Putting it to the test (part 3)

(… continued from Putting it to the test, part 2, posted on 24 Jun 2012).

In the final part of this three-part blog, I will complete my examination of how the HS2 proposal fairs when assessed against the CPRE’s “five tests for sustainable high speed rail”.

The fourth test is “improve local transport”. The analysis presented by the CPRE in its document Getting Back on Track: Why new thinking is needed about High Speed Rail (here) is:

“Once again this depends on wider policies and funding priorities, including the impact of HS2 on the availability of funding for other transport projects. The first phase of HS2 would free up capacity on busy lines, facilitating more local passenger services and rail freight. For these to be a reality, additional investment will be needed.”

Once again the Warwickshire branch of the CPRE, in its own response to the HS2 public consultation (here), is somewhat more direct:

“HS2 as proposed would have no links with local transport and no effective interchange with other rail services.”

These two responses together just about cover the relevant issues. HS2 will be, of course, solely a railway for long-distance travellers, even to the extent of failing to provide stations to serve most of the economic centres that it will pass near to. As such, the HS2 proposals include no direct measures to improve local transport. Indeed a number of voices, including CPRE, have been raised to condemn the HS2 proposal for its failure to sit within a “national transport strategy”.

However, by allowing fewer long-distance trains to run on the existing railway, albeit at some cost in reduced services to intermediate stations such as Coventry, HS2 does offer the opportunity to use the freed train paths for other services, which might include local services. On the down side, the huge infrastructure and subsidy costs of HS2 are likely to impoverish the rail transport budget for many years to come and may not leave sufficient funds available for adequate investment to be made in improving local services.

There is also the inescapable fact that HS2 will require expenditure to be allocated from local transport budgets to provide links that would otherwise not be needed, such as a city centre link in Birmingham, an inter-site link at Birmingham Interchange and improvements to the London Underground serving Euston.

HS2 is also likely to be a very inefficient way of improving local services. It may be far better to make direct investments in improving local services, such as the grade separation at Ledburn Junction that forms part of the alternative 51m proposals.

Without any direct proposals for improving local transport being included in the HS2 package, or guarantees being made by the Government, it is difficult to view HS2 as a development that will, on balance, lead to an improvement in local transport, and so the conclusion must be that HS2 fails the fourth test also.

The fifth and final test is “integrate with planning and regional regeneration”. The CPRE comment on this in Getting Back on Track: Why new thinking is needed about High Speed Rail is:

“It is unclear how well HS2 will integrate with land use planning, as the implications of the biggest shake up in planning for a generation are still unclear. Some form of strategic planning will be needed to fill the vacuum left by the abolition of the regional tier. The emphasis on Parkway stations, such as Birmingham Interchange, could lead to HS2 promoting rather than tackling unsustainable patterns of development.”

The Warwickshire branch consultation response is rather more down to earth and, dare I say it, somewhat parochial:

“The line would not serve areas needing economic development – in the West Midlands Nuneaton, North Coventry, or the Black Country.”

Uncharacteristically, I take a rather more charitable view of HS2 in this one regard. Three out of the four HS2 Phase 1 stations will be located in urban areas that are in need of regeneration.

At Euston, HS2 will provide for the rebuilding of the station itself, and should provide a stimulus to the improvement of the surrounding area, albeit at some direct human cost in homes lost. However, the redevelopment of Euston station without the increased footprint that HS2 requires would probably allow regeneration to take place in a more environmentally friendly way.

The Old Oak Common station will fall within the Park Royal/Willesden Junction Opportunity Area and should provide local job opportunities.

The central Birmingham station will be in the Birmingham Eastside regeneration area. Paradoxically, although HS2 should eventually contribute to the regeneration of this area, the planning blight associated with it at present is, if anything, frustrating attempts to improve Eastside. HS2 will even require some buildings erected under the regeneration initiative to be demolished!

A similar situation appears to exist with the proposed construction and maintenance depot at Washwood Heath; whilst HS2 will bring jobs eventually, the site will remain undeveloped until then rather than being used in another way that could, perhaps, bring much needed employment now.

As for Birmingham Interchange, this represents the sort of “regeneration” that we don’t want, as alluded to in the CPRE comment above and my blog Mind the gap (posted 4 Jun).

So as far as regeneration is concerned, HS2 is something of a “curate’s egg”. However, it would be rather uncharitable not to acknowledge that it should bring some benefits, eventually. So on this one of the five tests, I will leave the verdict open.

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