Back in October 2013, the government announced with much fanfare that not building HS2 would cause too much chaos to rail passengers. They claimed that the alternatives to HS2 would cause 14 years of weekend working on the railways. This of course ignored all the disruption not on the railways during the 16 years of building it, which ranged from the need to move motorways to disruption to road access to villages along the route.
As an example of this disruption, last week the Evening Standard reported that “Users of the heavily-congested Euston Road are set for six years of misery when it loses two lanes for work on the government’s new high-speed rail project”. And of course, the extra platforms being added to Euston station will now mean 16 years of disruption there, before any rebuild of the conventional station itself.
The Beleben blog has revealed a Freedom of Information request into how the 14 years of weekend working was worked out – to paraphrase the reply is ‘we know but the Minister doesn’t want to tell you’.
Some of the highlights of the FOI request (in full on Beleben’s blog) are
“I can confirm that we hold the information you have requested. However, this information is exempt from disclosure under section 36 of the FOIA….
“For Network Rail, the ‘qualified person’ is a Minister at the Department for Transport. I can confirm that the Minister has decided that disclosing the information you have requested engages all three of those subsections on the basis that disclosure would be likely to inhibit the free and frank provision of advice; inhibit the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation; and prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs….
The public interest arguments in favour of disclosure are that it…
• …would be likely to lead to greater public understanding of policy making increasing trust in policy decisions and engagement between citizens and the Government…
The public interest arguments against disclosure are…
• …it is our view that the public interest in increasing confidence in the Government’s decision making process; improving engagement between citizens and the Government; and fostering more informed public debate on HS2 has already been satisfied by the prior publication of the reports in question…”