The white elephant lumbers on

“I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise that I recognise how important a decision this is.

“I also recognise that there are some concerns in local communities and I want to take this opportunity to reassure them that I will take great care in how I look at this decision over the coming weeks and months.

“The way I will approach this will not be an emotional one; it will be a rational, sensible approach that looks at the facts and business case, but also takes note of some of the concerns of local communities.”

These were words uttered by the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for Transport, when she gave oral evidence to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee on 19th October 2011 (transcript).

I was foolish enough at the time to think that, as a “new broom” she might actually mean it and that she would genuinely look at some of the many issues with the HS2 proposal that had been raised in response to the public consultation by local authorities, action groups, individual taxpayers, environmental groups, learned institutions and others and which have been the subject of critical articles and reports published by newspapers, journals and think-tanks. I see now that Ms Greening’s utterances were just empty promises.

It is not the decision to proceed with HS2, in itself, that I find so disappointing – it has been fairly clear from well before the launch of the public consultation that the Government had made up its mind to go ahead, come hell or high water – no, it is the way that the Department for Transport (DfT) and its Secretary of State have behaved in the days leading up to the announcement that I particularly take exception to.

An indication of how despicable the political machine can be, and the contempt with which any opposition is treated, came on the weekend of 7th and 8th January when, without any official announcement of the date for the Transport Secretary’s statement to the Commons having been made, letters backing HS2 were published in some newspapers. At the same time, copies of an unpublished report by Network Rail were leaked to the press. This report was basically a “hatchet job” of the alternatives to HS2, commissioned by the DfT from its vassal state-owned company and declared supporter of HS2. Cllr Martin Tett, Chairman of the 51m alliance of local authorities against HS2, when asked about this report by BBC TV News on 7th January (video) made the following comments:

“The Government report that’s been leaked this morning is obviously part of a well-orchestrated PR campaign, and probably a very expensive one. We didn’t know that this report was being done and we haven’t been given a copy of it. If it’s meant to critique the alternative proposals that our rail experts have put together, you would have thought that they would have involved them and discussed it. We don’t know what the brief was or the criteria.”

However, if these events were meant to be a spectacular PR coup by the DfT, it appears that they may have spectacularly failed. On the Sunday editorials appeared in The Sunday Telegraph and The Sunday Times doubting the wisdom of committing billions to HS2 on the basis of the evidence so far provided by the Government. These followed similar doubts expressed by The Independent in the Saturday issue.

The announcement itself and the mountain of documentation that has been released in its support appear to pay scant regard to the doubts about the details of the HS2 proposal that have been expressed by thousands of respondents to the public consultation, in reports from think-tanks, in articles and editorials by journalists and by the House of Commons Transport Select Committee in its report on HS2. Unbelievably, the response by the Government seems to be, generally, that there were no faults in the original proposals.

It has become clear that the December article in The Daily Telegraph that I commented on in my blog Please don’t rush me (posted 23 Dec 2011) was 100% accurate. Cheryl Gillan, Secretary of State for Wales, has been offered the incentive of an extended tunnel under her Amersham constituency and cost savings have been made by reducing the depth of cuttings and the length of green tunnels elsewhere.

This ploy has it seems, at least in the short term, been successful as the BBC News website reports (here) that Mrs Gillan has no immediate plans to quit her Cabinet post.

Last year David Cameron memorably described the situation surrounding the euro and Greek debt as “the economics of la-la land”. Anyone who was unfortunate enough to witness the Transport Secretary’s statement to the House of Commons and a succession of ill-informed MPs queuing up to praise it will, I am sure, doubt that you have to travel as far as Brussels to find la-la land; it starts at Westminster.

Despite the events of the past few days, the fight to save the UK from the insanity of HS2 will go on. For my part, and I realise that this will disappoint at least one person who has commented on this blog site, I will continue to post blogs on this site whilst I still feel that I have something to contribute to the debate.

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21 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jenny Waller on January 12, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Peter
    Despite a disappointing and perverse announcement by SoS Greening I am taking heart that your erudite and incisive blog will continue, hopefully until this ridiculous project is abandoned. Keep writing.

    Reply

  2. Posted by hs2isright on January 12, 2012 at 9:30 am

    You keep saying that the

    “it has been fairly clear from well before the launch of the public consultation that the Government had made up its mind to go ahead, come hell or high water”

    This is a big statement to say without the facts, can you back this up

    Reply

    • That is my sincerely held belief, based upon quotes from Philip Hammond and David Cameron in the press and in Hansard and the whole tone of the Consultation document. None of the negatives with HS2 have ever been admitted by the Government as far as I know. If you can provide me with any quotes which indicate that the Government has ever considered not going ahead with HS2 then I will be pleased to retract this statement.

      Reply

  3. You have stated that the tunnel was a “bribe” for Cheryl Gillan, Secretary of State for Wales. – Again do you know this or just stating your option. Please state the facts or the proof. Is the just hot air to fill your funny blog.

    Reply

    • On reflection, I think that “incentive” would have been a better word. I had no intention to convey any impression of criminal wrongdoing.

      My remark was based upon simple observation of cause and effect. There has been considerable media speculation about Cheryl Gillan’s position in the press. No denials had come from the lady. Hey presto, the tunnel comes along and now the BBC report that she has no intention of resigning in the near future.

      There will never be any “proof” of such matters. Any deals of this type will always be done behind closed doors.

      Reply

  4. So you have no proof then? so why say it. Again HS2 is going to be built and in your back yard. Did you comment on the building of the M40 or crossrail, better still on Hs1. Only because this is your back yard and a little noise will come you way. This is an infrastructure project coming for the department of transport budget, they can not spend money on school or hospitals, so don’t come up with a statement the money should be moved there.

    Reply

    • Really “HS2 is right”, it does you no credit to trot out the old cliches that we have all heard before; don’t you have anything original of your own to say?

      I may have no proof of the situation with Cheryl Gillan, but I am not alone in my suspicions. For example, see the Daily Mail article of 8th January “£500 million rail tunnel to keep Minister in the cabinet”. Not much room for doubt about what the Mail thinks.

      As for spending the money elsewhere, I have not said anything about this topic, other than quoting something that Martin Tett said, but without making any comment on it.

      Reply

      • Posted by hs2isright on January 12, 2012 at 7:28 pm

        Yes but yet again you have not aswered the question, did they say “bride”. Did you comment of the building of the M40 ect.

      • I’m sorry that you feel that I have not answered your questions “HS2 is Right”; I thought that they were intended to be retorical.

        So here are your answers:

        I removed the offending word from my blog as soon as I read your e-mail and admitted in my comment to you that it was not the appropriate word to have used.

        This is the first time that I have taken part in a campaign to protest against any infrastructure project. The demands of my working life made it difficult to consider any such action in the past. These days I am retired.

        I explained my motives for taking part in this campaign in my first ever blog “Why am I doing this?”, which I posted way back on 1st March last year. I have re-read what I said then and, hand on heart, believe it to be a true statement of the reasons why I have been active in the campaign against HS2. I am genuinely and passionately concerned about the effects that HS2 will have on the environment. I can’t expect to have many years left on this Earth and want to leave it in as good a condition as possible for those unfortunates who will come after me. If I was lying about my concerns for the environment do you think that I would have expended the effort required to research and produce all of the blogs that you can find on this site?

        So that’s my motivation. Now perhaps you will reciprocate and explain your motivations for supporting HS2; do you have any vested interest? Come on now, you can be honest.

  5. No, I do not have any vested interest or personal gain in HS2. The only interest i have is that it would make my journey time from Birmingham to London better.

    Like yourself, this is the first campaign I have been commenting and passionate about. Again, I must agree with yourself, that the environment must be taken into consideration but do we have to stand still and not progress and improve for the sake of nature which, in the past has proved to have recovered and in certain areas, measures have been taken to protect such places. I feel the route has limited impact compared with alternatives.

    Now HS2 has been given the green light, more detailed surveys and environmental impact reports, can now be undertaken to lessen the impact.

    I personally have read all the relevant information regarding the alternatives and feel that HS2 is still the preferred outcome. Even in your campaign, members of Stop HS2, have stated in the parliamentary meetings that the alternatives were insufficient.

    Reply

    • I wish that I had your confidence that the environment will be given proper consideration “HS2 is Right”. We asked them to reconsider the plan to drive a cutting straight through the ancient woodland of South Cubbington Wood. They have reduced the width of the cutting, but it is still going straight through the middle of the wood and through the path of our old wild pear tree. They seem to think that this is now acceptable.

      Even they admit in the Appraisal of Sustainability that ancient woodland is irreplacable.

      Reply

      • This project will have an affect on the environment we can’t help that, all we can do is reduce the level of impact the new line will have. The alternatives will also cause damage, any construction project will cause damage so it a compromise between the route and possible damage. I agree which what was said last night on question time “we cant just sit back and do nothing”

      • Is that your message to future generations “HS2 is right”?

        When they ask why we damaged some of our most beautiful lowland countryside and irreplacable ancient woodland, your answer is “we can’t help that”.

  6. Posted by hs2isright on January 14, 2012 at 9:11 am

    Yes. All we can do is limit the level of damage this is a construction project, If the route is moved there will also be damge. I will stated it a again it a compromise on damage.

    Reply

    • Posted by Andrew Gibbs on January 17, 2012 at 11:40 pm

      No. Opponents to HS2 are pretty united in their view that they don’t want the route moved they want it stopped. The business case and the environmental cases really do not hold water, and tens of billions of pounds is a lot to spend for political vanity (and to give a few folk an extra 20 minutes in bed).

      Reply

      • A very typical answer from an person from the stop campaign. Have you just copied this from the rubbish propaganda from your anti campaign? Next time before you comment please stop and think before you say anything you just look like a very sad parrot. HS2 is going to get built.

      • I think that’s a bit rich coming from you “HS2 is right”

  7. Posted by HS2 is right on January 19, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Here is some reading for you, Not spin but facts – http://www.networkrail.co.uk/hs2-wcml.aspx. Read this !!!

    Reply

    • Yes “HS2 is right” a copy of the report “Future Priorities for the West Coast Main Line” was circulated around us anti-HS2ers yesterday. I will of course read it and possibly even comment on it in a future blog, although it is not really anything to do with the environmental impacts of HS2. I think that you sometimes forget that my blog site is supposed to be on that topic, but then I am also guilty of drifting off the point at times, especially if something gets my goat.

      However, I fear that it may be some time before I get to reading the Network Rail/Passenger Focus report as the dear old Department for Transport put out fifteen documents last week that I really need to get to grips with first.

      Reply

  8. The main problem is that Stophs2 will not allow any comment (well about 99.9%) from me and a lot of the proHs2 people.

    Reply

    • Sorry about that “HS2 is right”, but I am not responsible for the Stop HS2 website. My policy is to allow all comments to be posted, except spam (which sites like this attract a lot of) and anything offensive.

      Just a tip, you might have more success with Stop HS2 if your comments were more factually based and your tone was less aggresive and triumphal. However, as I have said, I have absolutely no influence over what policy Stop HS2 has for accepting or not accepting comments.

      Reply

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