John Whitehouse

Retired County Councillor for Kenilworth Abbey Division Learn more

Tomorrow’s expected announcements about HS2

by John Whitehouse on 9 January, 2012

So much for an open, transparent consultation process about HS2! The past few days have seen a concerted pre-briefing of and by its supporters, and the release to journalists (not the general public yet) of a Network Rail report which purports to prove that strategic alternatives to HS2 will not be sufficient.

I had hoped that Justine Greening MP, the new Transport Secretary, would be an improvement on her predecessor by bringing logic and rational argument to the fore in her evaluation of the HS2 proposal, but it seems I was mistaken.

As we now wait for the seemingly inevitable decision to be announced by Ms Greening tomorrow, that she has decided to proceed with HS2, it is worth reflecting on the following:

  1. The Network Rail report assumes that the passenger growth forecasts for HS2 are correct. These forecasts, which assume that recent years’ growth trends continue unabated into the long-term future, are almost certainly grossly overstated.
  2. The report represents the findings of one set of rail experts critiquing the views of other experts. I am sure there will be a response. Who knows who is right?
  3. Even if one accepts ultimately that a new rail line is required linking London to Birmingham and beyond, there is no justification for designing it for 250 mph operating speeds in our small crowded island. A lower-speed (but still high-speed) dedicated line would be far more energy efficient, would have far less environmental impact, and could be built on a route which followed much more closely the existing transport corridors.

The right thing for Ms Greening to announce tomorrow would be a deferment of any decisions on HS2, to allow time for:

  • Full response to the Transport Select Committee recommendations, e.g. that details of the whole HS2 Y-route should be published and then consulted on together.
  • Proper scrutiny of the latest Network Rail report.

Will she do the right thing? After the last few days, my confidence in her is pretty low!

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