Sub-optimal decision-making

In the Foreword to his report HS2 Plus Sir David Higgins describes the design of the HS1-HS2 link included in the proposals for Phase 1 of HS2 as “sub-optimal” and suggests that it “should be reconsidered”. I will happily accept both verdicts, but feel that they could so easily be applied to most aspects of the HS2 Phase 1 design; it is a great shame that Sir David is not proposing that the whole shooting match be reassessed.

However, it would appear that Sir David’s revolutionary zeal does not extend as far as unpicking Phase 1 and addressing the other sub-optimal aspects of the design. In a report of a seminar with Sir David that she attended, Andrea Leadsom, MP for South Northamptonshire, notes that:

“… when questioned about Phase 1 of the project, Sir David made clear that there were no plans to discuss substantial changes stating that it would cost ‘billions’ to make changes to the route.”

Ms Leadsom comments that, “Sir David is not open to re-evaluating whether the route is correct” and that “he has insufficient consideration for the environmental impact of HS2”.

In the HS2 – sooner and better section of his report, Sir David offers a little, but not much, explanation for his recommendation about the HS1-HS2 link. Whilst he defends it as the “most cost-effective solution”, he describes it as an “imperfect compromise because of the effect that it would have on existing passenger and freight services and the local community”. However, I think that the former assertion is open to challenge; possibly it might qualify as the cheapest solution, but its cost-effectiveness is hampered by the poor benefits and operational difficulties that it brings. That it is an “imperfect compromise” is an assessment with which few would disagree, I imagine.

In a way, Sir David’s suggestion comes as no surprise; the link was not a feature of the original proposal made to the Government by HS2 Ltd in December 2009, and it has been clear all along that HS2 Ltd does not favour providing such a link, in view of its poor business case and the difficulties of its construction. It would appear that it was only included in the February 2011 Command Paper at the insistence of the then Transport Secretary, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP. In my blog The weakest link (posted 17 Feb 2013) I described it as “a cheap and nasty solution”.

It would appear that the current Transport Secretary has come around to the HS2 Ltd way of thinking. In his statement to the House of Commons on Monday 24th March (see footnote 1), the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP conceded that, “The HS1-HS2 link proposed in the hybrid Bill has not secured consensus”. He echoed Sir David’s view, condemning the proposal as one that “requires too many compromises in terms of its impact on freight, passengers and the community in Camden”. His remedy, setting aside the consequences, is simple:

“I therefore intend to remove the link from the hybrid Bill and withdraw safeguarding as soon as possible. I will also commission a study into options for ways to improve connections to the continent, which could be built once the initial stages of HS2 are complete.”

This decision is good news for the community of the London Borough of Camden. According to Simon Pitkeathley, Chief Executive of Camden Town Unlimited, an organisation representing local businesses, writing in a blog on the Huffington Post website, “Camden residents and businesses will breathe a sigh of relief that the Government has now been persuaded to drop the link in its current form, which was set to tear through the heart of Camden Town, causing a decade of disruption and destroying parts of our markets and creative economy”.

It is hardly surprising that Camden Town businesses are relieved at Mr McLoughlin’s decision. A report commissioned by Camden Town Unlimited from BOP Consulting estimates the gross value added (GVA) generated by “Camden’s creative economy” over the period 2014 to 2031 will be reduced by between £317m and £631m, due to the negative impacts of HS2. The same report puts the loss of jobs at between 5,350 and 9,100. The scrapping of the HS1 to HS2 link should appreciably reduce these impacts.

Another weakness of the HS1 to HS2 link was its reliance on using the North London Line trackway, something that was acknowledged both by Sir David, in his report, and Patrick McLoughlin, in his statement. There is nothing new about the realisation that this shared working would be problematic, it has just taken rather long for HS2 Ltd and the Government to recognise the extent of the problem. Transport for London has been clear about this for some time (see footnote 2):

“The North London Line is heavily used by both London Overground and freight services and introducing additional HS2 trains onto these tracks would adversely impact on Overground performance and limit the potential for future growth.”

So, on balance, I don’t think that too many tears will be shed in most quarters about the demise of the cheap and nasty link. However, the decision to scrap it without any alternative proposal to support direct international services being offered does take the shine off the HS2 proposition somewhat. It is perhaps an indication of the lack of diligence that our elected representatives are applying in evaluating HS2, that of the thirty-seven backbenchers who asked questions of the Transport Secretary when he came to the Commons on 24th March only three actually mentioned the scrapping of the link and, of these, only one, Stephen Pound (Labour MP for Ealing North) felt that the lack of connectivity between HS1 and HS2 would be “a problem for the future”.

I don’t think that we should make the same mistake in these blogs, and so propose to look at the impacts on the HS2 proposal of scrapping the link in my next posting.


  1. The transcript of the Transport Secretary’s statement to the House of Commons on Monday 24th March may be found in column 29 to column 31 of the House of Commons Official Report.
  2. Extracted from paragraph 3.7 of a report of 10th November 2011 presented to Transport for London’s Environment, Corporate Planning Panel.

7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on April 13, 2014 at 7:34 am

    Please dont drift into academic points when there are more important issues ahead. Recent appointment colour statements. The project is a muddle and was based on three fixed points producing the fateful route for many. MPs and planning infrastructure with this hybrid bill process and poor back to front implementation and late Lidar and still no ground and site intrusive geological surveys is a national engineering failure.

    It is not the Link that is needed to still improve continental connections they exist at St Pancras/Kings Cross. What is needed is unblocking and creating new London’s rail (freight and passenger) connections. Crossrail can do this with ease. HS2 is a current failed project with wrong objectives. Based on one persons previous WCML experience misapplied and one other persons Kent blight interpretation. Both flawed in their analyses and cant find the courage or felixibility to admit that HS2 is not a format affordable for England, Scotland or Wales at large. Petitioning is more useful than worrying about single sections and single MPs surely.


    • I really don’t think Chris that you can describe a matter as important as the removal of the HS1-HS2 link from the HS2 plans as “academic”. One of the advantages of writing a personal blog is that you are the sole arbiter of what topics you cover and what you say, and I’m not about to apologise for any of the choices that I make.
      As far as petitioning is concerned, I have spent a considerable amount of time recently preparing text for my community’s petition document and am fully committed to this process. However, I regard petitioning as Plan B; the main aim is to get HS2 stopped, and then petitioning becomes irrelevant. However, since petitioners must demonstrate locus standi that implies that petitions will largely focus on local issues, of which there will be far too many for me to comment on in my blogs.


  2. Posted by chriseaglen on April 13, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Crossrail refers to Crossrail Limited not the current works. There is the need for some road tunnels under London too and possibly Crossrail will become Crossroad and rail.
    The guillotining of the planning process with a cant change this and that Hybrid Bill 2nd reading vote in the fog of scope changes is yet another failure of the few people with the power to use this wrongly. You can name the few. HS2 is NOT an imperfect compromise because other altertatives were not considered robustly it is a dictat where the grandfathers were smart at the time but the limited cost effective route corridors have been reserved for Chiltern Line WCML MML and ECML and there is not a cost effective 4 track route remaining but there are sections that could be improved within the current network arrangements. The United Kingdom has floundered for years not to address increased populations of people, cars and mobility needs at surface level. For longer distances with planes of over 400 people it is plausible to fly people on mass between London and Edinburgh in less than 90 minutes in one plane if there was better organisation BUT hundreds of thousands of people want short 20Km to 80Km journeys per day for work and needs. HS2 does not fit into the requirements and is not a compromise but an of limited need most expensive minimalistic extravagance by the few MPs and some rail fans protecting income and pensions for the few when existing routes could be improved to achieve more capacity whilst the UK cannot have double decker trains on the routes needing these on rail and underground. HS2 stifles better local solutions and heavily used existing tracks for the next century. That is a sub-optimal approach to problems the private sector cannot address directly but only through the incompetent filtering of a few MPs who would not be hired for technical skills but for favour and arrangements in practice.


  3. The HS1 to HS2 link that Sir David wants to ditch is not cheap and nasty, it’s expensive and nasty, needing miles of tunnel for a poor connection.
    I’m encouraged by Higgin’s recommendations. We could hardly expect him to walk into his new job and tell HS2 Ltd they’ve been doing it all wrong. But the fact remains that 5 years after HS2L was set up they still haven’t produced a viable plan for connecting to HS1 or Heathrow, they abandoned their plan for Euston, and now Sir David is asking them to add the connections to the network that should have been there from the start, but they can’t be practical to add now because all the capacity of their threadbare plan is spoken for. Perhaps he’s leading his clueless band of career civil servants gently to the conclusion that they’ll have to start again. HS2 is a turkey that gobbles on long after it should have been strangled, while an alternative actually worth building is waiting in the wings. How much longer must the madness go on?


    • Whilst I agree totally with your assessment Les of the work that HS2 Ltd has carried out and have made the point that “the capacity of their threadbare plan is spoken for” myself, I am finding it very difficult to be convinced that Sir David is working around to “leading his clueless band of career civil servants gently to the conclusion that they’ll have to start again”. If he was, why would he have told a group of MPs, as I reported in my blog, that “there were no plans to discuss substantial changes [to Phase 1]”? Whilst we only have a second-hand report that he did actually say this, I am strongly of the opinion that we can trust Andrea Leadsom MP if she says that he did. It might be a tactic, but it seems a strange one.
      As far as the HS1-HS2 link is concerned, my view that this means that there is probably now no likelihood of HS2 including a direct rail link to HS1, which I express in the next blog due to be posted “Carry your bags, sir?”, receives some influential support in a blog by Lord Tony Berkeley at In this blog Lord Berkeley claims that the Government is seeking “to prevent the House of Commons HS2 Select Committee from discussing any future alternative link”.


      • Peter, “…there were no plans to discuss substantial changes [to Phase 1]…..does not necessarily mean that Higgins has no plans to change phase 1, it could mean that he hasn’t yet steered his troops to the conclusion that they have to take a big step back and think again.The strategy pursued by HS2L is clear. At each stage they seduce parliament to approve a plan then they change the plan and canvas support towards the next stage of approval. 5 years after they were commissioned to design HS2, they have no firm plan to connect to HS1 or Heathrow, they abandoned their plan for the expansion of Euston, the cost has rocketted and the CO2 savings that were supposed to be an objective have disappeared. HS2 is in tatters and it all springs from the wrong decisions made at the start to design a segregated railway that favours the few and disadvantages the many.

      • And on 28th April the House of Commons will approve the plan by a large majority. That will mean that any changes to the proposal will be in the hands of six MPs who will sit on the Select Committee to hear petitions.

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