One of the more bizarre announcements since the election regarding HS2 has come from councils in Yorkshire, who have already clubbed together to raise £50,000 to lobby for HS2 to be built.
Leeds City Council, North Yorkshire County Council and the Sheffield City Region group of authorities, which are all in the process of implementing cuts to services due to cuts of millions of pounds in annual funding to are backing the ‘HS2 East’ campaign, which is asking for each individual authority to put £25,000 into a joint lobbying pot.
Given the commitment from Government to build HS2, and indeed the promise from David Cameron during the election campaign to dash Sir David Attenboroughs hopes of getting UNESCO World Heritage Status for Walton Hall, by fast-tracking the building the Leeds-Sheffield section of HS2 through it before that process could be completed, the question has to be asked, why do these councils feel the need to spend this money?
In fact, it seems that they don’t really know why themselves. A report produced by Sheffield City Region Combined Authority said the campaign was designed to “Influence the Comprehensive Spending Review and HS2 briefings to new ministers”, with Chairman Sir Steve Houghton saying:
“We are very confident in the Government’s commitment to the Eastern leg of HS2 and Sir David Higgins, executive chairman of the project, has himself said that building both the eastern and western legs on an equal basis is the only way to deliver the reductions in journey times and extra capacity that are needed.”
So if this is the case, what on Earth is the point of spending any money whatsoever on lobbying for HS2 to be built? It makes no sense whatsoever, especially given a background of millions of pounds of cuts being forced on each of these councils.
The only thing that can be said is that the eastern leg of Phase 2 of HS2 has always seemed to be the most vulnerable part of the project. Upgrades which have been delivered on the Midland Mainline and upgrades which are on the way for the East Coast Mainline will eat into both the benefit cost ratio and the whole point of building a railway with station sites that at best can be described as ‘compromises’.
It’s also widely been speculated that whilst the Government has been bullish in wanting to accelerate HS2 to Crewe and from Leeds to Sheffield, the reason that the announcement of the finalised Phase 2 route is a year overdue is that ground conditions in the East Midlands (and north of Crewe) are not suitable for the running of a high speed railway, and there is a serious question about whether or not at the proposed design speeds, HS2 could actually be built in those areas. This is clearly the case in terms of where the East Midlands station is meant to be going.