From the Archives: So, is HS2 ‘driven’ by the EU?

With the Brexit talks starting, we felt it might be a good time to revisit this article:

So is HS2 ‘driven’ by the EU? [TEN-T blog 2]

This is the second of a series of articles about the European Transport network, TEN-T, by Madeleine Wahlberg. 

This is the second of a series of blogs that we will publish on the link between HS2 and the EU’s Transport policy (TEN-T)1. The previous blog on this set out some of the basic elements of TEN-T policy and can be found here: So what has Tallinn got to do with HS2 .

In this blog I want to say something about the overall thrust of TEN-T policy and the extent to which it has or has not ‘driven’ HS2.

The most important thing to grasp is that the TEN-T proposals are not just a set of nice ideas for routes across Europe, with a handy pot of money attached. Once this was what they were, but no longer. Now TEN-T policy is both more politicised and it is no longer so voluntary.

Unfortunately for TEN-T policy, over the years Member States have not got on and done what they were supposed to do in terms of building the transport networks that they all agreed would be a good idea. So a key feature of the 2013 revision of the TEN-T policy is that the EC will play a more dominant role in getting the actual infrastructure built and running. This is through what they refer to as the new governance instrument of TEN-T policy.

What does this involve? Well the policy is still very fresh and some details are still vague/ being kept under wraps/ contested, but basically the EC will appoint a Co-ordinator for each of the 9 Core Corridors2. The Member States will have to agree to the particular person appointed but that person will then set up and take the lead on a Corridor Forum (also sometimes called a ‘Platform’) of stakeholders: “Corridor platforms will be created to bring all relevant stakeholders and Member States together. The corridor platform is a governance structure that will devise and implement ‘corridor work plans’ so that work along the corridor, in different Member States and at different stages of progress can be joined effectively. European Coordinators will chair the corridor platforms for the key corridors on the core network.3

It would be wrong to suggest that the EU Co-ordinators will have clear control over Member States but it is right to suggest that that is the sort of thing the EC has in mind in cases where the Member State is just not managing to get on with the job of implementing TEN-T4. And it is right to note that each Member State will just be one category of stakeholder amongst others on the EC Forums. Other areas of current ambiguity include the extent to which these Forums are advisory or are the places where decisions will be made; and whether there is just one Forum, with all stakeholders present, or more than one Forum with some of them being more like weaker consultative bodies for a ‘second tier’ of stakeholder. Sorry – I don’t have all of the answers yet – but nor do I think the EC has worked it all out! This is clearly a ‘hot’ political issue and in Tallinn5 there was a definite gap between what the EC ‘movers and shakers’ said over a cup of coffee, and what they were prepared to write down in speech notes or in the document to be agreed by the European Parliament next week.

The official reasoning behind these Co-ordinators is that the 9 Core Corridors go right across Europe and are each intended to function as a united route within a ‘Single European Transport Area’. The thinking goes that no single country can develop or manage their bit of the Corridor independently of the others so the power to take the development and management of TEN-T proposals under the wings of the European Commission is claimed through the EU’s subsidiarity principle: “The coordinated development of a trans-European transport network to support transport flows within the single European market and economic, social and territorial cohesion within Europe requires action to be taken at European Union level, as such action could not be taken individually by Member States.”6

Behind this more ‘common sense’ justification for why powers should now pass to the EC over TEN-T implementation, there are more ‘political’ reasons which the next blog will focus on. Suffice it to say at the moment that the EC doesn’t just want to build infrastructure. It also wants to change the way that infrastructure is owned and run across Europe; wants to take infrastructure out of the vagaries of changing national politics; and is very focused on providing a long term stable environment for private investors.

So back to the original question: Is HS2 ‘driven’ by the EU?

Up until now, the answer has to have been ‘no, not entirely.’

  • The EU treaties (eg Maastricht but others too) have definitely been behind the drive to create a Single European Rail Area and integrated transport networks of all kinds. But within this, it was each Member State that originally identified their key routes for improvement and modernisation and the EC focused on identifying important border crossings and gaps in networks so as to develop (principally freight routes) across the entire EU.

  • All the Member States were encouraged to develop their section of the routes but there was no compulsion to do this. As a consequence, after over 30 years the EC found that national priorities were often more important than the EU priorities and Member States were not getting on with the job of building the TEN-T routes.7

  • In the case of the UK, the earlier EC maps identified the West and East Coast main lines and the east west Bristol to Channel Tunnel routes as Core TEN-T HSR routes8. Additionally there were a number of other key routes, by road and rail, eg to Felixstowe, Southampton and Liverpool.

  • So up until 2010/11, the WCML was the identified, west side of Britain TEN-T route and scheme for improvement and it was called Priority Project 14. You can track the TEN-T financing that was given for the WCML modernisation9, and indeed, as far as the EC and TEN-T administrators were concerned, at the end of the WCML modernisation, it was listed as a completed TEN-T Priority Project 1410. You might say ‘job done’ as far as TEN-T was concerned.

  • However, it was around 2011 that the TEN-T maps suddenly changed and WCML London to Birmingham mysteriously appeared downgraded from ‘Core’ to ‘Comprehensive’ status (but the rest of the line Birmingham to Scotland was left as ‘Core’).

  • Under the revision of TEN-T policy in which ‘Core Corridors’ were to be identified, (wider than just a single line, and preferably multi-modal) a dotted line identifying a new HSR Core route between London and Birmingham appeared. Out of the blue, the UK went from having completed its obligations to the TEN-T programme (by finalising the WCML modernisation), back to being on the starting blocks with a new HSR from London to Birmingham.

  • Yes, the EC was pushing for the identification of the route for the Core Corridor between Ireland and France but it was the UK government that decided where the Core Corridor would be as it crossed the UK. They were just supposed to follow a particular EC methodology in doing this but otherwise TEN-T had nothing to do with choosing either the general or the specific route of what became HS2. However, if anyone on the EC was doing their job, there must have been some strange conversations between the UK Government and the EC given that the EC had already used its precious resources for the WCML modernisation only to find the plan to keep this as the Core route was junked by the UK Government! Job Undone!11

  • It was also the UK government that decided to invest in what was now called Corridor 8, with a hyper speed 400kph scheme. The EC did and does encourage ‘high speed’ (201kph) but as they felt that the UK was already well endowed with a high mileage of HSR12 there will have been little pressure to insist on more, particularly not paralleling a line that was already classed as HSR. So, again, it is the UK Government that has to take responsibility for the choice of a hyper speed line.

  • Moreover, overall Corridor 8 (Cork/Belfast to Marseilles) was and is not a top priority for TEN-T.13 So again, it is the UK Government that has to take responsibility for devising such a high-expenditure scheme on a low priority route. However, it is at this point that the EC has to start to share responsibility for the specific HS2 scheme. Was it really appropriate to say yes to a second scheme along the same corridor as one that had just been completed with their money?

Hopefully that has sorted out where I feel that the UK Government is responsible for HS2.

Now let us turn to the content of the latest version of TEN-T policy to see if this new policy can be said to be ‘driving’ HS2.

  • There are many questions to put to the EC about the extent to which HS2 does not fulfil the criteria that the TEN-T policy lays out for its schemes – but that will be a separate blog. However, some might say ‘more’s the pity’ that the EC has not been driving HS2 in terms of the clear requirements under TEN-T for sustainable transport that responds to targets for CO2 reduction and that avoids environmental destruction and fully mitigates it where it isn’t avoided. The EC should take responsibility for NOT being the driver of HS2 in these respects.

  • Co-operation on transport developments between all the Member States of the EU and their regular meetings including with some appointed Co-ordinators for particular routes, is something that has been going on for some time. Co-operation as such is not new and has not been a specific ‘driver’ of HS2. BUT and here comes the difference, previous co-operation has largely been on technical issues like braking, signalling, safety systems etc in order to secure inter-operability across Europe. (TEN-T is really keen on inter-operability – opening all the national markets to competition from across Europe.)

  • What is new, and what will ‘drive’ HS2, is the current proposal for an EC Co-ordinator to take the lead in developing and managing Corridor 8, which includes HS2. What is new is that TEN-T is coming with a governance package. The beginning of this blog described some of that.

  • What is new is that the development of HS2 will be driven by European priorities14 – what is best for the whole of Corridor 8 from Cork to Marseilles – not what is best for UK transport networks.

  • What is new is that there is now a commitment from the Member States to implement TEN-T. It’s not just a voluntary plan.

  • What is new is that by extracting the Core routes from the rest of the Comprehensive network, and putting them under this new, separate governance instrument, the integration of HS2 with the rest of the classic network will be both more difficult and even lower priority than the current HS2 proposals for integration, which are weak enough.

  • What is new is that the role of the UK Government will be reduced to one of many stakeholders on the governance forum for Corridor 8.15

  • What is new is that changing UK governments will not be able to change their transport priorities in relation to Corridor 8. TEN-T policy has been “secured”.

  • What is new is that the Conservative Government, despite Cameron’s political wish to repatriate powers from the EC back to the UK will not be able to do this. His Government is next week signing up to a policy that will do the reverse – give more powers to the EU over transport.

  • What is new is that despite voices in Labour arguing that we should re-nationalise rail, they too will sign up to TEN-T policy next week which is specifically committed to the reverse – privatising everything about the network and the service.

So is the EC ‘driving’ HS2? Well, the conclusion must be ‘yes, increasingly so but the Government and the Labour Party are fully complicit in this. They have signed up to the policy. But just to be clear – there is NOTHING in current TEN-T proposals for Corridor 8 that says that the specific HS2 scheme MUST be built. All that is required is investment to reach HSR where possible and as said above – TEN-T already counts all of the UK’s 201kph services as HSR. It seems that TEN-T policy could be exactly and more easily fulfilled by pursuing 51M’s or the NEF proposals. The EU is not asking for HS2, the current Government is.

And to finish off, there is something else interesting about Corridor 8 on the TEN-T maps to be agreed next week in the European Parliament16. It doesn’t go to Leeds. Nor Sheffield. In fact, the whole East Y is not there. Now either someone has made a ghastly mistake and forgotten to include the East Y, or it is on purpose. Remember that it is not the EC that has decided on the route for Corridor 8. It is the UK Government. The only reason to downgrade the East Y would be to lower its priority. The Core routes have to be achieved by 2030, the Comprehensive network by 2050. And I think that puts a pretty big question mark over the current Government’s intention to prioritise rail investment to Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds and on. I’m not sure whether the DfT/ HS2Ltd shouldn’t be taken to court if they are going to claim WEIs for the route to Leeds if the completion of the east Y has been downgraded in this way. And I’m not sure that Cameron’s claim to be concerned with combating North South issues is worth the paper it is written on if his Government have just downgraded the East Y. Or was it a mistake????

The next blog will outline more of the ‘political’ programme that TEN-T is bound up with.

1 This portal will give access to many of the basic papers on TEN-T http://ec.europa.eu/transport/themes/infrastructure/index_en.htm and here is a summary of the current proposals http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-13-897_en.htm

2 Yes there have been both trans-national talks and Co-ordinators before but the new proposal is quite different – read on …

4 The latest drafts of the documentation on these Forums have now inserted phrases to confirm that the Member State is actually still in charge of implementing transport projects. But the very fact that this has had to be inserted at this late stage underlines that this has been in doubt.

5 Tallinn was the location of the 2013 meeting of the TEN-T – for details of the event see first blog in this series.

8 Remember from the first blog, that as far as the EC is concerned, speeds of 201kph on improved track are counted as HSR.

11 Perhaps that is why the funds for WCML stations and more started to dry up? See reference in 9 above.

12 West and East Coast track up to Scotland and most of the line to Bristol are shown as HSR on TEN-T maps.

13 Much more urgent tasks await in the East and South East of the EU, and they were/are locked into Euro-guzzling schemes like the Alpine tunnels.

14 Termed ‘European Added Value’.

15 Do the arithmetic – 5 representatives of the member states Ireland, UK, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Will these be national politicians or civil servants or both? Then add some regional representatives because we can be sure that Northern Ireland, Scotland (West Midlands? Kent?), and I don’t know how many regions across France and Belgium, will also want to be there where decisions are made. It is their budgets that will be spent. Toss in some local representatives; generously sprinkle on infrastructure companies and add the final spice of civic voice from all the areas that a proposed corridor will go through – and we have how many stakeholders per Forum??????

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