Degrading practices, part 1

One of the issues that Coventry resident and businessman, Joe Elliott MBE, raised when his petition (1603), deposited and presented jointly with his wife Grace, was heard by the HS2 Select Committee was that the direct train link to London from Coventry, described by Mr Elliott as a “fantastic service”, stood to be “hit pretty badly” by HS2. Mr Elliott told the Committee that “the existing service in the original manifesto appeared to drop to one an hour from three an hour” (see footnote 1).

Just about an hour later Joe Rukin used a preamble to his presentation, acting as Roll B agent, of a petition by Dr Alexandra Daley to expand on Mr Elliott’s point. He said that when HS2 was first announced HS2 Ltd had been “exceptionally honest” about what HS2 “would mean to existing rail services”. He claimed that it had been “very clear” in the documents that had been published at the time “that the existing three fast trains an hour from Coventry to London would go down to one an hour” and he reminded the Committee that this also meant that the three services from Coventry to Birmingham, being served by the same trains, would be similarly reduced.

He said that the reason for this was “quite obvious” (see footnote 2):

“… if you build HS2 and it’s doing London to Birmingham, you can’t necessarily justify those three trains an hour from London to Coventry, if people are expected to go on HS2.”

He added that HS2 Ltd has been “rather vague” about this matter since the original announcement “because they realised that this created an uproar”.

And Coventry is not the only existing West Coast Main Line (WCML) station which may have this cloud louring over it. One other city where this issue has been raised is Stoke-on-Trent. Local Member of Parliament Joan Walley (Lab, Stoke-on-Trent North) told the House of Commons that (see footnote 3):

“We already have perfectly excellent train services [from Stoke-on-Trent]—two an hour—that go straight to London Euston in one hour and 24 minutes. What will happen to those services when phase 2 of HS2 is running? The likelihood is that business passengers from Manchester will not be spending their money on the west coast Pendolino services; they will opt for an HS2 that is not easily accessible to us, leaving us without the business case for our existing services, which will have a huge knock-on effect.”

In fact, it appears that services Euston/Stoke could well be affected from when HS2 Phase 1 comes in to operation, rather than just after Phase 2 is opened.

In his response to Mr Elliott’s petition the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, pointed out that the post-HS2 service patterns for the WCML are to be resolved “in future, through the appropriate regulatory and commercial regime” (see footnote 4). As such, of course, they do not fall strictly within the bailiwick of HS2 Ltd. However, HS2 Ltd is charged with, inter alia, the promotion of HS2, and the solution of capacity issues on the WCML has been advanced as the prime justification for HS2. It therefore follows, I feel, that HS2 Ltd has a responsibility to respond to the Elliots’ and Mr Rukin’s fears. Indeed, Mr Mould did attempt to reassure these petitioners; he advised that he had been “passed a note” that reminded him that “the Government’s stated intention is to ensure that all locations with services to London will have services that are broadly comparable, or improved, when HS2 arrives” (see footnote 5).

Select Committee Member Sir Peter Bottomley MP told Mr Mould that what he had been authorised to say “doesn’t sound quite enough yet” – a point of view that Mr Mould appeared to accept, because he told Sir Peter that he would see whether the promoter “can provide you with a little more than statements of ministerial intention, as it were, and report back” (see footnote 6).

The upshot of this undertaking was that the promoter called a witness before the Select Committee to address the Members on “some aspects of the capacity that HS2 will release on the West Coast Main Line to the north” – this witness was no other than the Technical Director of HS2 Ltd, Professor Andrew McNaughton (see footnote 7). This “celebrity” appearance gave rise, in turn, to a blog by Joe Rukin that was posted on the Stop HS2 website that claimed that Professor McNaughton had “admitted that towns and cities in the Midlands, Scotland, Wales and The North West could lose direct services to London if HS2 goes ahead”.

This blog spawned a response by fervent HS2 supporter, Paul Bigland, in a posting on his blogsite on 13th February 2015. In a typically mean-spirited, not to say unnecessarily offensive, piece, Mr Bigland adopts the tactic of attacking the messenger, accusing Mr Rukin of a “breathtaking example of lying through his teeth”. When Professor McNaughton’s exhibits were published a few days later, Mr Bigland posted another blog claiming that these supported his view of the matter, and launching some more invective at Joe Rukin.

Suspecting that both parties were probably guilty of manipulating, to a lesser or greater extent, the evidence presented by Professor McNaughton to suit their own standpoints, I have decided to take an in-depth, and I hope detached, look at this issue; I will begin this exercise in my next posting.

(To be continued …)


  1. The Elliotts’ petition was heard during the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 14th January 2015. The hearing starts at 10:09 in the video. Mr Elliott’s comments about the train service from Coventry are in paragraph 118 of the transcript.
  2. Mr Rukin’s comments are reported in paragraphs 318 and 319 of the transcript for the morning of Wednesday 14th January 2015.
  3. Ms Walley was speaking in the Second Reading debate for the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill; see column 612 of the House of Commons Official Report for 28th April 2014.
  4. See paragraph 276 in the transcript the morning of Wednesday 14th January 2015.
  5. See paragraph 275 in the transcript the morning of Wednesday 14thJanuary 2015.
  6. The conversation between Sir Peter and Mr Mould is reported in paragraphs 277 to 282 in the transcript the morning of Wednesday 14thJanuary 2015.
  7. Professor McNaughton’s evidence to the Select Committee starts at 15:41 in the video and paragraph 153 of the transcript for the afternoon of Wednesday 11thFebruary 2015. His exhibits have been allocated identities P4557(1) to P4557(17).

Important Note: The documents from which the quotes and extracts reproduced in this blog are taken include uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.


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