John Whitehouse

Retired County Councillor for Kenilworth Abbey Division Learn more

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My HS2 Consultation Response

by John Whitehouse on 18 July, 2011

I represent Kenilworth Abbey division on Warwickshire County Council. The electoral division includes the northern side of Kenilworth, the parish of Burton Green and the Warwickshire part of the University of Warwick campus. The proposed HS2 route bisects my electoral division, entering it at the A429 Coventry Road, Kenilworth and leaving it at Hodgetts Lane, Burton Green.

In common with many of my constituents, I have been engaged deeply in studying the HS2 proposals since they were first announced in March 2010.

I object strongly to the characterisation by senior public figures of anyone who opposes the HS2 proposals as “Nimby” or “Luddite”. A substantial number of my constituents live either on the proposed line of route or close enough to be severely affected by it, so of course they have studied the HS2 proposals in close detail. Their objections are overwhelmingly ones of principle, however, rather than a Nimby desire to push the problem elsewhere. Constituents have told me that, if they could accept that the HS2 project was in the national interest, they would take a decent compensation package and go. They do not accept it, however, and neither do I.

As chair of the Communities Overview & Scrutiny Committee at Warwickshire County Council, I have led two detailed members’ debates on the HS2 proposals, and also engaged directly with Department of Transport and HS2 Ltd senior officers to understand the HS2 proposals in depth. I have contributed to Warwickshire County Council’s response to the consultation, and support both it and the 51M Group consultation response to which it cross-refers.

Summary

I do not believe that the current HS2 proposal is in the national interest or is necessary for the foreseeable future. Enhancements to the current inter-city network can address all forecast demand increases, and all identified capacity and performance issues, through to 2043 at least. These can be implemented incrementally in line with increasing proven demand, rather than a step change in capacity in 2026 designed to meet questionable demand forecasts. They can be implemented for a fraction of the projected cost of HS2, releasing large sums of potential future public expenditure for much needed investment across the whole rail infrastructure, both inter-city and local. This would support economic growth on a much broader base than HS2 could address, would achieve greater modal shift from road to rail in particular, and make a positive contribution to Britain’s overall carbon reduction goals compared with HS2’s “broadly neutral” impact.

Should a very long term requirement (i.e. beyond 2043) for a new dedicated rail line linking London with the West Midlands and northern cities be proven at some future time, I accept that this should be “high speed”, but not that this should mean a 250 mph design specification. We live in a small crowded island, and existing journey times between our major cities already compare favourably with most countries. Total journey time reductions are a legitimate goal of a national integrated transport strategy, but point-to-point rail speed increases are not. The routing and design specification for any future dedicated rail line should achieve a much better balance than the HS2 proposal between meeting travel demand and impacting on people’s lives and the natural environment along its route. These means building along existing transport corridors wherever possible, and lower operating speeds (e.g. 150 mph max) which would allow much more sensitive route alignment, give greater mitigation opportunities, reduce noise impact and lower energy consumption/carbon impact.

 

Q1: Do you agree that there is a strong case for enhancing the capacity and performance of Britain’s inter-city rail network to support economic growth over the coming decades?

In the context of the current consultation, it is only meaningful to answer this question in terms of the specific proposals for HS2 currently being put forward by the Government. Hence the answer is NO, there is not a strong case.

I am an advocate of rail as an important form of sustainable transport, and have championed local schemes in my role as county councillor. I support increased and sustained government investment in the whole rail infrastructure, both inter-city and local services, to support economic growth and to underpin modal shift from both road and air transport for both passengers and freight.

However, I see improved connectivity of rail services (inter-city and local) and removal of current bottlenecks as being of far greater value than chasing increased operating speeds on very limited sections of the national inter-city network. If we are to ever achieve a dramatic modal shift in this country from road (in particular) to rail, investment should be focused on total journey time improvements between people’s homes and where they need to travel to.

The consultation documents do not make a convincing case for HS2 supporting economic growth, particularly in terms of regeneration of slower growing regions. To the contrary, there is international evidence of negative economic impact on weaker regions connected by HSR to stronger regions.

 

Q2: 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?

NO. There are much better alternatives, in particular the “Optimised Alternative to HS2” prepared by Christopher Stokes (51M Group submission to Transport Select Committee, May 2011). This would provide sufficient additional capacity to meet forecast increased demand for the foreseeable future, would cost a fraction of what HS2 would cost, and could be implemented incrementally starting now, rather than waiting until 2026. The balance of the funds required for HS2 (i.e. £30+ bn) could be invested in the rest of the national rail network (inter-city and local services), in particular within the slower growing regions, almost certainly yielding higher benefits to the economy and to the environment.

HS2 would require a heavy and indefinite subsidy from the tax payer – ticket sales would not cover its construction and operating costs. Subsidising long distance train travel for business people and especially higher-income leisure travellers represents poor value for money.

Q3: Do you agree with the Government’s proposals for the phased roll-out of a national high-speed network, and for links to Heathrow airport and the High Speed 1 line to the Channel Tunnel?

NO. The HS2 proposal is based on a “Do minimum” scenario of limited and currently planned investments through to 2015, then nothing further until 2026. If the demand forecasts are in any way correct then this is unrealistic. Network Rail and/or the train operators would continue to want to invest to meet growing demand over the period 2015-2026, and could do so fairly easily and quickly (see answer to Q2 above). Hence the starting point for HS2 in 2026 could be fundamentally different from the “Do minimum” position assumed.

Similarly, the HS2 proposal would not address key capacity and overcrowding issues on routes to the north of Birmingham until 2032-33, when arguably these are just as urgent to address as those between London and Birmingham.

The economic cases are poor for both the proposed Heathrow and HS1 links.

 

Q4: 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?

NO. As previously stated, I believe that enhancements to the current inter-city network can meet forecast demand through to 2043, and therefore there is no case for a new HSR rail line within this timeframe. The remainder of this answer deals with the possibility that a new dedicated HSR line might be required at some point beyond this timeframe.

The case for a 250 mph design specification has not been made. Instead, the view has been taken that Britain should build a new rail line to take the fastest trains likely to be in service by 2026, irrespective of whether or not such speeds are appropriate or necessary for our small crowded island. Because of the design speed chosen, the route options have been severely curtailed, and in particular all options following largely existing transport corridors have been discounted.

Annex B of the HS2 Consultation document states journey savings of only minutes for the proposed route compared with alternatives which would have far less impact on people’s lives and our precious natural environment. These few minutes of savings are insignificant in the context of total journey times (my point from the answer to Q1). In any case, I do not accept the premise that time spent during inter-city rail journeys is unproductive for business travellers.

Britain already has rail journey times between its major cities which compare favourably with other countries. As stated, we are a small crowded island.

The 250 mph design specification for HS2 would result in very high construction and operating costs, while limiting opportunities for mitigation of impact on people’s lives and the natural environment.

No work has been done on the potential noise impact of a 250 mph train, which is unacceptable.

The energy consumption of a 250 mph train means that the whole project is estimated to be carbon neutral at best once operational, apart from the massive carbon impact of the construction phase. It is unacceptable that such a massive infrastructure project should make no contribution to the Government’s overall carbon reduction target for Britain of 80% by 2050.

 

Q5: 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?

NO. Regarding the line of the proposed route, see answers to Q4. Concerning the proposed approach for mitigating its impacts, insufficient detail has been provided in either the Consultation document or the Appraisal of Sustainability to allow a considered response.

 

Q6: 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?

The Appraisal of Sustainability, despite its size, has been conducted at too high a level for such a major infrastructure project, and is therefore inadequate as a basis of informing consultees.

In terms of the key sustainability issues addressed by the AoS:

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change. The AoS presents no clear evidence that HS2 would be anything better than carbon neutral at best. In the context of the Government’s overall greenhouse gas reduction target of 80% by 2050, it would be unacceptable for such a major public investment to make no contribution to the achievement of this target.

Natural and cultural resource protection and environmental enhancement.  The AoS admits that HS2 would have many adverse impacts on the natural environment and our cultural heritage, but without addressing the issues identified in the Warwickshire County Council consultation response it is impossible to assess the scale of impact or the realistic opportunities for acceptable mitigation. As the WCC response states, if these issue had been considered the conclusion of the AoS might well have been different.

Creating sustainable communities. My key concerns here are about noise and vibration. The lack of any attempt to simulate or assess the possible noise effects of 250 mph trains is a major failing, and the statement at the Road Shows that 250 mph operation would only be permitted in future if there were no “unacceptable” increase in noise was totally inadequate. The noise simulations provided were unconvincing. In rural areas of current great tranquillity it is very important to understand peak noise impact rather than the average noise data relied on by HS2 Ltd.

Sustainable consumption and production. The proposed route would have a major impact on the green belt and on agricultural land through Warwickshire. The greater that mitigation measures are taken to reduce visual and noise impact through lowering the line of route in cuttings, the greater the land take. Similarly, a greater preponderance of cuttings would mean a greater requirement for disposal of residual spoil. The impacts of this cannot yet be assessed.

 

Q7: 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?

I believe that the only acceptable principle in a fair society is that individual citizens should not be forced to suffer financial loss caused by major projects which are for the benefit of the country as a whole.

Of the options presented, the only one which meets this principle fully is the bond-based property purchase scheme, providing that it is announced immediately and applies to all households blighted by the HS2 proposals.

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