Let’s not mince words

Sustainable Development Commission, part 3

The publishing of Fairness in a Car Dependent Society was reported in a short article in The Times in its 21st March issue; environmental issues seldom hit the headlines. There is an extended version of the article on the Times website (available on subscription only here).

The newspaper article quotes Andrew Lee, Director and Chief Accounting Officer of the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), as saying: “Too much is being spent on these big vanity projects, such as High Speed 2, and not enough on local schemes that will offer practical benefits in people’s daily lives.” I don’t think that you will find the term “vanity project” used in the SDC report, but Mr Lee is clearly someone not to mince words. Many, who like me oppose HS2, will agree with his use of this phrase and I have heard it applied to the project a number of times before. When ministers back a scheme which common sense and all the available facts tend to indicate is poorly thought through, it is difficult to see the motive as anything other than vanity.

In the article in The Times the SDC intervention in the debate over HS2 is described as “an embarrassment for ministers already facing fierce opposition from people living near the proposed route”. If this is so, and it seems a reasonable evaluation, then ministers have a right to be embarrassed about the lack of care they have exercised in not fully evaluating the HS2 project and its implications.

In the extended version of the article on the Times website Mr Lee is quoted commenting upon the boost that HS2 will give to long distance commuting, saying “We need more distributed development and local jobs rather than encouraging people to travel longer and longer distances.” He also quoted as describing long distance commuting as “inherently unsustainable”.

In a final nose-thumbing gesture to the Government, it is reported by The Times that Mr Lee said: “There is a risk that we will upset the coalition [with this report] but that’s tough. We speak as we find”.

All that I can say is well done Mr Lee and thank you SDC for taking ministers to task. Let’s see Philip Hammond pass this one off as “nimbyism”.

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