We must use this moment of societal upheaval to change our mindset and transition to greener forms of living, especially travel.
Rail is integral to reaching net zero and, despite the pandemic, transport remains the largest emitting sector in the UK, with provisional figures showing it accounted for almost 30% of our carbon dioxide emissions last year. The vast majority of this was from road transport. Whilst rail accounts for 10% of all passenger miles, it contributes around 1% of all greenhouse gas emissions from transport.
We need to see capacity freed up on the rail network, to get freight off the road and onto rail, and to move goods around the country in a cleaner way.
I strongly believe the HS2 project must minimise negative implications for our natural environment. It must be held to account on its environmental commitments and I welcome that the Government has now agreed to publish annual reports about the impact of the construction of each phase of HS2 on ancient woodland.
The HS2 project needs to be developed with more sensitivity to local communities, and that includes sensitivity to the environmental impact.
Whilst we continue to face COVID-19, we cannot forget that we are still in a climate emergency and I firmly believe we need a nature-led green recovery, including investment in green infrastructure.
Furthermore, our transport policy needs to address the structural underlying economic inequalities which existed before the pandemic. Regional inequality in the UK has worsened over the past decade and one aspect of tackling this must be proper investment in green, fast transport infrastructure in neglected areas like the north.
I am aware that there is now considerable uncertainty over the future of the phase 2b Eastern leg of HS2. If this leg is scrapped, then it will only further reveal the hollowness of the Government’s commitment to building a ‘northern powerhouse’ and be another mark against the whole HS2 project.
There is a clear need for connectivity in the North and Midlands and this project should have started there, rather than in London. Better yet, as I have long said, projects such as HS3 and improving the north’s existing rail network should have taken priority over what is essentially an upgrade of the existing London to Birmingham line.
During the debate on 13 September, Andrew Stephenson, the Minister of State at the Department for Transport, was questioned on the environmental, economic and managerial problems of the HS2 project. Unsurprisingly, he defended the project and extolled the apparent virtues of it, however, at no point in his response did he even mention the environment.
Despite this, I can assure you that my Opposition Colleagues and I will continue to raise our concerns over HS2, including its significant impact on the environment, with the Government and call for these concerns to be addressed.