Chris Grayling has chosen to announce that the Government is fully committed to HS2, just a week after the project was met by a frosty reception at Conservative Party conference.
Despite heavy criticism, Grayling has chosen to ignore all of the fact-based evidence in a speech delivered at Canary Wharf, declaring that “The case is as strong as ever”.
However, this is somewhat at odds with the fact he originally said HS2 was needed, purely as an alternative to a third runway at Heathrow. The proposal to link HS2 to Heathrow was scrapped by his predecessor Patrick McLoughlin, as was the link to HS1 and the Channel Tunnel. Asked about Heathrow expansion in The Independent in 2009, he claimed the alternative to this would be a high speed railway, which would remove the need for more runways capacity, saying:
“Actually, I was the person who – when I was Shadow Transport Secretary – first proposed our alternative policy; a high-speed rail line linking Leeds and Manchester to Birmingham, Heathrow, London, Paris and Brussels. That will take huge pressures off Heathrow.”
Grayling has also chosen today to announce ‘new funds’ of £70m, for supposed sweeteners for local communities, despite the fact that £30m of the total was already in place and the total represents far less than would be on offer for normal projects. The HS2 Community and Environment Fund and the Business and Local Economy Fund, will be increased by £10m to £40m altogether, with the addition of a £30m road safety fund.
The original funds have been heavily criticised as being far too small in the past, and this small increase will do very little to change that, with a total of £70m working out as less than £½m/mile, far less than would normally be available via Section 106 agreements associated with building projects.
Last week, both Grayling and Rail Minister Andrew Jones found their mentioning of HS2 being met with stony silence on conference floor, whilst Jones was hissed and heckled when he brought it up at a fringe meeting. Grayling also had a hard time at his fringe, where HS2 was the only bone of contention among party members.
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin responded:
“Chris Grayling says the case for HS2 is as strong as ever, but seems to have forgotten that he originally said the whole point of high speed rail was as an alternative to Heathrow expansion, but the proposals for HS2 no longer include links to Heathrow or the Channel Tunnel. Grayling saying ‘the case is as strong as ever’ for HS2 when his entire original justification has disappeared is beyond hypocritical, it is completely irresponsible and shows a total disregard for the facts.”
“The new Secretary of State for Transport has not only chosen to ignore all the evidence against HS2, but also ignore the disquiet within his party. When the original justification for the project has completely disappeared but it is supported unquestionably, you come to realise the facts of the matter are inconsequential in the face of dogmatic political intransigence.”
“The reality is that that the case for HS2 is as strong as ever, as it is as it has always been, completely none existent.”
“The £70m fund for communities which has been ‘announced’ today includes £30m which was already on the table, and is far less than would normally be required for developments under Section 106 agreements and infrastructure levies. If this fund was being allocated under normal rules, £70m wouldn’t even cover Camden. To try and suggest less than £½m/mile is generous is a disgrace.”