK 2Patrick McLoughlin is the Secretary of State for Transport and MP for Derbyshire Dales.

Imagine trying to drive to Sheffield or Leeds without the M1. Or getting to Canary Wharf in east London on the Tube without the Jubilee line. Or navigating around London without the M25. It would not only be a nightmare - a country without these things would be stuck in the slow lane. We’d be poorer, more divided and far less able to compete with places like China that are charging ahead.

That’s why today no-one seriously suggests that it was a mistake to build the M25. At the time, though, it was a different story. The bean counters fretted and the press complained. Was new infrastructure really a good use of money, they asked? Did we need it at all? After all, in all the examples above, cost-benefit analysis suggested the economic return might be no better, and in some cases worse, than we predict for the new high speed two line we will build between our great cities.

The Government was right to press on and build them, just as it built the High Speed One line from the Channel Tunnel to London. It carried the crowds to the Olympic Games in East London and has now brought great companies like Google to invest in Britain, with a new European HQ just by the high speed station. We must think big, invest well and get on with the job of getting our country’s transport up to scratch. We need some renewed Victorian vigour and vision – the can-do spirit that built Britain.

And we’ve got to stand up to those who want to drag us down. It’s right that we put great projects under scrutiny. But it’s wrong when that scrutiny gets misused as an excuse to do nothing at all. That’s why I am so disappointed by comments from the head of the Public Accounts Committee, the Labour MP Margaret Hodge, about the National Audit Office’s new report on HS2. It’s a project, after all, that her own party backs, which the last government helped to get going and which will create the jobs and growth we need. I welcome the NAO’s examination. But I disagree with some of what it says. The report is based on an out of date analysis of a project that is on track.

Just this week, the first piece of legislation to make sure HS2 happens began its progress through the House of Commons. Earlier this year, the courts ruled comprehensively in favour of the project when it went to judicial review. And in January, we set out detailed plans for the full route all the way from Leeds and Manchester , as an engine for growth to help bring jobs and prosperity to all parts of our economy not just London.

In short, HS2 is going well and that’s good because without HS2, the key rail routes connecting London, the Midlands and the North will be overwhelmed in just over a decade. That would mean longer journeys, more congested roads and railways and fewer jobs in places that need them. It really is that simple.

If we're to compete we need transport that's up with the best. Yet when it comes to infrastructure we're way behind. Turkey will soon have over 1,500 miles of high speed line. We have got just 67. I’m under no illusions whatever that HS2 is a difficult and challenging project. The easiest thing would be for the government not to build it. But in 20 years’ time when we have a railway network that is the envy of the world, no one’s going to look back and say that HS2 was wrong thing to do. 


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