Degrading practices, part 4

(… continued from Degrading practices, part 3, posted on 27 Mar 2015).

I have prepared another table analysing data for peak-hour services out of Euston on the West Coast Main Line (WCML).

The three columns on the right-hand side of this table are a condensation of the timetable data that I presented in the table that I introduced in part 2; the intention is to provide a count of the weekday peak-hour services that call at each WCML station (see footnote 1).

The centre four columns give travel time information, in minutes, from Euston to each of the WCML stations listed, taken from the published timetables. The number of intermediate stops is also given, in brackets after the travel time. A best and worst travel time is given for both Virgin and London Midland, or for the single operator that serves the station in question, as applicable.

I will come back to consider this service information in my next posting, but for the moment I wish to concentrate on the information in the two columns that are immediately to the right of the station names. The data in the left-hand of these two columns has been extracted from the very informative Network Rail document West Coast Main Line Route Utilisation Strategy (WCML RUS), which I referenced in the footnotes to part 3. This document is a veritable mine of information about the WCML, and includes, on page 47 , two tables of passenger “flows” to and from Euston for the survey year 2009/10; I previously referred to theses tables, 3.9 and 3.10, in my blog A dose of common sense, part 1 (posted 19 Oct 2013).

Whilst this passenger data is around five years old my searches have not turned up any more recent figures, so they will have to do. Also the data is incomplete in that only the ten busiest flows are recorded for stations greater than fifty miles from London, plus a similar top ten for stations less than fifty miles from London. Also of these twenty stations, two are on London Overground only, and so do not appear in my table. However, despite these shortcomings, I think that there is at least a basis here for a consideration to be made of how passenger migration from WCML “classic” services to HS2 is likely to impact on the WCML.

The right-hand of the two columns in my table is derived from the Phase 1 service pattern that has been assumed for the modelling that was used to derive The Economic Case for HS2 that was published in October 2013 (see footnote 2). In this column I have indicated the locations that will be served by Phase 1 of HS2: in the case of the two Birmingham stations this will be by “captive” (GC gauge) high speed trains to new stations in the general locality of the existing WCML station, and for all other indicated locations service will be by “classic compatible” (UK gauge) trains to the WCML station. In total, thirteen WCML locations will be provided with the alternative of a service to/from Euston on HS2 once Phase 1 is operational. Of these thirteen, seven are in the top ten list of long distance flows (Table 3.9) and these seven totalled 8.6 million passenger journeys in 2009/10. The six that we don’t have passenger figures for are: Stafford, Crewe, Wilmslow, Runcorn, Warrington Bank Quay, and Wigan North Western. Since all six must be below 510 million passenger journeys each, otherwise they would feature in the top ten table, the total for the six cannot amount to more than about 3 million, and is probably less, so I will assume that HS2 Phase 1 will attract a maximum of about 11 million passengers from the WCML, ignoring growth on the 2009/10 levels.

The WCML RUS advises that over 31.8 million journeys started from or ended at Euston in 2009/10 (see footnote 3), so HS2 Phase 1 could “poach” up to 35% of WCML passengers. This is a significant proportion, and would have a considerable effect on the business plan for the WCML. So even if it was not part of the HS2 master plan to reorganise services on the WCML, when HS2 Phase 1 becomes operational an extensive timetabling review will become necessary.

As far as Coventry is concerned, the three Virgin Trains serving this station, which carry all but a tiny minority of London traffic, serve five other stations also: Rugby, Birmingham International, Birmingham New Street, Sandwell and Dudley, and Wolverhampton. The last two stations in this list do not feature in the top ten table, but the passenger flows for the remaining four stations served total 4.65 million. The two Birmingham Stations, which will be served by HS2 Phase 1 albeit from different sites, account for 3.12 million, so the Virgin Trains services through Coventry could lose around 60% of their passenger business, based upon 2009/10 levels. It is hard to see that the current service levels enjoyed by the people of Coventry can be maintained in these circumstances.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. In calculating the number of services totals I have employed the convention that peak-hour services are those that depart Euston – or Wembley Central in the case of the cross-London service operated by Southern – in the hour 17:00 to 17:59 hrs. Consequently, the departure time from stations distant from London may lie outside this peak hour.
  2. Specifically Figure 6-1 in the document The Economic Case for HS2, PFMv4.3: Assumptions Report. This diagram carries the health warning that it is for “transport modelling purposes only” and that it does not constitute “a future proposed service specification”.
  3. Refer to section 3.11 of the WCML RUS.

PS: Whilst I have tried very hard to get my facts, and interpretations that follow, right, I am very conscious that I am not a railway buff, but that some of my readers are. If I get anything in this current series wrong, please let me know.

Degrading practices, part 3

(… continued from Degrading practices, part 2, posted on 23 Mar 2015).

The timetabling of services on a railway has to be devised so that a “minimum safe headway” can be maintained at all times between any service running on a line and the service immediately following it on that line. The intention is to allow sufficient time, and thus distance, between trains for the trailing train to stop safely in the event that the leading train comes to a halt. The value of the headway is determined with reference to a number of factors, which include the maximum speed allowed on the relevant track section, the braking efficiency of all train types in use and the efficiency of the signalling system.

In order to allow the minimum safe headway to be maintained within the operational schedule, timetables have to take into account of the speed and stopping patterns of adjacent services, and this topic was the first subject addressed by Professor Andrew McNaughton, Technical Director of HS2 Ltd, when he gave his presentation on railway capacity to the HS2 Select Committee (see footnote 1). Speaking to exhibits P4557(3) to P4557(10), the professor told the Committee that “if all trains were the same and didn’t stop, then they can follow each other very closely and we get a lot of trains on to the network” (see footnote 2). This situation, he pointed out, is “the essence of what we’d be doing with High Speed 2” (see footnote 3).

Professor McNaughton said that “if all trains did the same thing” then you could run trains on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) “as little … as two minutes apart”, so that would be around thirty “train paths” in a peak hour on each of the two lines (see footnote 4). However, on a mixed-use railway, such as the WCML, gaps have to be left in this dense pattern of train paths to allow for services operating at different speeds and with different stopping patterns, in order that the minimum safe headway can be maintained. Professor McNaughton showed some simplified examples of how train path capacity gets “wasted”.

The table of services departing Euston that I introduced in part 2 can allow us to see how this theory is put into practice on the real WCML. This table covers the weekday peak hour from 17:00 to 17:59 hrs. On the fast line there are fifteen services departing Euston during that hour at the following minutes past the hour: 00, 03, 07, 10, 13(LM), 16(LM), 20, 23, 30, 33, 40, 43, 46(LM), 49(LM), and 57. These are Virgin Train services, except for the four indicated by “(LM)”, which are operated by London Midland.

The minimum spacing between two services leaving Euston is three minutes, rather than the two minutes cited by Professor McNaughton; presumably this allows for some operational tolerance (see footnote 5). It is possible to confirm that this is the practical minimum by examining the two services that depart at 00 and 03. The first train of this pair is a Virgin Pendolino that doesn’t stop until it reaches Stoke-on-Trent. The 03 departure is also a Virgin Pendolino but is slower than the leading train as it stops at Rugby and Coventry on its way to Birmingham New Street; so this allows for a minimum spacing.

Compare this with the service that leaves Euston at 40 minutes past the hour. This is another train that doesn’t stop until it is well up country; this time the first stop is Crewe. However, the immediately preceding train (33 minutes past the hour) stops at Rugby, which will cause the following train to catch up. To take account of this the gap between the scheduled times departing Euston has been increased to seven minutes.

A similar pattern can be seen on the slow line, although departure time spacings vary more widely here due to some extent, I assume, to the considerable variation in stopping patterns – the smallest space between two adjacent departures from Euston is four minutes and the largest is twelve minutes (see footnote 6). If the Southern service from South Croydon to Milton Keynes is included, there are eight services accommodated on the slow line in the peak hour.

Taking account of these operational requirements, it is fairly clear that peak-time train paths on the WCML out of London are pretty well used up, at least as far as the fast line goes. If the current service pattern is maintained, there are no obvious gaps to accommodate new paths on the existing tracks in peak periods; this means that, without other interventions, no new peak-time services can be introduced and no relief services can be run to ease crowded commuter trains. It is this dearth of new peak-time passenger train paths, and overcrowding on some commuter services, that lie behind the often-heard claims that the WCML is “full”. These claims are reinforced by a desire to make more off-peak train paths available for freight services.

However, there are capacity-increasing improvements that can be made that do not require new train paths, increasing the length of trains being the obvious example. That there is scope to do this appears to be confirmed by a leaflet published by London Midland, which shows that, of the eleven services that depart Euston between 17:00 and 17:59 hrs on a weekday, only four are in twelve-carriage configuration. The remaining seven have eight carriages only, and five of these are designated “standing room only”.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. Professor McNaughton’s evidence to the Select Committee starts at 15:41 in the video and paragraph 153 of the transcript for the afternoon of Wednesday 11thFebruary 2015. His exhibits have been allocated identities P4557(1) to P4557(17).
  2. The section of Professor McNaughton’s presentation covering main line capacity is reported in paragraphs 157 to 165 of the transcript for the afternoon of Wednesday 11th February 2015.
  3. Whilst this claim is superficially correct, it takes no account of the possible difficulties of threading classic compatible HS2 trains into services on the WCML.
  4. A train path is the track access required to operate a single train service, requiring each section of track to be free of other services for a specific time to allow the free passage of that service.
  5. That the “planning headway” on the fast line out of Euston is three minutes is confirmed by figure 3.3 of the Network Rail document West Coast Main Line Route Utilisation Strategy (WCML RUS).
  6. Figure 3.3 of the WCML RUS confirms that the planning headway on the slow line out of Euston is four minutes. Beleben attributes this constraint on the line’s capacity to the signalling system, so this would be an obvious area where a moderate investment could increase the throughput. Even with the present technology, there should, I think, be some scope for increasing the number of peak-hour services above the eight currently running.

PS: Whilst I have tried very hard to get my facts, and interpretations that follow, right, I am very conscious that I am not a railway buff, but that some of my readers are. If I get anything in this current series wrong, please let me know.

Important Note: The account of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee that is given in this blog is based upon an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

Degrading practices, part 2

(… continued from Degrading practices, part 1, posted on 19 Mar 2015).

One of the discoveries on the Internet that I made during my research for these postings on the impact that bringing HS2 into service might have on the service pattern on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) is a real-time display of the departure board at Euston station. As trains depart from the station they are magically removed from the top of the board, and new services, with later departure times, replace them at the bottom. If you watch this board for a time you will see the names of the three train operating companies that, between them, operate all of these services: Virgin Trains, London Midland, and London Overground.

The Virgin Trains franchise, currently extended until 2017 (or possibly 2018) pending a rerun of the botched 2012 franchising competition, covers the majority of long-distance passenger services under the InterCity West Coast banner. These are limited-stop, express, services to and from London Euston that extend as far as Edinburgh, Glasgow and Holyhead and serve the principle cities of the Midlands and North West including Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

London Midland operates commuter and some long-distance “semi-fast” passenger services, confusingly under the “Express” banner. This operator also serves a couple of WCML branch lines and provides a service between Birmingham New Street and Liverpool Lime Street. The services to and from Euston extend as far north as Crewe.

London Overground operates suburban commuter multi-stop services using the “DC lines” that run alongside the WCML tracks between Euston and Watford Junction. This service is overseen by Transport for London and is more akin to the London Underground than a main line railway.

There is one other train operator that runs a passenger service that uses part of the WCML tracks running northwards from Euston, and that is Southern, providing an hourly service between South Croydon and Milton Keynes Central, running across London via the West London line. This train does not use Euston station; the first station that it calls at on the WCML north of Euston is Wembley Central.

Using published timetables from VirginLondon Midland and Southern I have constructed a table showing services departing Euston, plus the above-mentioned Southern service, and the WCML stations that are served by these services. For reasons that will become apparent, I have limited my tabulation to weekday services departing between 17:00 and 17:59 and have omitted the London Overground trains.

In my table station stops on each service are indicated by “X” and the terminal stations for each service by “T”. I have added two additional pieces of information for each service: whether the service runs on the fast (F) or slow (S) lines, and the train type utilised for the service.

For the larger part of its length WCML operates on a four-track basis, with two tracks serving each direction of travel. For efficiency of operation one of these two tracks operates as a “slow” line and the other as a fast line. All of the Virgin services and the London Midland services with fewer station stops run on the fast line. The slow line is used for frequently stopping London Midland services and the Southern service.

The rolling stock employed is basically of two types. Virgin Trains operate with “tilting” trains – mainly electricity-powered Pendolinos (class 390), but also diesel-powered Supervoyagers (class 221) on the North Wales service – whereas London Midland utilises more prosaic “commuter” stock. One significant difference that these choices impose is that the Virgin services have a maximum operating speed of 125mph, whilst London Midland services are limited to 110mph.

There are also differences in passenger capacity. An eleven car Pendolino accommodates 589 seated passengers (seating plan), a twelve car London Midland service can carry up to 690 seated passengers. At face value this might be taken to imply that London Midland passengers are more cramped, but a direct comparison is difficult as the Virgin seating plan reveals that there are losses of seating space to catering and sales and a comparatively high proportion of first class seats (25%). Unfortunately, London Midland does not publish seating plans, so I have not been able to compare seating densities in a quantitative way, but the per-passenger space in standard class for some London Midland passengers is certainly compromised by a five-abreast plan, compared with four seats across a Virgin carriage – please refer to the comment by LesF below for additional information/clarification on seating configurations.

You can form your own judgement on seating density by viewing videos of the interiors of Virgin and London Midland trains. What is clear is that a London Midland passenger can expect a rather more austere environment for his journey.

I should note before closing this posting that WCML also carries freight services, but these normally run outside peak hours and on the slow lines.

(To be continued …)

PS: Whilst I have tried very hard to get my facts, and interpretations that follow, right, I am very conscious that I am not a railway buff, but that some of my readers are. If I get anything in this current series wrong, please let me know.

Degrading practices, part 1

One of the issues that Coventry resident and businessman, Joe Elliott MBE, raised when his petition (1603), deposited and presented jointly with his wife Grace, was heard by the HS2 Select Committee was that the direct train link to London from Coventry, described by Mr Elliott as a “fantastic service”, stood to be “hit pretty badly” by HS2. Mr Elliott told the Committee that “the existing service in the original manifesto appeared to drop to one an hour from three an hour” (see footnote 1).

Just about an hour later Joe Rukin used a preamble to his presentation, acting as Roll B agent, of a petition by Dr Alexandra Daley to expand on Mr Elliott’s point. He said that when HS2 was first announced HS2 Ltd had been “exceptionally honest” about what HS2 “would mean to existing rail services”. He claimed that it had been “very clear” in the documents that had been published at the time “that the existing three fast trains an hour from Coventry to London would go down to one an hour” and he reminded the Committee that this also meant that the three services from Coventry to Birmingham, being served by the same trains, would be similarly reduced.

He said that the reason for this was “quite obvious” (see footnote 2):

“… if you build HS2 and it’s doing London to Birmingham, you can’t necessarily justify those three trains an hour from London to Coventry, if people are expected to go on HS2.”

He added that HS2 Ltd has been “rather vague” about this matter since the original announcement “because they realised that this created an uproar”.

And Coventry is not the only existing West Coast Main Line (WCML) station which may have this cloud louring over it. One other city where this issue has been raised is Stoke-on-Trent. Local Member of Parliament Joan Walley (Lab, Stoke-on-Trent North) told the House of Commons that (see footnote 3):

“We already have perfectly excellent train services [from Stoke-on-Trent]—two an hour—that go straight to London Euston in one hour and 24 minutes. What will happen to those services when phase 2 of HS2 is running? The likelihood is that business passengers from Manchester will not be spending their money on the west coast Pendolino services; they will opt for an HS2 that is not easily accessible to us, leaving us without the business case for our existing services, which will have a huge knock-on effect.”

In fact, it appears that services Euston/Stoke could well be affected from when HS2 Phase 1 comes in to operation, rather than just after Phase 2 is opened.

In his response to Mr Elliott’s petition the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, pointed out that the post-HS2 service patterns for the WCML are to be resolved “in future, through the appropriate regulatory and commercial regime” (see footnote 4). As such, of course, they do not fall strictly within the bailiwick of HS2 Ltd. However, HS2 Ltd is charged with, inter alia, the promotion of HS2, and the solution of capacity issues on the WCML has been advanced as the prime justification for HS2. It therefore follows, I feel, that HS2 Ltd has a responsibility to respond to the Elliots’ and Mr Rukin’s fears. Indeed, Mr Mould did attempt to reassure these petitioners; he advised that he had been “passed a note” that reminded him that “the Government’s stated intention is to ensure that all locations with services to London will have services that are broadly comparable, or improved, when HS2 arrives” (see footnote 5).

Select Committee Member Sir Peter Bottomley MP told Mr Mould that what he had been authorised to say “doesn’t sound quite enough yet” – a point of view that Mr Mould appeared to accept, because he told Sir Peter that he would see whether the promoter “can provide you with a little more than statements of ministerial intention, as it were, and report back” (see footnote 6).

The upshot of this undertaking was that the promoter called a witness before the Select Committee to address the Members on “some aspects of the capacity that HS2 will release on the West Coast Main Line to the north” – this witness was no other than the Technical Director of HS2 Ltd, Professor Andrew McNaughton (see footnote 7). This “celebrity” appearance gave rise, in turn, to a blog by Joe Rukin that was posted on the Stop HS2 website that claimed that Professor McNaughton had “admitted that towns and cities in the Midlands, Scotland, Wales and The North West could lose direct services to London if HS2 goes ahead”.

This blog spawned a response by fervent HS2 supporter, Paul Bigland, in a posting on his blogsite on 13th February 2015. In a typically mean-spirited, not to say unnecessarily offensive, piece, Mr Bigland adopts the tactic of attacking the messenger, accusing Mr Rukin of a “breathtaking example of lying through his teeth”. When Professor McNaughton’s exhibits were published a few days later, Mr Bigland posted another blog claiming that these supported his view of the matter, and launching some more invective at Joe Rukin.

Suspecting that both parties were probably guilty of manipulating, to a lesser or greater extent, the evidence presented by Professor McNaughton to suit their own standpoints, I have decided to take an in-depth, and I hope detached, look at this issue; I will begin this exercise in my next posting.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. The Elliotts’ petition was heard during the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 14th January 2015. The hearing starts at 10:09 in the video. Mr Elliott’s comments about the train service from Coventry are in paragraph 118 of the transcript.
  2. Mr Rukin’s comments are reported in paragraphs 318 and 319 of the transcript for the morning of Wednesday 14th January 2015.
  3. Ms Walley was speaking in the Second Reading debate for the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill; see column 612 of the House of Commons Official Report for 28th April 2014.
  4. See paragraph 276 in the transcript the morning of Wednesday 14th January 2015.
  5. See paragraph 275 in the transcript the morning of Wednesday 14thJanuary 2015.
  6. The conversation between Sir Peter and Mr Mould is reported in paragraphs 277 to 282 in the transcript the morning of Wednesday 14thJanuary 2015.
  7. Professor McNaughton’s evidence to the Select Committee starts at 15:41 in the video and paragraph 153 of the transcript for the afternoon of Wednesday 11thFebruary 2015. His exhibits have been allocated identities P4557(1) to P4557(17).

Important Note: The documents from which the quotes and extracts reproduced in this blog are taken include uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

Flexible friends, part 2

(… continued from Flexible friends, part 1, posted on 7 Mar 2015).

In part 1 I reported that two couples from the hamlet of Radstone in South Northamptonshire had been advised by the HS2 Select Committee to apply for compensation to the new Need to Sell (NTS) scheme, despite not apparently satisfying the eligibility requirements for Criterion 3 of that scheme (having made an effort to sell). Were that not a sufficient potential challenge for the NTS Panel, the second couple, the Herrings, find themselves in a situation that requires the Panel to think even further out of the box.

For reasons that I will allow you to discover for yourselves from the video or the transcript of their petition hearing (see footnote 1), the Herrings own two adjacent properties, one in which they reside and the other which they are renting to a tenant. In order to redeem the interest-only mortgage on their home, and to raise funds for retirement, the aim, before HS2 had put a spanner in the works, had been to sell the rented property when Mr Herring retired. With the putative fall in freehold value of the rented property that HS2 has caused, Mrs Herring told the Committee that she feared that she could be made homeless and bankrupt.

Any application that the Herrings might make to the NTS for the rented property would fall outside the eligibility requirements for Criterion 1 (property type), as the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, pointed out to the Committee. He told them that the NTS is “rooted in the principle that, in order to qualify, you need to be able to show that you would qualify on the statutory qualification principles that apply to the blight notice regime”. He later explained that if the “only interest” that an applicant to the NTS had was that they were the owner of a rented property “whose freehold value is affected, then they wouldn’t qualify under the scheme” (see footnote 2).

Despite this fairly clear warning from Mr Mould, the Committee recommended to the Herrings that they should apply to the NTS. Such advice appears to be in the belief – which I consider to be naïve and mistaken – that the NTS Panel will be prepared to put aside the five criteria whenever they hear a hard-luck story from an applicant. The Committee appear to have been encouraged in this belief by Mr Mould who, whilst making no promises, has refused to close any of the doors that the Committee has suggested could be ajar to allow a way in for an applicant. Even in the case of the Herrings, where he appears to have been pretty definitive about the poor chances of an application from the owner of a rented property succeeding, he also told the Committee that “there will always be exceptional cases which are thought to be meritorious” (see footnote 3).

The foundation for the Committee’s trust in the NTS Panel doing the “right” thing was explained by Member of the Committee, Michael Thornton MP (see footnote 4):

“… we do feel that as a result of petitioners and this Committee, that the HS2 promoters are aware that they have to do this right. So, no guarantee of course, but I think their response has been to think, ‘We have to do this right, we can’t not do it right’, which I think gives us some confidence”.

Well I’m afraid that I don’t share Mr Thornton’s confidence in the NTS Panel. I can’t see why we should expect the NTS Panel to operate with any more flexibility or compassion than its predecessor EHS Panel, or at least not to anything like the extent that the Select Committee appears to expect. I remember Sandy Trickett, on the basis of her considerable experience of the EHS, describing the EHS Panel as “bureaucratic and unsympathetic” and displaying “no flexibility” (see footnote 5).

Also I recall that the Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP told the Select Committee that he was “afraid that the application of this scheme has left many of the people [he represents] with the thought that every effort was being made not to pay out, and an unduly restrictive approach was taken to the criteria of the scheme” (see footnote 6).

And Mrs Herring told the Select Committee that the owners of one of the properties in Radstone had, at least before their MP became involved, been turned down by the EHS Panel – a decision that Sir Peter Bottomley described as “shocking” (see footnote 7).

So, if the Select Committee is wrong about the NTS, what will happen to the failed applicants that the Committee has directed to the scheme? Mrs Herring raised this matter and suggested that, since the members of the Select Committee were “so well-versed now in the issues”, then they “should offer themselves up as an appeal body” (see footnote 8).

Whilst none of the Members showed any great enthusiasm for this proposal, Ian Mearns MP did say to Mrs Herring (see footnote 9):

“…apply to the scheme, and then if you are [dis]satisfied with that, you can then come back here. You are right, there is no right of appeal, but we need to know if the scheme isn’t working, and therefore, we have to look at that. I would say to that, there is a possibility of you coming back here to let us know that the scheme hasn’t applied, to work for you.”

Although the Chairman’s take on things appeared to be rather more focused on assessing whether changes are needed to the rules of the NTS, rather than helping individuals (see footnote 10):

“If the scheme isn’t working as well as we hope it will be working, then we will be making representations to the Department for Transport about changing or improving or amending, tweaking the scheme. I suspect it might need at some point to be tweaked for the reasons that you say.”

I hope that, having recommended petitioners to apply to the NTS, the Committee will be prepared to intervene directly in any cases where it is clear that injustices may be occurring. It would be totally wrong for any petitioners finding themselves in such circumstances to be left hanging out to dry by the Select Committee.

Footnotes:

  1. The session was held on the morning of Tuesday 24th February 2015. The hearing of the Herrings’ petition starts at 11:12 in the video and at paragraph 372 in the transcript.
  2. Mr Mould’s comments may be found in paragraphs 409 and 424 of the transcript for the morning of Tuesday 24th February 2015.
  3. See paragraph 409 in the transcript the morning of Tuesday 24th February 2015.
  4. See paragraph 400 in the transcript the morning of Tuesday 24th February 2015.
  5. Refer to my blog The exceptionally hard to get scheme, part 3 (posted 13 Dec 2014). Ms Trickett’s comments may be found in paragraphs 367 and 368 of the transcript for the morning of Thursday 20thNovember 2014.
  6. Mr Wright’s comment may be found in paragraph 56 of the transcript for the afternoon of Wednesday 11thFebruary 2015.
  7. See paragraphs 378 to 383 in the transcript the morning of Tuesday 24thFebruary 2015.
  8. See paragraph 391 in the transcript the morning of Tuesday 24thFebruary 2015.
  9. See paragraph 392 in the transcript the morning of Tuesday 24thFebruary 2015.
  10. See paragraph 398 in the transcript the morning of Tuesday 24thFebruary 2015.

PS: In case you can’t recall, “your flexible friend” was the marketing tag for the, now defunct, Access credit card. A thin plastic card may prove, I fear, to be far more flexible than a NTS Panel member.

Important Note: The documents from which the quotes and extracts reproduced in this blog are taken include uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

A small contribution

Today, Wednesday 11th March 2015, marks a significant millstone – sorry, that should be milestone. It is five whole years, to the day, since Parliament, and the rest of us, first learnt about the plans to build a high speed railway between London and the West Midlands, and possibly further north in a future phase. Of far less significance to the realm, but of considerable import to yours truly, yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of the first posting that I put up on this site, a fairly tentative, unassuming and short piece to which I gave the title Why am I doing this? It is a question that I have often asked myself since, but I am fairly stubborn by nature, and tend to stick to whatever course I have set for myself no matter how the prevailing winds may change. So every four days, sometimes more often, I have presented a new essay on the trials and tribulations of a campaigner against HS2 who happens to have, in particular but not solely, concerns about the environmental impacts of HS2. In that respect not much has changed over the four years that I have been a blogger. I have however learnt a great deal about HS2, and some associated subjects, from the research that has been necessary, and the length of my blogs has, I’m afraid, tended to increase with my growing confidence in my knowledge.

And there has been such a lot to learn! I sometimes blush at my naivety, and even some misunderstandings, when I look back at some of the earlier blogs. However, I don’t feel that this was entirely all my fault. Learning about HS2 has been like peeling the layers off an onion, and I feel that HS2 Ltd has hardly contributed to making the process easier. Hopefully, though, I have reached the stage where, whilst there are still many things to learn, I don’t get too much wrong these days.

So what is the answer to the question that I posed in blog number one? Why have I kept going to the point where I am a Premier League player’s spitting distance from posting 400 blogs – well, it’s 385 to be precise – comprising over 350,000 words? I suppose that, in essence, I feel that the HS2 proposal is badly conceived, too expensive, and too environmentally and socially damaging, and I have to do something, however inadequate, to register my protest. There are three specific motivations that keep me typing away at the keyboard.

The first is the knowledge that in the five years since the project was announced HS2 Ltd has frittered away approaching £1billion of our money at a time when some of our essential community services have suffered damaging cuts in the name of austerity. As petitioner Anthony Sutton remarked to the HS2 Select Committee during his very thoughtful presentation of his petition (see footnote 1), HS2 Ltd is a “quango that’s running out of control”. He cited the recruitment of “staggeringly highly paid people” – and we have all seen the job adverts and announcements of appointments to testify to this – and feedback that he had received from consultants that he knows who have been approached to do work for HS2 Ltd that they hadn’t seen rates as good in years. He also told the Committee that he resented his taxes being spent on “a PR exercise to try and convince people that [HS2] is a good idea”.

My second motivating factor is the callous disregard being shown to the plight of many whose financial plans, and in many case their lives, have been ruined, and even possibly shortened, by HS2. The Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, told the Committee that, “You can’t make an omelette of this size without breaking some eggs, frankly” (see footnote 2). He was talking about the impacts of the construction activities, but the evidence in front of the Committee has been that the eggs that are being shattered currently are nest eggs – stories are being told by petitioner after petitioner of how they have made provision for retirement by investing in property, only to find that HS2 has scythed the value of that investment and even made cashing it in impossible.

But should I find that these two factors are not motivation enough as I sit staring at the keyboard, all I have to do is get up, get out and walk the, usually, muddy track up to South Cubbington Wood. A few minutes taking in the beauty and tranquillity there are enough to strengthen both my resolve that nobody should be allowed to despoil it and my sense of outrage that anyone should be proposing such a thing.

So I hope that answers the “why”; as far as the “what” I have done goes, including last year’s birthday blog but excluding today’s posting, I have published 91 blogs during the year, comprising a little over 93,000 words. The numerically literate amongst you will be able to deduce that the average blog length has crept over the 1,000 words mark – not good, I feel. The total of page views for this year is down about twenty percent on the previous year; I feel that a discernible lowering of the level of interest is inevitable so far into the evolution of a project that is rumbling on, and do not take this decline personally

I am sure that you have a burning desire to learn how the table of the top five blogs, measured by the number of page views achieved by each blog up to the end of this past year 2014-15, now stands – no, well I am going to tell you anyway, as I have done on each previous birthday. The five are listed in the table below, with the comparative positions of each at the end of 2013-14 also identified.

End 2014-15

End 2013-14

Pass me the map

1

1

Grabbed by the throat

2

2

Another walk in the woods

3

(-)

“We don’t believe you”

4

3

Keeping things quiet

5

4

Apart from the promotion of Another walk in the woods, the positions in this year’s table are unchanged from March 2014. None of the top five are blogs that have been posted this last year, although a number of this year’s blogs have proved to be quite popular and Westminster comes to Cubbington, part 1 almost made it into the top 5. I must admit that I don’t really understand the popularity of some blogs compared with others, and the differences are considerable with factors of several hundred between the most and least viewed.

You may have noticed that I am tending to provide more links to my source documents these days. This is because I like my readers to be able to check things for themselves and to be able to delve deeper to satisfy any inclination to find out more. I have found that this can be making a rod for my own back, as locations of documents on the web do change and so links that I provide become broken. This is particularly the case when websites get revised, as has been the case with HS2 Ltd and, most recently, Parliament TV; the latter change is particularly annoying as it has scuppered all of my links to video of the HS2 Select Committee. I will do what I can to put things right, but constantly checking all of the links in approaching four hundred blogs is a task that is just too big for me to take on. However, if you find any broken links please let me know and I will do my best to put things right.

Thanks to all of my readers for sticking with me, and for the compliments that I have received, both on line and when I have met readers face-to-face. For the time being, at least, I intend to carry on making this small contribution to the fight against HS2; who knows if enough of us keep chip, chip, chipping away at the HS2 edifice, we may make a difference.

Footnotes:

  1. See paragraphs 289 and 290 in the transcript of the HS2 Select Committee for the morning of Wednesday 4th March 2015. Mr Sutton’s petition is 1108.
  2. See paragraph 75 in the transcript of the HS2 Select Committee for the afternoon of Wednesday 11th February 2015.

Important Note: The documents from which the quotes and extracts reproduced in this blog are taken include uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

PS: I’m pleased to note that the good people who run the Parliament TV website appear now to have got their act together. Whilst it seems that they have located all of the video archive at new web addresses, it looks like they have incorporated a translator for requests that use the old URL so that they still work. So all of my links – at least a random selection that I have tried – have been restored to functionality. Thanks guys (and girls).

Flexible friends, part 1

A few days after I had completed writing my blog Looking sheepish (posted 27 Feb 2015) some further discussion took place in the HS2 Select Committee about the Need to Sell (NTS) compensation scheme. What was said served to reinforce my fears that, so far, the Committee has been seen to be fairly impotent when it comes to dealing with obvious inadequacies in the compensation arrangements. So I intend to try your patience by using a further couple of postings to report on what took place and expand on the thoughts that I expressed in Looking sheepish.

The discussions on compensation were the result of the petitions by the Radstone Residents Group (petition 0754) and some individual petitioners resident in Radstone being heard by the Committee on the morning of Tuesday 24th February 2015 (see footnote 1).

Radstone is a hamlet in South Northamptonshire, located a couple of miles from Brackley. It comprises 18 properties that are home to some 40 residents. In the words of Simon Marinker, who presented the petition on behalf of the Residents Association as well as one deposited by him and his wife (petition 0753), Radstone is “significantly adversely affected by HS2”; all of the properties are between 220 and 400 metres from the line and noise levels are predicted to be problematic, as the section below, taken from HS2 Ltd drawing SV-05-034a, illustrates:

Predicted HS2 noise levels for Radstone (source: HS2 Ltd)

Predicted HS2 noise levels for Radstone (source: HS2 Ltd)

The 40dB LpAeq,night contour is the thick black line running through the centre of the hamlet, and the individual properties have all been colour coded to indicate changes in sound level resulting from HS2 that have been graded from “minor adverse” (yellow) to “major adverse” (red). Unsurprisingly, the property market in Radstone is a little slow; another petitioner, Mrs Herring (petition 0662), told the Committee that their neighbours had applied to an equity release company and the surveyor had put a value of £0 on their property (see footnote 2).

The two petitioner couples, Marinker and Herring, are both in the position of expecting to want to sell properties in Radstone at some stage in the future, due to lifestyle changes consequent upon advancing years – what the Committee have referred to as “age and stage”. Both were advised by the Committee to apply to the NTS now.

The reasoning behind this recommendation appears to be partly to suit the convenience of the Committee, as Sir Peter Bottomley MP explained to Mr Marinker (see footnote 3):

“If we want to write something into a Bill, it’s because it’s necessary; if someone hasn’t applied, I don’t think anyone can say it’s necessary. So somebody in your sort of position – this is not direct advice to you – might be well advised to apply before this Committee has finished its work, to be able to say, ‘It has been successful, it has not been successful’.”

In other words, the Committee needs property owners that don’t necessarily satisfy the five NTS criteria, if rigidly enforced, to apply to the NTS in order that the Committee can be assured either that the NTS is being applied flexibly enough, or to gain evidence to make a case to the Government that the NTS requires revision. This need for evidence of the performance of the NTS was confirmed by Committee Chairman, Robert Syms MP (see footnote 4):

“The more people apply, the more we get a feeling of whether or not it’s doing what it is meant to do, or not doing, in which case we can make recommendations to the Department of Transport (sic)”.

Whilst I have some sympathy with the Committee on this, I’m not sure that it is right to use people in desperate positions, and looking for help, as, at best, guinea pigs or, at worst, as pawns in a political game. The problem is that the conditions set out in the NTS guidance notes for satisfying Criterion 3 are clearly predicated on the assumption that the owner is trying to sell his property, and neither of the petition couples from Radstone are in this position currently. Whilst the Criterion 3 rules do envisage the possibility that the requirement to market a property for three months may be reconsidered in the light of “evidence that a number of local estate agents have refused to market the property”, this does appear to imply, however, that the owner is actually trying to sell the property (see footnote 5).

There is also a potential unfairness if the NTS Panel allows an application to be accepted without requiring the property to be on the market for a minimum three-month period. This is that, whilst the property is on the market, the property owner renders himself ineligible for acceptance for the NTS if an offer is made within 15% of the selling price. On the other hand, accepting such an offer could mean that the seller realises less than the compensation that he would have been paid in the event that an offer had not been made, since the level of compensation is set at the unblighted market value. If the seller gets around the need to offer his property on the market, then the risk of losing out in this way is removed. So the unintended consequence of making a concession on the “effort to sell” criterion could be to render an advantage to the applicant given the concession.

(To be concluded …)

Footnotes:

  1. See the video and the transcript of the session.
  2. See paragraph 378 in the transcript.
  3. See paragraph 348 in the transcript.
  4. See paragraph 355 in the transcript.
  5. These conditions are set out on pages 8 to 10 of the HS2 Ltd document Need to sell scheme – Guidance notes and application form, January 2015. The reference to estate agents refusing to market the property is in paragraph 3.1.21.

Important Note: The account of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee that is given in this blog is based upon an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

Acknowledgement: The Ordinance Survey mapping upon which the HS2 Ltd noise prediction is overlaid has been reproduced in accordance with the principles of fair dealing as set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. On this basis, this mapping is:

Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO.

© Crown Copyright. All rights reserved.

 

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