I’m trying to understand you

Since I have given the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) something of a rough ride in my blogs Pass me my rose-tinted specs (posted 8 Jun 2012 and 12 Jun 2012) and It beggars belief (posted 27 Dec 2011) I thought that I should investigate CPRE policy and how it led to the organisation “welcoming” the Government’s announcement in January 2012 that HS2 would go ahead. After all it pains me that I feel the need to criticise this organisation, one which has a fine record of defending the English countryside against inappropriate development.

I have found that a good place to start this process of understand the CPRE psyche is the June 2009 report 2026 A Vision for the Countryside (here), which the CPRE describes as a “charter for the countryside”.

This report begins by reflecting upon the name change of the organisation, from “Council for the Preservation of Rural England” to “Council for the Protection of Rural England” that had been made some forty years previously. Replacing “preservation” by “protection” emphasised that the CPRE was “at least as keen to shape the future as to preserve the past”. The CPRE’s approach appears to be one of pragmatism; it sees change in the countryside as inevitable and does not wish to be seen as an organisation that “resists all change, rather than one which seeks to shape it in line with a credible and coherent view of how the countryside should develop”.

However, the report indicates that the CPRE does wish to see the curtailment of new development in one particular area:

“…we envisage an end to major road expansions and a significant shift towards other modes of travel, rail, bus and coach, walking and cycling. Instead of building new roads, public investment would go into sustainable transport and improving existing roads.”

And:

“We want to see an end to high carbon road building and the railway network expanded to a size not seen since Beeching. Rail could form the low carbon backbone of the new sustainable transport system.”

The CPRE also doesn’t like air travel, apparently for climate change reasons:

“Air travel will cease to expand as people become more environmentally aware and governments act to combat climate change, such as by supporting the introduction of higher speed trains and long distance sleeper services.”

So these two policy areas taken together predispose the CPRE towards proposals to invest in rail infrastructure and to look favourably upon high speed rail as a possible way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the aviation sector.

Further the CPRE appears to be emboldened in its support for high speed rail by what it sees as a successful outcome to its involvement with HS1 in Kent. Ralph Smyth, CPRE’s Senior Transport Campaigner, expressed his satisfaction with the way HS1 had turned out in a press release in March 2010 (here):

“CPRE was heavily involved at both a national level and through its extensive network of local groups during the planning of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (now know as HS1) through Kent. Widespread community engagement helped ensure that HS1 received local support and met high environmental standards. CPRE believes this approach should be followed for HS2.”

I think that CPRE is right to stress the importance of community involvement in the HS2 design process. However I also think that, in view of the much greater impacts of the HS2 route on unspoilt countryside than was the case with HS1, to expect in many areas that local engagement, even if it works well, will produce a satisfactory outcome is being far too optimistic.

Mr Smyth also expressed the hope that “High Speed Rail (HSR) could be the low carbon backbone of a sustainable transport system”. We have since learnt, thanks to the Commons Transport Select Committee (TSC), that “Given the scale of the expenditure and the official assessment, HS2 should not be promoted as a carbon-reduction scheme” (refer to my blog Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, posted 21 Nov 2011).

As for HS2 being “sustainable”, the evidence presented in the HS2 Appraisal of Sustainability (AoS) is that it fails miserably in this department (refer to my blog Scoring an own goal, posted 22 Sep 2011).

At a stroke, these verdicts on HS2 by the TSC and from its own AoS seem to take away the foundation upon which CPRE support for high speed rail – or at least the HS2 variant of high speed rail – is built. So despite the wish of the organisation to avoid falling into the trap of fighting development in the countryside as a matter of course, perhaps HS2 is one development that the CPRE should be opposing outright.

I intend to continue my search for a better understanding of the CPRE’s stance on HS2 in my next blog.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Vincent Nolan on June 19, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Excellent, fair-minded attempt to understand why intelligent people fall into the trap of supporting HS2 on environmental grounds. Its not just CPRE, but the coalition Government and the Labour Party leadership.

    The Coalition Agreement stated “we will build a High Speed Rail Network as part of our plan to build a low-carbon economy”. (This was also LibDem policy since 2004). It is based on the belief that rail travel is inherently more environmentally friendly than road or air. It is, PROVIDED rail travel means “travel at conventional speeds on existing track”. it is not true of High Speed Rail which requires entirely new track and is designed to travel up to twice the speed of sonventional trains, for two reasons:
    1. the carbon emissions from construction and maintenance of a high speed line offset the higher emissions of planes (air travel does not require track maintenance!). This was demondtrated by the study of the Paris-Genva HSR.
    2. higher speeds greatly increase carbon emissions, because wind resistance increases with the square of the speed. So 200 mph requires four times the energy of 100 mph. (try driving on the motowau at 50 mph instead of 70 and note the reduction in petrol consumption).

    Unfortunately our political leaders do not like to be bothered with the detail of inconvenient facts – but I hope we can expect better of the CPRE!

    Reply

    • Posted by GrahamF on June 19, 2012 at 7:19 pm

      Very good piece and excellent reply from Vincent Nolan. 225mph can never be seen as sustainable transport, nor can having a 100 mile brand new line with no stations at all between London & B’ham. Evem the Frankfurt-Cologne line (which the pro HS2 brigade like to compare HS2 with) has two intermediate stations.

      Reply

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