Thoughts from an active pensioner who is now somewhat past his Biblical "Use-by date"

"Why just be difficult, when with a little more effort you can be bloody impossible?"

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Stop HS2

We live about five miles or so from the planned route of HS2, and up to now it has always seemed that we would not be directly affected either by the construction or by the subsequent operation of the line. Nevertheless, I have always been firmly against the construction, as I believe that it will never serve its intended purpose and will have been superseded by other modes of travel by the time it is completed.
I have also been unconvinced by the government's financial case in favour of the construction in that, among other reasons, they have quantified as income the savings in time being made by the users of the railway. No public company would be able to do this, no auditors would accept time being saved as income, all they are interested in is money. Nor will the government be able to pay back its loans with "time saved", the creditors want cash! Neither, as an engineer, do I believe the construction costs which are, I suspect, simply a guess at what might be considered acceptable. If the money runs out part way through the project, we will be faced with the usual argument that "all the money we have spent will be totally wasted if we don't now spend what is required to finish the job". If they can't run a computer project to time and on budget, what hope do they stand with a major civil engineering project where there are far more unquantifiable contingencies.

I am pleased that today a Telegraph/ICM survey published today confirms that the majority of the public think the same with just 3% believing that the project will be delivered on budget and on time. Only 5% believes that it is "Essential for Britain" and more than two-thirds want to scrap the plan.

What I hadn't appreciated until now was the huge amount of damage that the construction will cause. Ancient woodlands will be destroyed, as will 310 miles of hedgerows. Seven major rivers are to be diverted and around 1,180 buildings will be demolished. Although I won't still be around, it seems that the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty will still be experiencing “moderate adverse effects” in 2086, 60 years after the line opens!
It now seems that we might be directly affected in that the more detailed “water resources assessments” raise deeper questions over the impact on drinking water supplies. For this area, HS2’s impact on water resources is described as “major”, the effect as “very large” and the duration as “permanent”. Finally, the sting in the tail. I quote from the Telegraph:
The Government is also quietly giving itself the power to allow massive building development, including on Green Belt land, bypassing normal planning controls. Ministers will be able to order the compulsory purchase of any land where they believe HS2 creates “an opportunity for regeneration or development”. 
So, at any location along the route of the line, or within a reasonable distance of it, the government is planning to compulsorily purchase land for development. This could of course be anything between a small industrial estate to a whole new town, but as usual with this sort of thing, one has to be highly suspicious of the unknown.

The official documents relating to the development now extend to some 55,000 pages and it will be a very conscientious MP who is able to spend time studying the documentation before a vote in Parliament. But perhaps that is the objective, to swamp the system with paperwork and to hope nobody notices some of the "nasties". What we really need is a genuine enquiry into possible alternatives, which are simply dismissed by the government as "We have assessed the alternatives; they simply don’t give the increase in capacity needed.” This assessment hasn't been published, so the public, and our MPs, have no idea as to what alternatives were considered. However one looks at it, it is difficult not to believe that if the same amount of money was spent improving our transport systems elsewhere, far more people would benefit and the "time saved" would be far, far greater.

1 comment:

  1. We need to shift into a different mindset, asking “How can we solve a serious railway capacity problem while keeping the majority of people happy?”
    One answer would be to adapt German eddy braking technology so that our existing lines could safely carry more trains.
    This option is discussed at
    We should debate this solution before we commit ourselves to HS2.