Let’s get one thing straight, I like Pete, in fact I like him a lot; he is a genuinely nice guy with a good heart. Yes he’s eccentric but that is one of the reasons people love him. He gets things wrong sometimes but he doesn’t care, he acts from the heart. What you see is what you get.
Peter Waterman grew up in poverty in bombed Coventry – he knows what it is to have to struggle. Pete has a real empathy for those on the breadline despite being an incredibly wealthy man himself. How did he get there? Well, setting out on a mission and knocking on doors until he got the right answers. That’s what STOP HS2 prides itself on doing!
Pete does a huge amount for charity and in particular young people trying to get into work and his passion for railways makes him the key figure in the railway heritage world. He has suffered tragedy in his life with the loss of his son and railways rescued him from the grief he has had to deal with.
I understand Pete didn’t learn to read or write until in his late thirties. He is not an intellectual man from an academic respect and nor does he wish to be. Life is simple to Pete; get on with things, do it boldly and as long as some jobs come out of the end of it (at any cost might I add) he’s happy. He has no interest in poring over the detail of economic or environmental cases for High Speed 2 he just wants it built. He does also have a vested interest in that living in Warrington and working in London it would suit him well and he would most probably be able to afford the fare!
I spent a pleasant afternoon with Pete walking along the River Blythe in Hampton in Arden, Warwickshire discussing HS2 being bulldozed through this last remnant of Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden. We were filming for the BBC’s West Midlands Inside Out programme. I swung from wanting to look after this aged (yet spritely) Pop Mogul to wanting to push him in the river! We got on however, we enjoyed the fact neither of us would give ground and it was very clear when Pete was losing his argument he would resort to raising his voice and stamping around like Rumpelstiltskin. He can be very amusing!
I pushed Pete on various points and here are some of the things he said which are self explanatory.
“I’m not interested in the economic case. You can never make an economic case for railways – they don’t make money – they have to have subsidies to work.”
“Railways work fine until Politicians get involved. They should have reintroduced the strategic rail authority”
“Stop talking about alternatives just build it!”
“We need a new line” note he didn’t say where – the route is not of interest to him.
I asked him if he would put the route North through the Peak District National Park “Straight through!”
Would you invest your money in a loss making exercise? “Yes I would!” (Eurovision perhaps?)
I pushed him and pushed him on the 250 mph speed being one of the reasons the HS2 proposal was unsustainable and had to follow this route “I’m not wedded to the 250”.
I talked to him about the fact no one directly affected had had any formal communication from the Government – he didn’t believe me and said that the route had been leaked – he seemed unaware of the 11 March 2010 announcement. Later on that day he met a couple in exactly that position and he admitted on the programme he was “shocked” and you could see he was genuinely affected by that.
So Pete has come out pro High Speed 2, well it would be amazing if he did not. He likes big, shiny things particularly trains. He sees the desperate need for jobs and investment in this country but simply does not understand, or perhaps cares, that HS2 is a multi £Bn loss making vanity project when the country can least afford it and there are better value for money, more sustainable alternatives which will benefit more people. He just wants something done and without HS2, David Cameron has little else in his growth plans.
Please don’t hate Pete if you are anti HS2, try and understand him better. You don’t have to respect his views just accept they are unlikely to change. We had more hits on this website after the programme with Pete than any other day so far and he is helping to raise the profile of the battle between the pros and antis.
He is a renegade – he supports Walsall – and when I queried him on this as he is a Coventry man and worked in Wolverhampton he answer was “they had the best pies!” That is a clear indication of how he ticks.
He is wrong but that doesn’t mean I don’t look forward to seeing him again and visiting him in Crewe at his museum. I’ve promised I’ll help with some of the detailing. Are you up for another round Pete?
Chairman STOP HS2