Was it all worth it?

Although it seems a long time ago now, I can still remember the fatigue and stress of spending hours virtually every day early last summer, hands almost glued to my computer keyboard and eyes aching from the strain of staring at my computer screen. The result of all this labour was the submission to the public consultation on HS2 by the Cubbington Action Group against HS2, which may be viewed here.

I took a great deal of trouble to research this document (as evidenced by the large number of references cited) and felt that it represented a fair critique of the HS2 proposals as presented in the Consultation document. It shames me to say it, but I was quite proud of it.

So was it worth all the sweat and tears? Well apparently not, because the Government appears to have taken very little account of my work and similar submissions by countless others, judging by what Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for Transport, had to say when she gave her statement on the future of HS2 to the House of Commons on 10th January 2012 (Hansard transcript). She said:

“I weighed up the evidence after one of the largest public consultations in our history. We wrote to more than 172,000 people living or working near the proposed line from London to the west midlands, visited communities along the 140-mile route and held 41 days of roadshows attended by almost 30,000 people over the five-month consultation period. Almost 55,000 responses were received from individuals, businesses and organisations across the country representing a wide spectrum of views. Many of those views were expressed strongly both in favour of and against high-speed rail, and I have considered them carefully in making my decisions.”

And that was it! Fortunately the Department for Transport (DfT) is obliged to publish a report on the responses received; this report (here) has been written by a commercial analysis consultancy firm (Dialogue by Design) engaged by the DfT and HS2 Ltd. The report runs to over 230 pages, and I must confess that I haven’t yet read it from cover to cover! Comments that I am making in this blog are based largely upon the eleven page Executive Summary within the report.

I have also made use of a convenient single page summary of the responses to the seven consultation questions produced by Bluespace Thinking (here).

So what are the headlines that Justine Greening failed to report to the House of Commons (and us)?

Close to 15,000 responses were identified as part of “organised submissions”. The vast majority of these (12,607) were the result of an organised campaign by Yes to HS2. This represents 24% of the public vote. There were 1,747 such responses as the result of organised campaigns by anti-HS2 groups, representing 4% of the public vote.

Whilst there is, not surprisingly, a concentration of responses from individuals living along the proposed route, submissions were received, as the Transport Secretary rightly said, “from across the country”.

Members of the public submitted the great majority of the responses.

Despite what we have been told about the business community regarding HS2 as vital, only 429 businesses could be bothered to respond to the consultation; this represents 0.01% of the 4.5 million businesses in the UK. In contrast, the total public vote is ten times this (0.11% of the UK voting population).

The responses to the seven questions have been summarised by Dr John Savin in the histogram which is reproduced below.

Source: Dr J Savin

On the key questions 3 to 5 (roll-out proposals, principles and specification and route choice) the majority against is clear, at around nine to one.

Ninety-five percent of those responding to Question 6 (Appraisal of Sustainability) with a view on the AoS expressed concerns that it was “insufficient”.

Eighty-three percent of the respondents to Question 7 (compensation) who expressed a view on the compensation proposals disagree with the options set out by the Government.

On the question of whether HS2 represents value for money, there is greater support for the Government but there is still nearly a two to one majority that disagree.

Finally, we come to the contentious Question 1 (case for enhancing the railways), which I am not alone in thinking was, at least, confusing and badly drafted and at worst deliberately designed to solicit a favourable outcome for the Government. If the latter was indeed the case, then the Government almost succeeded, but not quite; the vote was roughly balanced, but the dissenters still managed a four percent majority.

So, in view of the outcome, is it any wonder that the Transport Secretary chose not to elaborate on the results of the public consultation in her Commons statement?

But it gets worse for Ms Greening. Often politicians live to regret statements made on the record in the past and so it might be with Ms Greening. She is well-known for her opposition, on behalf of her constituents, to building a third runway at Heathrow. She is quoted on the Airplot website (here) – Airplot was set up to frustrate the Heathrow expansion plans by buying land – as saying:

“At every stage the Government has ignored public opinion and shamelessly ignored the grave environmental risk of expanding Heathrow. At every stage, residents have made their concerns and views against further expansion very clear. The battle to stop Heathrow expansion will continue because preserving our quality of life is so important. I have got involved in buying this land to very actively represent the views of my own constituents. If the Government will not listen in Parliament, then ministers will find they have to listen in the courts.”

So what is the difference between Heathrow and HS2? Perhaps it might be that Ms Greening was in opposition when the Heathrow plans were being proposed and now she is Secretary of State for Transport. I hope that any memory that she has of her words about Heathrow might at least bring a tiny blush to her cheeks, but I doubt it.

PS: There was a discrepancy between the body of the Dialogue by Design report and the Executive Summary, which has now been agreed and corrected by the Department for Transport. Under Question 6 the number expressing satisfaction with the report is given as “614” in the former and “6147” in the latter. The former figure is the correct one and the one used by Bluespace Thinking and Dr Savin.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jenny Waller on January 16, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Once again, thank-you so much for your blog. How well it defines the farcical HS2 consultation. The Gov have shown a total disregard for the results. In so doing have wasted millions of our and not their money. Just to tick the Consultation box.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Mehul Patel on January 27, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Completely agree with this blog. HS2 is waste of tax payers money, which will make the current economic climate worse than ever, thousands of people have not enough money for their basic needs, how can they justify 32billion(if this is correct, who knows) is worth spending?

    Reply

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