A Dilemma for Greens

Today’s post was written by Cathryn Symons and was originally posted on The Daily (Maybe).  It has been reproduced with permission.

High Speed Rail poses a dilemma for many Greens. We are in favour of public transport, but also have concerns with the proliferation of long-distance commuting because of the impact it can have on towns and communities which become dormitory places for the mighty metropolis.

We know that rail is one of the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly modes of transport, both for people and for freight, but are also concerned at the environmental damage and carbon emissions caused by large construction projects and aware that rail can be a major energy user. Many Greens are also concerned about the impact of high speed rail on local people and their environment.

The recent government proposals to build a high speed rail link from London to the North, starting with a dedicated London-Birmingham line called HS2, have led to strong debate in the party. It is a debate which was finally resolved in Cardiff last weekend, when conference agreed the Green Party does not support the HS2 project as it stands, and will only support high speed rail when it is clearly shown to be part of an overall policy which reduces demand for travel, CO2 emissions and energy use.

So far, much of the opposition to HS2 has come from local groups who are, quite rightly, concerned about local impacts. HS2 would pass through areas of outstanding natural beauty and disrupt many attractive areas in the Chilterns. In my local area of Camden, there is concern about the loss of social housing as Euston station is expanded, and the effect of tunnelling under Primrose Hill. These are issues which could be sorted out if the project’s backers wished to do so – routes can be changed, social housing replaced and even tunnelling work managed to be less disruptive. The fundamental issues of ever increasing demand for travel, high energy use and CO2 emissions are far harder to deal with.

The HS2 proposal will be, at best, neutral in terms of carbon emissions. The first London-Birmingham leg will not be available until 2026 by which time we will need to have severely reduced emissions, and for a major project like this to not contribute at all seems unreasonable. In fact, the project’s backers have barely even tried to establish the carbon budget for the project.

Perhaps the most severe impact of HS2 comes from its dependence on enormous levels of growth in domestic travel over the coming years. As with building roads, there seems to be a ‘predict and provide’ approach, which simply indulges unnecessary and expensive travel. Birmingham will become part of the London commuter belt, in the way that Peterborough, Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Brighton already are. It is hard to see where that kind of growth will stop, or what use it is. Although claims are made that the line will reduce the North-South divide, and help to regenerate the North, there is no evidence given for this.

HS2 is not a sustainable project. It is possible that, in this small, densely populated country of ours, high speed rail will never really be sustainable. The onus should be on those promoting these projects to show that they benefit society and the environment.

So far, most of the resistance to HS2 has been local and risks being labelled ‘nimbyism’ and so dismissed out of hand. But there are wider issues here, which the Green Party has now acknowledged. Campaigning against this damaging, wasteful project needs to embrace both these wider environmental and social issues and the concerns of the Chilterns householder who finds a railway line planned for her living room.

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35 comments to “A Dilemma for Greens”
  1. There isn’t any dilemma, for Greens or anyone else. Any further development in an already developed or overdeveloped country is a breach of the Biodiversity Convention 1992 (hard law which must be obeyed by signatories) and also of the World Charter for Nature 1982 (not hard law but dramatic international law which ought to be obeyed by all signatories).

    Infrastructure is not only Development in itself, its purpose is to pave the way for further housing and other built environment development. The High Speed Rail will take commuters off the existing line, enabling housing sprawl to increase around every town between Birmingham and London on the old line. In the end, the housing is likely to join up between London and Birmingham.

    All new infrastructure projects in this country are to pave the way for further population increase from abroad and the accompanying development to cater for it, because the existing population of Britain is falling slowly, as it is all over Europe, due to more deaths than births. There has been an exodus of high-ups from the Town and Country Planning Commission to the new Infrastructure centre in Bristol set up by Labour, this is coupled with the new law allowing large infrastructure to be railroaded through Parliament. This suits any “normal” (i.e. insane) political party fine, as it fosters the illusion of Growth.

    There are two ways this will stop: one is a military solution, the other is a recession so massive no-one will be able to pretend any longer that there is any money when there isn’t. There is a third way: obey international law which reflects the inexorable laws of Nature. But we are ruled by lawbreakers, this is not going to happen.

  2. Gary – I don’t support hs2 in it’s current proposal but I’m interested in looking at the alternatives. I would like to hear/see more research done into the freight issue. Again it may not stand up economically but until that’s worked out we don’t know.

    I think it’s worth some research

    What have you got so far?

      • Indeed it has Finmere…..it was last turned down in 2003, and since then we have had 8 years of continuous growth on the rail network. You would note that the proposal was to be funded privately as well !!

        Since then , things have moved on…..to give you an example Tesco and Asda are now using intermodal rail freight ( Eddie Stobart has a rail freight divison to run this ) , and have stated a desire to make much more use of this if the capacity was available.

        To answer Nellys question , there is nothing as definitive as HS2 just now to solve this issue, so its probably a hypothetical question. But the idea of a north/south dedicated rail freight link is very much allive within the logistics community, so my question is…if it was proven that the current plans for the actual rail line route of HS2( not the stations etc ) would deliver both the maximum economic and environmental benefits to the UK if it was a freight only concern, would you support it …yes or no?

        • No. I would not support the route in its present form.

          On the face of it the Central Railway proposal seems eminently more sensible in that it would run alongside existing railways and motorways and not despoil an AONB. And I have noticed that it was to be financed privately. I don’t know why the scheme was not approved.

    • In answer to your question Gary, I would support the concept of a new freight line to take congestion off the roads assuming the economics stood up. I would not support any route that went through an AONB such as the chilterns. I think there have to be better alternatives. Interesting article fin mere on the central railway proposal. I wonder why it hasn’t had support from government when it’s privately funded.

      Gary – question for you – if an alternative route could be found for freight that used existing transport corridors and not through AONB would you support that instead? Assuming the economic case was made? Or are you wedded to the current line?

      I am guessing that you will say that it’s impossible not to go through the chilterns etc but let’s see…

      • Nell – to answer your question with your assumptions – yes I would.

        I m not wedded to the current line by any means, but I have yet to see a current argument from you guys to convince me of that. Whilst I can understand why you have a protest group going, the reality of it is you are coming across as nimbys from what I can see. And if I can see that, then most others would as well.

        I made a point the other week that I think this project should be the subject of a full public inquiry ….. would you agree Nell??

        • Gary I absolutely agree that this project should be the subject of a full public enquiry. I would want a referendum aswell. At least the transport select committee have said they’ll do an enquiry. If you look at the info that some of the action groups have done plus this site and hs2 action alliance etc I think you’ll find that their is now a wealth of research and technical documentation that has been undertaken to examine the economic, environmental and business case.

          If this site comes across as nimbyism to you then that’s a shame and maybe you could explain more clearly with examples why you think this is the case. I personally see this site as the campaign arm of the protest not necessarily the think tank. (iam not linked the site in any way). However, it does reach out to the research and I feel tries to represent the breadth of info out there.
          I think some of the threads have turned sadly into personal attacks on both sides which doesn’t add value to the debate. But it’s a very emotive topic for those who do stand to lose a lot and even ministers acknowledge the impact it will have on local communities. It would be helpful to the debate if the pro hs2 lobby acknowledged this also.

          • Nell – of course its a very emotive subject for those that live on the route, that goes without saying. But the harsh reality is that projects like these are in the national interest, the Chilterns dont exist in a bubble. I mentioned the M40 earlier , no doubt there were protesters when that was built. But you have to be honest and ask yourself are you better off now with it or without it? I myself have used the M40 more than a few times….it passes through some nice countryside. But then so does the M6, and the WCML in Cumbria. And how would you get to Gatwick or Heathrow if you wanted to fly off on holiday etc??

            Our population is increasing, we live on a small island – we cannot stand back and not invest in UK infrastructure. We can only go so far in improving and making do with what we have got.

            Glad to see you would like a public inquiry – your the first one who has mentioned this from the stopHS2 campaigners. Not sure about a referendum…..I seriously doubt that would work in your favour tbh….

  3. If a new freight route was proposed, it would be slower so the track could go around sensitive areas, and would not need to be so wide.It could probably be routed along the motorway.There has been no mention of trying to reduce freight traffic of roads just removing weathy(or those using a firms expences) from an ordinary train with the general workers, at the expense of those workers.

    • Elaine ……that wasnt what I asked….

      Simple yes or no……..if the HS2 line was built as is planned, but was dedicated to freight, would you still object?

      • No point having a high speed freight line.. aside from the massive complexities which would be involved in achieving this (in particular, the huge number of different wagons which would be required for different payloads, and would of course all need to be specialised to the line, no freight wagons in this country go much about 60mph) and of course there is really no need for high speed freight.

        The rail network we already have is under utilised from a freight point of view – the reason there isnt as much freight on the rails as there could be is not to do with a lack of capacity.

        Passenger transport is another kettle of fish… people are reluctant to go on trains due to the fact that they are often no quicker than driving and longer journeys often require multiple changes. I’m in support of anything that improves our transport network.

        • Jonathan – all I m asking here is whether the antiHS2 supporters would object to a freight only line that follows the route of HS2 as is…..with the exception of the stations.

          Simple yes or no……would you object if it was proven that both the environmental and business case was a lot better than the HS2 project?

  4. Lizzy, what did you mean on the last thread when you said ‘we know who you are?’ This sounded quite threatening to me and I’m not sure I appreciate being threatened.

    Please clarify what you meant.

      • Penny, I’m well aware of what data can be captured when you submit anything via the web. The question is, what is being done with it? Is Lizzy building up a dossier of individuals details in order that she can pass the details onto employers for example?

        The phrase ‘we know who you are’ is usually used to threaten people so that is why I want to know what Lizzy meant by it. I note that Lizzy is just keen to stick to a factual description of what she knows from web submissions…I think her comment indicated something rather more sinister.

  5. Looks like there are 1 or 2 contradictions in the Daily Maybe editorial, but anyway…….

    Let me ask a question directed at Lizzy, Penny, Elaine and any other stopHS2 campaigner.

    You acknowledge that there is a need for extra capacity on our rail network…….so if this line was indeed built BUT was dedicated to freight only which would result in hundreds of thousands of HGV journeys being removed from our roads, would you still be objecting?.

    • The proposed HS2 route is wholly unsuitable for freight so your question is wholly hypothetical. Freight traffic has different needs to people traffic: it needs to be trackable for instance. Freight goes to different places to people, as well.

      • Why is it wholly unsuitable for freight?.

        Freight is trackable already no matter where it is…..

        Obviously freight goes to different places, but it still needs to move.

        So I ll ask again……

        Would you still be objecting if it was decided that the proposed high speed line was just dedicated to freight – which would mean trains wouldnt be bombing past at 200mph, and thousands of HGV journeys would be removed from our roads.

        Simple yes or no will suffice…..

          • Penny – a freight line that goes from Euston obviously wouldnt be a good idea, but thats not what I m asking here….

            I ll clarify a little more for you……

            There is an idea floating around that the current proposals for HS2 may well be better served for freight. The idea was that the line that is HS2 would extend from HS1 ( so no need for Euston station ), follow the same route north as is proposed now through Birmingham area , and then on to Manchester/Leeds/Scotland etc….

            There would be no need for new stations – and the line would link up with freight facilities that either already exist, or are being planned.

            The benefits would be that the project would cost a lot less, remove thousands of HGV journeys, and free up some capacity on WCML, ECML, and MML.

            Would you object to that ?

            • So you are starting with the supposition that “High Speed Two” has been canceled. And then you assume that someone in the Department of Transport would say “great: we’ve got some spare plans lying round for a railway designed for 400kph trains to connect certain passenger destinations. Lets just use those for slower freight trains instead, except for a few short stretches in central London!” Is that what you are assuming? Because that is what you are asking.

            • No Penny …….in response to your post at 9.43am, what I m asking is would you object to a railway line dedicated to freight running on the same route as what HS2 is planned now ( with the exception of the stations etc )

              All I ve asked for is a simple yes or no……

            • You’ve agreed it wouldn’t go to Euston, so obviously you agree some changes would need to be made.

              There are other changes which are inevitable, such as changing where it joins the existing freight route to the west of Aylesbury. And then what do you do where the route meets the M25 or the proposed East-West rail-link?

            • Penny – in response to your post at 12.20, I am asking a simple yes or no…..

              Would you support a rail route as is currently HS2 – but dedicated to freight if it was proven that it derived both the maximum economic and environmental benefits??

              Euston would not come into the equation for obvious reasons….

            • Gary, when Elaine suggested that a slower freight route would go round sensitive sites, rather then through them, you wanted an answer to if the “HS2 line was built as is planned”.

              No sensible person would agree to using the HS2 route as planned for freight: even you wouldn’t because the HS2 route as planned goes to Euston.

            • Gary, what point are you trying to make by demanding a firm response on this hypothetical scenario?

              HS2 Ltd have said that there are no plans for the proposed line to carry freight; if you read the Command Paper you will see that they want the trains very fast and full – of people. The proposed speed (and therefore straight track required) is the principal reason HS2Ltd/the Government present for opening up a third transport corridor between London and Birmingham, and, says the Coalition, it is one of those ‘difficult choices’. See Simon Barnes ‘Wild Notebook’ article in yesterday’s Times for the effects on 160 wildlife sites. He lives in Suffolk, btw.

              You say of the proposal to use the current HS2 route for freight instead “the line would link up with freight facilities that either already exist, or are being planned”. Where are these facilities on the London – Birmingham HS2 stretch, please? Anything of that type already existing or planned would be on one of the two existing transport corridors, surely.

              Re road/rail hubs: check out DIRFT, near Daventry: rail connected, very close to major road axes and now going into phase 2. The derelict former GEC Alsthom site in Washwood Heath is in a similar position in NE Birmingham. Why not develop that as a hub instead of leaving it derelict for 10? 15? years to make it a maintenance depot for HS2, as some Birmingham leaders have suggested. Unused brownfield sites on the outskirts of towns are often in evidence on train journeys: ideal locations for rail/road hubs?

              Do we really know why there are so many HGVs on the road: is it due to lack of capacity on rail, the cost of rail or because transporters just prefer to use road? If it’s a preference, the Dft should be working to promote a change in attitude, indeed, the Rail Freight Group has urged them to do just that. Then they’ll have to work on creating alternative jobs for lorry drivers. There are always some who lose out.

            • Penny – in response to your post at 12.55.

              I have already stated that the idea of Euston for a freight only line is not in this ….please read what I post. Now I have asked would you object if the current proposal for a rail line on the same planned route as what is advocated for HS2 is instead used for freight only provided that it was proven that it was the most economic and enviromentally friendly option ?? You seem to be avoiding a simple yes or no answer – which is what politicians are famous for….

            • If you ask a politicians-style question, you get a politicians-style answer. Ask a sensible question, if you expect a sensible answer.

            • Rose – in repsonse to your post

              Do we know why there are so many HGVs on the road…..

              The reality is as things stand , the offering to UK logistics is somewhat one sided – we have built many motorway miles over the last 40 years or so, which has made it a lot easier for everyone ( not just trucks ) to get around. But now we are realising that is coming at a price – ie co2 emissions.

              It is well recognised ( the Green Parties article states it above ) , that rail is more eco friendly than road, and we should be encouraging such activity. But right now, there is very limited capacity to transfer road onto rail in the scale required……

              I know there are no plans for HS2 to carry freight – its a high speed line for passengers. But what it does do is release capacity elsewhere. And lets not forget that HS2 also covers north of Birmingham, not just the the bit between London and Birmingham.

              Agree with you on brownfield sites….

              Check out Port Salford…..this is a proposed development for containers which is dependent on canal and rail…..

              How many of you guys would object to the M40 if it currently didnt exist , but was planned?

      • Business case is……it would defo cost a lot less as there is no need to build new stations.

        Enviorment case is the removal of HGVs from our roads.

        Initial lay out by governent as per now…..but would charge freight hauliers tarck access charges as per now. Bear in mind a freight train can pull tthe equivalent of 60 trucks.

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