FOR nearly ten years, HS2 has been a significant issue in this constituency. A number of my constituents are directly affected, with houses or businesses that are in or near the path of the line, and many more will be affected by the construction of the line and the disruption it will bring.
Throughout those nearly ten years, and through the four general election campaigns we have had in that time, I have expressed the view that there are decent arguments for a high speed rail network in the UK, but better ways to deliver it than HS2 as currently conceived. Specifically, I have argued that high speed rail lines should follow existing transport corridors, doing less environmental damage. I still think the same.
The rapidly escalating costs of HS2 made it sensible for the Government to review whether and how the project should proceed, and the review which was undertaken over the last few months gave me the opportunity to renew the arguments I have made before. I am sure this was not an easy decision for ministers to make, but it has been made. HS2 will proceed. Although this will come as a profound disappointment to many in this area, it will proceed largely because HS2 has always had much more support nationally, including in Parliament, than it has locally. As a result, whether we like it or not, the construction of HS2 will now be a fact of our lives for several years.
For almost all of the lifetime of the project, a large proportion of my casework has been assisting those seeking compensation from HS2 Ltd. This has too often been an unnecessarily difficult and protracted process and although some individual employees do their best to be compassionate and responsive, HS2 Ltd has shown itself to be, as a corporate entity, both chronically inefficient and institutionally callous. That must change as the project begins in earnest. HS2 Ltd must also communicate far better with all of us as construction begins and ensure its contractors do the same. To that end I have established a forum which brings together community and business representatives with HS2 Ltd and contractors on the project so we can highlight and resolve problems as they occur. Very considerable improvement needs to be made.
A project of this scale can only be disruptive, but disruption can be minimised with flexibility, care and adaptability. None of these things have characterised HS2 so far. I respect the views of those who will always believe HS2 is the wrong thing to do and is being done in the wrong place, and I share many of their opinions. But as an MP for a constituency in its path, I cannot simply leave it at that.
My responsibility must be to do all I can to lessen HS2’s impact on my constituents as it is built and that is what I intend to continue to do.