Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Local rail expert condemns £32 billion High Speed Rail route "madness"

high-speed-rail.jpgWith just 30 days left to comment on the government's plans for a High Speed rail line between London and northern England, local transport expert Professor John Whitelegg has described the scheme as "madness" and that it would have a serious impact on local rail services if it went ahead.

The public consultation on the Government's proposed high-speed rail line between London, Birmingham and the north of England will close on 29th July and campaigners are urging the public to take a few minutes to answer the seven consultation questions (listed below), and let the Government know what you think of their multi-billion scheme.

The scheme is one of the biggest construction projects the country has ever seen, and campaign group Wendover HS2, which is especially worried by the Link's route through the Chilterns, argues it would cost, in real cash terms, far more than the £33 billion claimed by Government.

The Government argues that a new high-speed line would create jobs, and help heal the North-South divide, but experts have shown that any economic benefits would be more likely to go to London, as the biggest economy.

The Government also says that only a new line would meet the predicted increase in demand for rail travel over the coming decades. But the HS2 Action Alliance has shown that all the extra capacity we need could be supplied much more cheaply, and quickly, through improvements to existing services.

"This is not a battle between North and South, as the pro-HS2 campaigners would have it, with their posters depicting southerners in bowler hats, worrying about their lawns," say Wendover HS2. "In fact some of the biggest losers from HS2 would be northern towns such as Carlisle and Lancaster, whose rail services would actually get worse if HS2 went ahead.

The proposed route runs through Sites of Special Scientific Interest, the Chilterns Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the remains of a Roman villa. It would destroy listed buildings and prime agricultural land and cut through 21 ancient woodlands.

"It has long been my view that spending £32 billion on high speed rail (HSR) is madness in this supposedly tough financial climate," argues Professor John Whitelegg, who has given evidence to House of Commons Select Committee on transport investigation into the strategic case for high speed rail (PDF link, see HSR 34, page 135).

Professor Whitelegg argues the case for HSR in the UK is deeply flawed, represents a very significant misallocation of resources and will not achieve its objectives in economic regeneration or carbon reduction.

"UK transport planning and thinking asserts the existence of a clear and virtuous link between investments in new infrastructure and jobs, regeneration and economic growth," he notes. "This assertion stands in stark contrast to the published literature on this subject. This
literature is clear that there is no direct evidence of regeneration and economic gain after the construction of a new road, railway line or other transport link."

Pointing to the conclusion of the Government's own study in 1999, titled Transport and the Economy, research revealed that improved accessibility between two countries (and similarly
between cities, areas or regions) may sometimes benefit one of them to the disbenefits of the other. On the wider economic impacts the report concluded: “Empirical evidence of the scale and significance of such linkages is, however, weak and disputed”.

"Rarely has £32 billion of public spending been based on such a flimsy evidence base," says John. "We're being told we must cut social care for the elderly, children's centres, bus services, pensions and get rid of thousands of public sector workers  and much more and yet government can find £32 billion to spend on very rich people travelling very fast to and from London on trains that simply won't stop en route at a place like Lancaster.  HSR will damage Lancaster train services on the London-Glasgow route.

"I suggest local residents ask some searching questions and take part in this consultation if they are concerned about reducing our trains services," he urges, "or about the ease with which a Conservative-led government can find £32 billion for this kind of thing whilst trashing the poor, the disadvantaged and the old.

"The country needs a proper integrated transport network," he argues, "not an experimental ultra-high-speed line with virtually no connections to existing services."

The project has the support of several business organisation in the North West, including the former North West Development Agency

•  Via the Wendover HS2 site, which also offers more arguments against the plans, below are the Government’s seven consultation questions and some points we are planning to make in our consultation response.


To take part in the consultation you can either:
  • Reply by post to Freepost RSLX-UCGZ-UKSS, High Speed Rail Consultation, PO Box 59528, London SE21 9AX

The Government's Questions

Question 1: Do you agree that there is a strong case for enhancing the capacity and performance of Britain’s intercity rail network to support economic growth over the coming decade?

Question 2: Do you agree that a national high speed rail network from London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester (the Y network) would provide the best value for money solution (best balance of costs and benefits) for enhancing rail capacity and performance?

Question 3: Do you agree with the Government’s proposals for the phased roll-out of a national high speed rail network, and for links to Heathrow Airport and the HS1 line to the Channel Tunnel?

Question 4: Do you agree with the principles and specification used by HS2 Ltd to underpin its proposals for new high speed rail lines and the route selection process HS2 Ltd undertook?

Question 5: Do you agree that the Government’s proposed route, including the approach proposed for mitigating its impacts, is the best option for a new high speed rail line between London and the West Midlands?

Question 6: Do you wish to comment on the Appraisal of Sustainability of the Government’s proposed route between London and the West Midlands that has been published to inform this consultation?

Question 7: Do you agree with the options set out to assist those whose properties lose a significant amount of value as a result of any new high speed line?

The consultation closes on 29th July 2011.

More Links

• High Speed Rail Consultation Page: http://highspeedrail.dft.gov.uk

Against HS2

•  Stop HS2
•  Online petition against HS2
•  HS2 Action Alliance
Wendover HS2The Chilterns Conservation Board: "High Speed 2 - Caring for the Chilterns, The Chilterns AONB" (http://www.chilternsaonb.org/hs2)

For HS2

Yes to HS2
An "independent non-governmental campaign group" set up to promote High Speed Rail in the UK and the benefits both economically and environmentally that it will bring.
HS2 Ltd.
High Speed Two Limited (HS2 Ltd) is the company set up by the Government to consider the case for new high speed rail services between London and Scotland.
High Speed Two Ltd. Report (11 March 2010): "High Speed Rail London to the West Midlands and Beyond: A Report to Government by High Speed Two Limited"
Department for Transport: Background reports supporting the proposed high speed rail strategy for consultation

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