I am pleased that Royal Assent was granted for Phase One of HS2. This paves the way for a new railway line that will increase capacity on our rail network, connect the biggest cities, and generate jobs and economic growth. Crucially, expanding capacity on our rail network will see fewer people using their cars and as such, greatly improve our air quality.
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, Sheffield, 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.
Not only will HS2 significantly enhance intercity rail services, it will also 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.
HS2 is likely to generate around 30,000 jobs during construction and 3,000 when the line is running. It will also support growth in the wider economy, worth an additional 100,000 jobs. I understand that the aim is also to create at least 2,000 apprenticeships, thereby boosting the next generation's skills base.
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.
Ensuring that the project 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. 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.
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.
A five-volume Environment Statement for phase 2a of HS2 (West Midlands to Crewe) has been produced following detailed assessments. It sets out how the environmental impact of constructing this stage of the line will be mitigated. As regards Phase 2b (Crewe to Manchester and Leeds), a consultation has taken place on the Working Draft Environment Statement. A summary of the responses has been published, and this will further inform the development of the Phase 2b route and Environment Statement.
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.
I can assure you that I agree with concerns regarding improving rail connectivity in the north. Indeed, HS2 is designed to work in tandem with ‘Northern Powerhouse rail’, sometimes referred to as HS3. Northern Powerhouse Rail is a transformational rail programme to better connect the key economic areas and cities of the North. Delivered over 30 years and combining new, existing and already planned lines, the programme will improve east-west connections, offering a radical change in journey times, reliability frequency and capacity.