Before plans for HS2 were announced in March 2010, the main point made by those lobbying for high speed rail wasn’t any of the excuses now being rolled out, but that it would be an alternative to a third runway at Heathrow. That viewpoint has come back to bite them today, as even though the direct links from HS2 to Heathrow and the Channel Tunnel have long since been ditched, one of the points Howard Davies made when recommending that a third runway should be built at Heathrow was that HS2 makes this the more sensible choice.
Whilst pointing out the lack of rail links to Gatwick, regarding Heathrow his review reports:
“The links to HS2 at Old Oak Common and to the Great Western Main Line at Reading, will help to ensure that the benefits of expansion at Heathrow are felt across the English regions……. The HS2 interchange at Old Oak Common is close to the airport and will enable passengers to continue their journey to the airport via Crossrail or Heathrow Express. This will provide a greatly improved public transport connection for passengers from the Midlands and the North.”
However, it does come down against a direct link from HS2 to Heathrow, stating:
“The scheme was likely to attract only a small number of passengers, carry a high capital cost and represent an inefficient use of HS2 capacity. The Commission did not receive any persuasive arguments in favour of the HS2 spur as part of its national consultation. It is content, therefore, that such a spur should not form part of the surface access package that would accompany airport expansion and that there is not a robust business case for it at this time.”
The fact that the Davies Review cites HS2 as a reason for Heathrow expansion slaps down what many lobbying for high speed rail were saying before the HS2 plans were announced.
In the run up to the 2010 election, Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer said: “[Zac] Goldsmith and I are also are in agreement about high-speed rail, halting the expansion of Heathrow Airport (though I wouldn’t rule out a Conservative volte-face on this) and protection for back gardens.”, before she lost her Richmond Park seat to him and was made a Baroness and Transport Minister in the coalition Government.
Whilst David Cameron, whose party had claimed high speed rail would reduce the need for 66,000 flights from Heathrow, had said:
“We said the third runway shouldn’t go ahead, we were absolutely clear about that. There is no case for it on environmental grounds, there is no strong business case for it. What we need is high-speed rail with a rail hub at Heathrow as an alternative – that’s the answer, that’s what we should be doing, and the Government needs to realise they made a bad mistake, a bad judgment and they need to go into reverse.”
When the RMT union launched their ‘There is an alternative’ report in 2008, they claimed:
“RMT believes in a balanced transport policy with a role for all transport modes. The current proposals to expand Heathrow, however, would be unnecessary if there was serious investment in rail as part of a coordinated, integrated transport system.”
With Labour MP John McDonnell responding:
“This report proves conclusively that there is a rail alternative to Heathrow expansion and undermines totally the argument for a new runway and sixth terminal. It should provide the basis upon which the government thinks again.”
However, whilst the politicians called this the wrong way at the time, it may not be a surprise that the groups campaigning against Heathrow expansion got their analysis spot on. When Geoff Hoon originally announced the third runway and said plans were being drawn up for HS2, Plane Stupid responded:
“As for high-speed rail: Hoon’s uncosted, unqualified and unsubstantiated references are not worth the hot air they’re printed on.”
And when the HS2 plans were finally published in March 2010, John Stewart chair of HACAN, the Heathrow equivalent of Stop HS2, said:
“High speed rail is only a green way to travel if it is designed to take cars off the road and planes out of the air. This scheme has all the hallmarks of being hastily put together so that Gordon Brown can have a plan for high-speed rail in his pocket in time for the General Election. It is more about electioneering than creating a sustainable transport system for the UK. It is an expensive white elephant, not a green solution.”