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Please ask your MP to vote in favour of the HS2 Referendum Bill on Friday. (Sample text at bottom)
This Friday, a number of Private Members Bills will be debated in the House of Commons.
One of these, proposed by Christopher Chope, MP for Christchurch in Dorset, asks for a national referendum on the funding of HS2, to take place before HS2 construction starts. The referendum would have this question:
“Do you support the use of UK taxpayers’ money to pay for the construction of the HS2 railway?”
Given the ever-increasing costs of HS2 (currently £50bn), coupled with every opinion poll showing a growth in opposition to HS2, and the fact that ‘selective austerity’ seems to be here to stay, it is reasonable to think that if paying for HS2 were ever put to the public, the public would very much say ‘No’.Although it is rare for Private Members Bills to become law, some do slip through the second reading stage, especially if there aren’t many MPs around on the day. On a Friday morning, after a quiet Thursday, in the run-up to a General Election, who knows what could happen! If the Bill does pass second reading, there will then be a committee stage, which would hear evidence from experts, before the third reading and another vote.
With the General Election coming up, it is imperative that we do as much as we can to make sure HS2 is as high as possible up the agenda come May. As such, we hope that you can email or ring your MP to ask them to be in the Main Chamber at 9.30am on Friday 23rd January for the first debate of the day, for them to take part, and most importantly to vote for the bill. If you have never contacted your MP, you can do so easily by visiting https://www.writetothem.com/
Public Accounts Committee Trash HS2 – AGAIN.
Last Friday, the Public Accounts Committee published a report about the ‘lessons learned from major rail infrastructure programmes’ and pretty much concluded in relation to HS2, that there haven’t been any! For anyone who has followed what the PAC and its chair Margaret Hodge MP has said in the past about HS2, this will be no surprise. The report concluded: “We are sceptical about whether the Department for Transport can deliver value for money for the taxpayer on HS2.” It also said there was no sign of HS2 being part of a clear rail strategy, and that the supposed benefits HS1 was meant to bring to Ebbsfleet are conspicuous by their absence.
‘New’ Compensation Schemes announced, but not necessarily operational.
Last week, HS2 Ltd announced their ‘new’ compensation schemes for Phase 1 of the proposed route. It was another case of ‘consult and ignore’ from the Government, as the schemes are exactly the same as what was consulted on last year. Now, homeowners in rural areas who live within 120 metres of the centre line between tracks can apply for compensation, but the ‘Homeowner Payments’ which are intended for those between 120m & 300m in rural areas will not be available until the Bill receives Royal Assent.
Most controversially, the ‘Need to Sell’ scheme for people living more than 120 metres from the centre line is unchanged from the proposal which was consulted on in 2014, and is effectively a rebranding of the Exceptional Hardship Scheme, which has so far only paid out on a quarter of the applications. For example, under EHS, homeowners had to demonstrate ‘financial hardship’, with this now rebranded as an ‘unreasonable burden’.
The schemes have been presented exactly as they were consulted on, even though the HS2 Hybrid Bill Committee had stated they wanted to make suggestions on how to improve the proposed scheme. We will watch with interest to see if there is any fall-out on this issue.
HS2 Petitioning Ongoing.
It’s been a busy old time for the HS2 committee, and last week history was made when they heard from 9 year old Alexander Rukin, the youngest person to appear in an official capacity before Parliament, who after saying HS2 Ltd were bad at maths, pointed out that the response document HS2 Ltd sent him had an error of 8.7 billion pounds in it!
We expect that the committee will break up for the election in the week of the 23rd March. They hope to have got as far as Oxfordshire by that point, before hearing people who live on Phase 2 who have petitioned against the Phase 1 Bill.
If you are waiting to appear, there is a breadth of knowledge and experience from those who have already been on. If you have been on and didn’t get what you want, there will be a second chance when the whole process happens again in the House of Lords. There are more additional provisions (amendments to the bill) to come, which will offer another chance to go back in front of the current committee.
75 ‘Unanswered Questions’ for HS2. What they are is also unanswered!
At the end of November, HS2 Ltd Chair Sir David Higgins was up in front of the House of Commons Governance Committee, where he said;
“I have got a review underway at the moment at High Speed 2 by the Major Projects Association. I had a meeting with them yesterday and the initial report said, ‘There are 75 different complex questions that we have been asked to address.’”
Besides the fact it has since been confirmed he meant the Major Projects Authority, not Association (both exist), HS2 Ltd and the Cabinet Office are refusing to say what these 75 issues are. Like the previous MPA reports which rated HS2 at ‘amber-red’, they are refusing our requests to tell people what these issues are under Freedom of Information Legislation. Don’t worry, we will keep banging this drum to try and get this information released.
Money, money, money.
Everything we do relies on voluntary donations from people like you. If you can spare anything, no matter how small, please go to the ‘Donate’ page on the Stop HS2 website, http://stophs2.org/donate
Hats off to Lord May, who after sitting through a couple of months listening to people give evidence to the Economic Affairs Committee inquiry on HS2, came to this insightful conclusion:
“The more I’ve learned about HS2, the more I feel that many of the people involved in it, I wouldn’t trust to mow my lawn, much less build a big thing like HS2.”
We could not agree more!
Penny, Joe and the Stop HS2 team
Text to send to your MP via the www.writetothem.com website follows:
I wish to draw your attention to the HS2 Referendum Bill, proposed by Dorset MP Christopher Chope, which is currently due to receive its’ second reading in the Commons at 9.30 tomorrow, Friday 23rd January. I hope you will consider my point of view and find time to attend this debate and vote for the Bill.
Like the Public Accounts Committee, who last week concluded that they were sceptical that HS2 would be value for money for the taxpayer, I am seriously concerned about the costs of the HS2 project. When the idea was raised by Theresa Villiers MP at Conservative Party Conference in 2008, a high speed railway line from London to the Central Belt in Scotland was predicted to cost £30bn. Seven years later, the official cost of HS2 now stands at £50bn, and that only gets as far as Manchester and Leeds.
The Public Accounts Committee were concerned that a large contingency could be used to mask cost increases, and in my mind it is clear the price of HS2 will go up, as all the costings are still being worked out on 2011 prices. All we have to do to confirm this is look at Crossrail, which was meant to cost £10bn in 2003, but is now looking closer to £20bn, and of course the Olympics which came in at four times over the original budget. The difference of course with Crossrail, at least at the outset, is that the majority of the funding was not intended to come from Central Government.
I do not understand why, at a time of austerity with much cheaper rail investments available which would deliver more benefits to more people more quickly, HS2 is being pursued in such a gung-ho fashion. It is clear to me that the majority of the public agree with me, as every time there has been a public opinion poll conducted regarding the project, support for HS2 has dropped. At the last count in October last year, YouGov found only 24% of the public were in favour of HS2.
The wholehearted support for HS2 from the three main political parties, combined with the opposition to it from UKIP and the Green Party, serves to only underline the disconnect between politicians and members of the public like me, who are seeing cuts take effect in their communities and will see no benefit from HS2.
The Government state that there is a business case for HS2, and unlike almost every other railway in the country, they claim will make money, despite having much higher running costs. I do not believe this for one second as it relies on grossly inflated passenger forecasts, but if the Government truly believe this, then why can they not find private investors to pay for it? Indeed, why are they not queuing up to invest in what the Department for Transport insist will be a gold mine?
As such, I hope you can vote for the HS2 Referendum Bill on Friday, as it would give the public the choice of whether the taxpayer should pay for HS2. This is not a vote to cancel HS2, but simply to ask the taxpayer if they want to foot the bill. The costs of any referendum would be miniscule in comparison to the billions HS2 would cost. I do not think HS2 should go ahead, but if it must and if there is a business case and a profit to be had, then like when the original railways were built, the private sector should shoulder the risk.