It beggars belief

In recent years, with increasing age, I have become a sufferer from meldrewitis. The symptoms will be familiar to anyone who has seen the BBC TV comedy One Foot in the Grave. The cause is exposure to external irritations resulting from human behaviour which the sufferer does not even begin to understand. In my own case these irritations include: piercings and tattoos, frequent use of the word “absolutely”, hair gel, a strip of underpants on display above the trouser waistline and usually advertising Calvin Kline, rising voice inflection on the ends of sentences (“upspeak”), texting, rappers and driving with foglights on when there isn’t any (fog that is). This is far from an exhaustive list; I could go on and on, ad nauseam.

Things came to a head recently when a particularly acute frustration resulted in me suffering the most severe symptom of meldrewitis, which is the irresistible urge to utter the phrase “I do not believe it” aloud. What was the event that caused this rapid medical decline?

Strangely enough the reason for my disbelief was not, for once, something that HS2 Ltd had done. No it was, believe it or not, news from a camp that I thought was on the side of the environment, the Right Lines Charter grouping. What had upset me specifically was a blog on this group’s website under the heading “Report from three Charter signatories casts doubts on Government’s carbon forecasts for HS2” (here).

So why should I get upset that the blog should say that the Government had got it wrong on its carbon emission forecasts for HS2? Haven’t I commented myself on the dubious “green” claims made for HS2 in past blogs? Well that’s true, but the problem is that the report referred to in the blog concludes that “contrary to Government forecasts” HS2 “could in fact cut carbon emissions, but only if specific policies are put in place”.

So what on earth is going on?

The report in question is The Carbon Impacts of HS2: Interim Report (here) and it was commissioned by three Right Line Charter signatories: the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). As its title implies, the report sets out the interim findings of an ongoing research study; the final report will be published in 2012.

So far the report has good credentials, but the report’s pedigree begins to become doubtful when we learn that the research has been carried out by Greengauge 21. We are told in the Right Lines Charter blog that Greengauge 21 is “a not-for-profit research organisation on high-speed rail”.

A glance at this organisations website makes it clear that Greengauge 21 is not exactly neutral on high speed rail. In fact the organisation has been lobbying the Government to commit to high speed rail for a number of years and you will be hard pressed to find any doubts about the merits of high speed rail on its website. However, to be absolutely fair to Greengauge 21, its website does state that:

“Greengauge 21 has no vested interest and is not seeking to be part of any direct beneficiary (construction company, operating company etc.). The company seeks to act in the national and the public interest, by carrying out research and bringing forward evidence so that a full and open debate on high-speed rail can take place.”

This is very laudable but, when judging how independent the organisation is, has to be balanced against another statement on its website:

“Since summer 2008, a large part of Greengauge 21’s work has been supported and funded by an HSR Public Interest Group which includes city councils, regional development agencies, transport authorities and rail organisations.”

A list of the members of this “HSR public interest group” may be found here; this list includes a number of organisations that have been very vocal in the pro-HS2 lobby.

The doubts about the credentials of this report are further strengthened by the news that the cost of researching and producing it has been sponsored by Siemens, Systra and the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC). So that’s a manufacturer of high speed trains, a railway consultant and a body representing train operators; all of these could be potential beneficiaries of contracts to implement and operate HS2. Again to be fair to Greengauge 21, no secret has been made of this sponsorship. Indeed the logos of these three sponsoring organisations are emblazoned on the cover of the report.

So what can the CPRE, CBT and RSPB be thinking of and why have they got themselves into this unholy alliance? Beats me, I’m sure.

All I can say is “I do not believe it” (oops, there I go again).

PS: I am not proposing to examine the contents of the Greengauge 21 report at this stage. In the New Year I am planning an in-depth look at the carbon issue and will consider the contents of the report then.

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