A birthday message

I would like to think that I am not a particularly lazy person, but just for once I am going to give my fingers a rest and let someone else do all the work. The reason is that I have come across a particularly apposite critique of the HS2 proposals in the form of a message to the full suite of Department for Transport ministers marking the occasion of the third anniversary of the initial HS2 announcement. The author is Camden Green Party member, Alexis Rowell. Since I can’t think of a single word that would improve his message I am reproducing it in full in this blog, with the author’s permission.

Dear Secretary of State, Minister of State and Parliamentary Under Secretaries at the Department of Transport,

Three years on and I’m still asking you to please reconsider your plans to build HS2.

HS2 will be an environmental catastrophe.

Ultra high speed is not “green”. Carbon emissions will increase with more than twice as many new travellers as will shift from car or air, and any freed-up landing slots used by more polluting long haul flights. Irreplaceable landscapes and ecosystems will be lost forever if HS2 is built. According to the Woodland Trust, 34 ancient woodlands sit directly in the path of the proposed Y route from London to Leeds and Manchester.

HS2 is a waste of money and the wrong priority.

At £35bn plus and rising the costs are staggering, over £1,500 for every family, or equivalent to our entire annual defence budget. With so many claims on public funds, savage cuts to crucial services and surveys proving passengers aren’t dissatisfied with existing journey times, HS2 is the wrong priority. It will be a railway for the rich, but paid for by everyone including our children. Even as an infrastructure short-term boost it doesn’t work, since its £34.5bn expenditure wouldn’t start being spent until 2017.

The business case is flawed.

The benefits are exaggerated (relying on journey time savings that assume people don’t work on trains), and the forecast demand for long distance travel is over optimistic (according to the Public Accounts Committee) A realistic payback is more like 50p for every £1 of public money spent on this project.

HS2 will mean changing trains to travel North

Under the current proposals, until at least the year 2033, all trains from what’s termed “the near continent” would actually start or terminate at the new Old Oak Common HS2 station. That would oblige all passengers from the north to change trains there and allow at least 30 minutes for a connection.

(If I may butt in here Alexis – I knew that I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation – as I explained in my blog Good idea, but …, which I posted on 13 Feb 2013, I don’t think that full international services are on the cards even after 2033.)

HS2 can’t solve the North/South divide.

The evidence from experts and your own department shows HS2 is a London centric scheme. Even the regeneration around new HS2 stations will likely be just jobs relocated from the surrounding areas.

HS2 is not needed for capacity reasons.

Virgin intercity trains are only half full even at peak times. Improving the existing line is a more cost effective risk-free way to meet our future capacity needs which can be rolled out faster, benefit more people, and cost less than 10% of HS2. Even Network Rail accept the 51m alternative (of lengthening trains, reducing first class and resolving three pinch points on the West Coast Mainline Line) is feasible.

HS2 blights homes and lives.

Hundreds of thousands of residents have had their lives ruined overnight by the blight on their homes and communities. Promises of “generous” compensation are pure spin. Current proposals would help some 2% of those affected and only 100 property owners have been helped since 2010. People should not be forced to contribute huge sums from their own personal assets for a project said to be in the national interest.

Camden will be particularly badly hit

The current proposal is to run up to six HS2 trains an hour on the same section of North London Line that carries 21,000 passengers a day through Camden Road station on the hugely successful London Overground service. It would mean replacing and widening eight bridges over Camden’s roads, causing incalculable delays, road closures and rail-replacement bus service at a devastating cost to Camden’s vibrant economy.

Please do the right thing and use this third anniversary to cancel the project.

Yours faithfully

Alexis Rowell

Former Camden councillor and Chair of Camden Council’s Sustainability Task Force

Now if Alexis can see all this, I can see that it’s true, and a good number of you, I suspect, also see the sense of what Alexis is saying, how come that the ministers at the Department for Transport just don’t get it?

Acknowledgement: Alexis has asked me to acknowledge the debt that his message owes to the writings of Cllr Paul Braithwaite and Tony Louki.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Roger Waller on April 6, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    A very good piece, but really Peter, you, resorting to cribbing others!!!
    Missing you own blog but understand you fingers need a rest after your prolific and incisive comment. Come back soon!! (tongue firmly in cheek criticism )


  2. You can’t stop a juggernaut with a fly-swat. The only way to change the course of the HS juggernaut at this stage is to deflect it. To do so we must persuade the government and the public that the current HS plan is a mistake, and the only way to do that is to set a clearly better alternative in front of them. I’m one of many rail supporters who support the principle of building new tracks north from London but know the current HS2 plan is not the right one. If anyone wants to know how to get it right, I’ll be pleased to explain.


    • I wish that it was that easy Les. It is clear, at least to me, that HS2 Ltd made some very poor decisions when writing the initial specification for HS2 and is now blindly pressing on, buttocks firmly clenched,deaf to all suggestions and criticism. The incoming Coalition Government ignored the opportunity to carry out a thorough review of the project, presumably under pressure from the Civil Service, and the Adonis pet project was embraced by the incoming administration virtually without change.
      Despite the cracks in the plans that are becoming all too apparent, the mantra, from both the Government and what is laughingly called the “Opposition”, remains “There is no alternative”. The politicians, virtually to a (wo)man, appear not to care about the right solution for HS2, just so long as it is built as quickly as possible. Of course, going back to the drawing board would mean delay and that is not acceptable to our political masters.
      The Labour front bench has made it clear that it does not think that the current proposal is the right one, but is still giving it backing. Conservative front benchers attacked aspects of the design when in opposition only to forget these reservations when taking up government office.
      What a bunch of fools we are blessed with!


      • I didn’t say it was easy Peter. I agree absolutely that poor decisions were made at the outset (400km/h, sending all trains on a rail tour of London in tunnel before striking north, the segregated route that by-passes many communities and blights the existing rail network instead of reinforcing it, the London-centricity of the plan and the parkway stations that will exacerbate the north-south divide, the ill-considered afterthoughts on how to connect to Heathrow and HS1). But all that’s history, and we have to start from where we are, not from where we’d like to be.

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