Friday, 12 July 2013

HS2 and the South-West

More questions are being raised about the value of spending £30bn+ on a new high-speed railway link from London to the North:

Is HS2 really the best way to spend £33bn?

Photo credit:   Lawrence Whittemore

We are on the verge of the biggest transport investment in UK history. With a cost to taxpayers of £33bn, High Speed 2 (HS2)’s massive price tag  is almost too big to visualise – which might explain how it has got this far without more public concern over its lack of a fair and transparent appraisal, and its (as yet) unproven value to our country.
The economic case for major infrastructure investment is clear, and you certainly can’t fault HS2 on its objectives. £33 billion spent on fixing Britain’s skewed economic geography and making our transport greener and more resilient is £33billion well spent in anyone’s books – if it works.
But is wise to plough such huge sums on a single project when spreading the same budget across many smaller, more robust schemes would positively transform the UK’s broader transport landscape? Do we really want to spend 20 years waiting for the HS2 line to inch into shape, when there are numerous shovel ready, targeted options that could (a) be rolled out in a fraction of the time, (b) benefit more people across a wider area and (c) beat HS2 at its own objectives? We cannot know for sure without a proper appraisal process.
That’s why we have released our new report today - to shift the HS2 debate to where it matters. The question we need to ask now is not ‘Is HS2 a good or bad investment?’ but ‘Is HS2 is the best investment we can make with such an enormous sum?’
To make the point, our report illustrates the kind of bold transport investment package we believe would achieve better value for taxpayers money. It’s an example of the kind of real alternative that has been missing from the government’s appraisal of HS2 to date: one of similar cost and size that can put the costs and benefits of HS2 in proportion. We suggest dividing the £33 billion across the following areas:
  • £10 billion on upgrading our exiting North-South mainlines – to improve speed and capacity of inter-regional travel while avoiding the need for an ecologically disastrous new line.
  • £10 billion to overhaul regional rail around the country – because improving shorter, commuter links between and within non-London cities would give a much bigger lift to existing employment centres than a sole focus on long-distance travel.
  • £6 billion on improving buss and light rail (e.g. tram) networks around the UK – and introducing smart ticketing systems (like London’s Oyster card) to make low-carbon public transport and simpler, more everyday option for travellers.
  • £2 billion on better biking and walking infrastructure – to improve wellbeing and help make regional cities places that people want to live and businesses want to locate
  • £5.5 billion on rolling out ultra fast ‘to-the-door’ broadband coverage across the UK – boosting business and reducing the demand for unnecessary business travel.
The investments we propose offer a taster of how, by tearing its eyes away from London, and focusing on making inclusive, multi-modal improvements across the country, the government could go further towards joining up the dots in our transport system. 
There could be much better ways to meet our national goals than HS2. We urge the government, as custodians of our scarce public resources, to step back from blindly pushing this one flashy, train project and assess our options fully.

The investigative journalist Anna Minton considered the behind-the-scenes lobbying for HS2 and other projects
New report: Scaring the living daylights out of people
In a Spinwatch report published today, Anna Minton examines allegations of dirty tricks, sham local consultations and a well-oiled revolving door between developers and councils. She also reveals how lobbyists set out to intimidate local opposition to the controversial HS2 high speed railway. 
Intimidation, bullying or conflicts of interest are common practice among lobbyists, developers and local authorities involved in pushing through contentious development such as HS2.

Scaring the living daylights out of people: the local lobby and the failure of democracy details case studies from around the country. The revelations include information about how lobbyists working for the Campaign for High Speed Rail set out to intimidate local opposition aiming “to shit them up”.

The report outlines how these tactics have implications for the way democratic debate develops in the UK, with these routine abuses, which reflect the failure of democracy, undermining the public interest.

It reveals allegations of dirty tricks on the part of developers and lobbyists acting for them, which include fake letter writing campaigns and the use of front companies to obscure the real intention behind planning applications.
And it highlights how the revolving door between councils and developers has seen a number of high profile council employees move from local authorities where they worked on contentious schemes to work for the developers of those schemes.

The consultation process on the planned demolition of large parts of central London, including the Heygate Estate in south London, the Carpenters Estate in East London and the Earls Court project in West London, is widely derided by residents as a ‘sham’. Meanwhile consultations around the country, from London to East Devon, Liverpool and Aberdeenshire are dismissed by residents, with many of the companies carrying out consultations on contentious schemes employed by the developers of those schemes.

The report also reveals the links between lobbying, PR and the media with local residents protesting against development reporting that local media has run campaigns against them. In Aberdeenshire, for example, local residents opposed to Donald Trump’s golf course development have been subject to alleged intimidation and harassment and politicians opposing the development were vilified in the local media. 

There are national groups opposing the HS2 project:
HS2 Action Alliance - The Case Against HS2 

And there is disquiet in the South-West:

HS2 rail plans accused of ignoring South West

The government has been accused of ignoring the South West as part of its HS2 high-speed rail link investment, creating a "Cinderella" region which will miss out on crucial cash.
Rail users groups in the far west of England have long said their transport links with London are much-maligned, and have been neglected by successive governments.
MEP Giles Chichester has taken up their case and, in an open letter, criticised the decision not to include the South West in the £32.7 billion HS2 plans.
Prime Minister David Cameron said last month that extending the already planned London to Birmingham HS2 line as far as Manchester and Leeds would "spread wealth and prosperity" around the country.
Chichester said: "The good people of Leeds and Manchester must be experiencing a warm glow now they know the government is to lavish more than £30 billion of investment on speeding up their journeys to London through the (HS2) rail link. It must be nice to be so
"The journey between London and the farther reaches of the West Country is just as long and just as important to our economy. Would it be too much to ask for the Department for Transport (DfT) to spare a fraction of the cost of HS2 to at the very least electrify
our railway links to London?"
He added: "We have been the Cinderella region of the British railway network far too long. Whitehall has rightly recognised through HS2 the importance of fast rail travel to the economy and to regional prosperity. Now let's have some fare shares."
Tony Bowditch, chairman of the St Germans Rail Users Group in Cornwall, said he agreed with Chichester's comments, adding: "I don't think the South West is considered an important area for transport - the big conurbations in the South East, the Midlands and the north of England are taking priority."
A DfT spokesman said the government is "committed to the development of the country's railways" with £9.4 billion invested by 2019 throughout the regions - including the South West. The spokesman said: "The department is working hard with Network Rail, local authorities and bidders to improve journey times throughout the South West and develop new services. These include improved links between Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Heathrow airport, while providing quicker journeys between Bristol and Taunton. We have also asked investors to provide initial costs for a possible new rail service to Tavistock and Okehampton

HS2 rail plans 'ignore south west'

Posted by  on in Travel Rants
What a great talking point for the coming months and years? The possibility that HS2 will go ahead and provide a fast train link to the various locations in the North of England and beyond from London.

Having travelled on some of Europe’s super fast inter-city expresses I can only say how brilliant they are and in the UK we have been waiting far to long for them arrive.

It’s looking like 2030 and after could be the completion time,  a great legacy for certainly my grand children and their grand children to enjoy in the future.

Never since Victorian times has such a rail project been on the table! Business leaders in the North are already talking up the project, with one city claiming that 30,000 new jobs could come from the investment, which is certainly great news.

Moving away from the £30Bn investment to our friends in the North and look West or in fact more South West and what do you see there?

Rail infra-structure that in one place is still not complete! On the main London to Weymouth main line between the town of Dorchester and Moreton station some five miles in length there is just a single line! This means that operating over a single line causes all sorts of problems like time table restrictions, slower running and even much worse if there happens to be a breakdown on that stretch, as you can imagine?

This does nothing to help anyone who perhaps would like to travel to London from Weymouth somewhat quicker than the current best time of around 2 hours 40 minutes many are however around the 3 hour mark in order to cover just under 120 miles.

Back up North and even a before HS2 you can now get from Stoke some around 15 miles further away than Weymouth is to London, there a journey time to the capital takes 1hour and 30 minutes! You can even travel from York to London a distance of around 180 miles in just under 2 hours.

No such high speed trains here in the South West or any chance of them! There are not even any quicker trains say a few times a-day allowing some rapid journeys there and back to the capital.

Sorting out that short stretch of track could have been part of the Olympic legacy, as Weymouth was the sailing venue, but that was missed then by the ‘powers that be’ and although its thought by many North of Birmingham that the South is affluent well it is not!

With such shoddy rail infrastructure and total lack of investment giving really long journey times to our capital what chance has the South West got of competing if it takes on average 3 hours to cover 120 miles and much of the country can do it in around half the time now... yet alone after HS2?

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