Paxo stuffing, part 6

(… continued from Paxo stuffing, part 5, posted on 1 Jul 2015).

As promised in part 5 of this blog series on the claims in Sir David Higgins’ recent letter to the Financial Times, I will continue in this part 6 my discussion of the claim made in the fifth sentence of that letter that HS2 will relieve development pressure on London.

I say:

The report of an interview that the HS2 Ltd Chairman gave to the Sunday Times (see footnote) identifies the increased scope for long-distance commuting into London that HS2 would provide:

“But while HS2 may persuade some firms to relocate, it would also allow commuters who work in London to live much further away. The journey time between London and Manchester would be cut by half to one hour and eight minutes, while Birmingham would come within 49 minutes of the capital.”

Whilst I am not sure why Sir David Higgins thinks that it comes within his remit, the Sunday Times also reports that he has “called for 240,000 new homes to be built each year to accommodate the extra 9m people projected to be living in Britain by 2037”. The newspaper article adds that “[b]etter rail links [including HS2] would mean many of these homes could be in the Midlands and the north of England” and quotes Sir David venturing that, “You could build your housing capacity in these cities that will be opened up easily”.

Whilst I am inclined to agree with Sir David that some London workers will see HS2 as an opportunity to live in the countryside well away from the congestion of the southeast of England, I differ from him in that I don’t see this as particularly desirable. Whilst the Sunday Times mentions Manchester as being brought within easy commuter reach, the most optimum centres for commuter relocation are likely to be around the proposed stations at Birmingham Interchange and Toton (assuming the route consulted for Phase 2 is confirmed). As far as the former is concerned, I set out my fears about the resulting need for housing development in this area in my blog Mind the gap (posted 4 Jun 2012).

I have news for Sir David; there are considerable pressures on the supply of land for housing development in the Midlands also. By way of illustration my own district council has just had its draft Local Plan rejected by the government planning inspector on the grounds that plans to build 12,900 new homes across the district were insufficient. This came as a surprise to some, as the council had been criticised locally for providing for too many new homes.

Also, taking a more global view, should we really be viewing encouraging long-distance commuting as remotely desirable in this age of fears of the impacts of greenhouse gases on climate change?

As far as any benefit that commuting on HS2 might have on relieving housing pressure on London, I think that it is necessary to realise that this is never going to be a mass pursuit. For all but the very affluent it is likely to be an unaffordable proposition, and savings on housing costs are unlikely to compensate for increased travel costs except on the largest properties. So while the numbers availing themselves of this facility are unlikely to be significant to the demand for houses in the London area, they could be large enough to make big impacts upon the demand for luxury homes in the dormitory locations. Again, I don’t see this as particularly desirable.

What we do know for sure is that the currently published plans for Euston will see the housing stock in Camden reduced by more than 200 dwellings, demolished to make way for HS2, and the just-announced relocation of the Heathrow Express depot to Langley will result in the loss of land allocated for a further 200 homes to be built. So HS2 will start with a sizeable deficit of homes lost to be overcome before any benefit can arise in respect of the housing shortage in southeast England.

It appears that Sir David was not sure that his powers of persuasion would suffice to convince the readers of the Sunday Times that HS2 was really a good idea, and so he resorted to intimidation, throwing in a couple of threats that were obviously designed to scare the public into acceptance of HS2.

The first of these threats is the vision that “hundreds of thousands of new homes will destroy the southeast’s green belt of protected countryside”. He is quoted as saying:

“I worry that if you don’t do something like [HS2], then the debate over the green belt will eventually be won and you will build all over the green belt”.

I sense the shedding of crocodile tears here. I have not been able to find a figure for the area of green belt land that will be despoiled by HS2, but it must be many hectares. Within only a few miles of where I live there are two locations where the undermining of essential green belt buffers will result from HS2: the Crackley Gap, separating Kenilworth from Coventry (one of the narrowest green belts in England); and, the Meriden Gap, which stops Coventry and Birmingham becoming one sprawling mass of urbanisation. So please Sir David, don’t pretend that you care about the green belt.

For his second scare tactic Sir David resorts to the old chestnut that HS2 will avoid the need for motorway expansion. According to the Sunday Times:

“[Sir David] fears that in the absence of HS2, which is being designed to carry up to 18,000 passengers an hour, ‘sooner or later’ a new motorway between London and the West Midlands would have to be built.”

Making a connection between a decision about whether or not to build HS2 and the need for a new north-south motorway is misleading and totally unfounded. Department for Transport statistics reveal that more than five times as many trips of 25 miles and over were made by car as by rail in 2013 (80 per cent of total trips and 15 per cent of total trips, respectively). Even if Sir David does not realise the implication of this fact, the company that he leads does. The possibility that HS2 could relieve motorway congestion to any appreciable extent appears to be well and truly scotched in paragraph 4.2.10 of the report proposing the scheme that HS2 Ltd submitted to the Government as long ago as 2009:

“In 2033, around 11,000 long distance car trips per day would be likely to transfer to HS2. This would lead to a reduction in congestion but the net impact of this is relatively small. For example traffic flows on the southern section of the M1 would fall by around 2%.”

I suspect that both HS2 and a new motorway could well be built within the next two or three decades.

(To be continued …)

Footnote: The article was published on 26th October 2014, but is behind a paywall. I have not been able to locate a free-access version of the article.



3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by johnma on July 6, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    Hello Peter

    Re Paxo 6

    A glance at OS or Google Maps will show that there is not much potential to create a lot of developable land around Toton. It is hemmed in by existing development. There is more space to the west of the M1 around Breaston but that area provides a vital separation between Derby and Nottingham and there is no easy way to get to it other than via J25. Toton is not much use to the East Midlands. For journeys to the south it will not save very much time from Nottingham or Derby to London because of the interchange penalty. The frequency of fast trains on MML, which serve Leicester, will suffer. Improvement of the MML would offer many more benefits. The greatest improvement in journey time woud be for trips to Birmingham but whether there is enough demand on the eastern leg of HS2 to justify a service as frequent as that on MML is debatable. Frequency v Speed? For journeys between Nottingham and Derby to Sheffield the transfers at either end will erode any time savings achieved by going faster between Toton and Meadowhall. It would be quicker to go to Leeds compared to current times which are appalling. However, the viability of the northern part of the east leg must be even lower than the Birmingham – Toton bit.


    • Hi “johnma” and welcome to the site. I must admit that I haven’t looked into the pros and cons of the proposed Phase 2 eastern leg, so I find your analysis very enlightening. Your comments appear to indicate that the benefits of HS2 to the East Midlands will be limited and that the area around Birmingham Interchange is likely to have to accommodate most of the new commuter housing.


  2. Posted by LesF on July 13, 2015 at 9:03 am

    johnma is absolutely right. No passenger services currently run through Toton so you need either additional services to reach it (inefficient) or to divert existing services, making journeys longer. Toton parkway is as wrong as the West Midlands “Interchange” (interchange with what – 8000 cars?). Planned improvements to MML (apart from electrification which is receding further and further into the future as costs rise) will improve journey times. The journey times claimed by HS2 from Toton assume a train is waiting for you as you step off the tram/bus/car/bike.
    The sensible way to serve Nottingham and Derby is via new tracks running alongside the M1, through Leicester thereby serving that forgotten city, then via the existing lines via Derby to Sheffield Midland and via Nottingham to points north (Doncaster, Hull, Lincoln, Grimsby). Please see Out of town parkway stations drain commerce from the cities they are supposed to serve because it’s easier to get away from the city (by car to the parkway) than it is to get into the city by bus or taxi.


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