Well, it’s election time and while there have been many times when it felt like were nearing the end of the campaign against HS2 in the past, we are now truly in the endgame of the fight against HS2. As we have been saying for months, HS2 is more likely of being cancelled right now than it ever has been, and whether it will be depends on the outcome of the General Election, so here are the facts. The first thing to point out is that nationally the Green and Brexit Parties are against HS2, Labour and the Liberal-Democrats are for HS2 and as for the Conservatives, well know knows? But of course “who knows” is a lot better from our point of view than it has been at any other point in the last decade!
One of the first things Boris Johnson did when he became Prime Minister was set up what would be a yes/no, no/no-go review into HS2. That was going to be a short, six week review the project which would be headed up by Doug Oakervee. With Oakervee being a former chair of HS2 Ltd this didn’t exactly fill us with confidence, and it seemed to be a clear ploy, as it’s a standard tactic that when you’ve got a controversial subject you don’t want to talk about during a General Election, you just hold a review that reports after the election. This view is of course backed up by the fact that that the election took a while to be called and that ‘short, six week review’ is still nowhere to be seen.
This review was of course being held against a background of there being massively rising costs associated with HS2, with it seeming that the ongoing Serious Fraud Office investigation had prompted slightly more honesty to come out of HS2, as it has been demonstrated in the last few months that Parliament was misled over the costs of the project. It also seems there is a paper trail demonstrating this, which seems to point more at the civil servants -some of whom may have benefitted from the revolving door recruitment practices between HS2 & the DfT and consultants & the contractors – than the politicians. New HS2 Ltd chairman Allan Cook held a ‘Stocktake’ on the project and thrashed the £56bn, which was still the official cost of HS2 just three months ago, upping it to £88bn, but that has been overshadowed by the continual insistence from the Prime Minister that HS2 will cost over £100bn, though whether that includes all the uncosted essential extras which are needed to make it work, is unknown.
There have been many questions over the motivation for having a review. Obviously having a former chair of HS2 in charge of a report which would be written by DfT civil servants after having taken evidence from HS2 Ltd does nothing to suggest it would be objective. Yet No. 10 advisor Dominic Cummings is massively against the project and Johnson appointed Andrew Gilligan, who has sent a decade exposing HS2 failures and lies in the Sunday papers as his transport advisor, so who knows what the agenda is?
The one major drawback with the review is that, much to the surprise of many, it didn’t mean that work was going to stop. The fact the destruction was still planned to go on during the review rather did undermine the idea that reviewing HS2 was an election gimmick, as it would be an insult to the intelligence of the people who live in the constituencies on Phase One to try and make out that the destruction they can see happening out of their windows wasn’t really happening. Though this didn’t stop them trying, as when Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley brought up the continuing destruction of HS2, Conservative Maria Caulfield claimed that due to the review, this was “fake news”.
The reality was HS2 Ltd even wanted to start felling 11 irreplaceable ancient woodlands during a supposed ‘yes-no’ review, as not to do so would mean unnecessary costs and delays to the project. However, like the bunch of absolute morons they are, HS2 Ltd decided to go for South Cubbington Wood, the place that has always been our poster boy for the planned destruction of ancient woodland, first. When they arrived with chainsaws at the end of September, they found residents camped out in the woods in their way. Within four days, all of a sudden they claimed that it now wouldn’t add extra costs and cause delays to defer felling of those 11 ancient woodlands until after the review. Still, another camp in Crackley Woods in Kenilworth was set up a couple of weeks later just in case, and days later campaigners in Great Missenden started camping out by Link Road to successfully prevent tree felling there. The problem is the destruction continues, not least around the Colne Valley Regional Park where a camp has now been in place to try and stop HS2 work for two years, but HS2 are simply attacking too many places at the same time, and there is evidence of not just heavy handed policing, but targeting, with Mark Keir, the Green Party candidate standing against Boris Johnson being arrested three times in a fortnight, twice whilst standing still and watching what HS2 were doing.
Whilst continuing with destructive work during a supposed review at a time when HS2 does not have ‘Notice to Proceed’, or more importantly even a final design makes it seem like this is a foregone conclusion, project have been cancelled having spent more money than HS2 Ltd have. It should also be noted that just because you hold a review to punt something into the post-election long grass, doesn’t mean you have to listen to it, as in 1997 the Dearing Report said student grants should be increased, not abolished as Andrew Adonis (yes, him!) persuaded Tony Blair to do.
On the subject of Labour, when the election was called, they managed to overtake the Liberal-Democrats as the most rabidly pro-HS2 party. HS2 is a great example of the way, like with the EU, Jeremy Corbyn was allowed to have his own opinion before he became leader, as back in the day he voted against the HS2 Preparation Act. Now Labour seems to have capitulated to pressure from a couple of unions, and bizarrely the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which we know better as the vested interest lobbying club George Osborne set up as soon as he left office, oddly enough safe in the insider-trading-style knowledge that HS2 was already running billions over-budget. Labour not only said they would plough ahead with HS2, but committed to going ahead with the “full route” all the way to Scotland and extend high speed rail nationwide, despite the fact the “full route” as planned only goes as far as Manchester and Leeds. Looking at the current cost estimates for what actually currently being proposed, Labour is effectively looking to commit a quarter of a trillion pounds on trying to make HS2 less of a white elephant.
The Liberal-Democrat manifesto seemed to demonstrate that they also do not really have a clue what is going on with HS2, saying they would ensure far tighter financial controls and increased accountability on all projects, whilst singling out HS2 as needing to open as early as possible as they have this fantasy in their heads that it would aid the UK’s decarbonisation goals while minimising the destruction of precious UK habitats and woodland.
The Green Party has of course realised that this wishful thinking version of HS2, the one that is somehow good for the environment, is like climate change denial, as it ignores all the evidence. It’s almost as if the Lib-Dems have consciously thought they need to find some things to show they have different policies to the Greens, so said “Ah, the environmental experts oppose HS2 on environmental grounds, so we’ll support HS2 on environmental grounds. That’ll show people we are different!” Far from being a vehicle to take flights out of the air, HS2 is being lobbied for by airports who see it as essential to their expansion plans, and as for decarbonisation, the official HS2 projections show it, even with their grossly inflated passenger forecasts, not even hitting carbon neutrality after 120 years. Even pretending HS2 will be the greenest form of motorised travel in history whilst pretending other vehicles will be using diesel doesn’t make up for ripping up mature trees to replace them with 350 miles of concrete in a land-take bigger than any single motorway project the country has ever seen.
Besides the Green Party, the only other national party opposing HS2 is the Brexit Party. Indeed, when Nigel Farage launched the Brexit Party, cancelling HS2 was the only piece of domestic policy he was willing to take a position on.
And it was the position of the Brexit Party that really made it look like the Oakervee Review was an election ploy, as the day after the Brexit Party announced they would not fight in the Conservative-held seats along the route, the Oakervee Review was leaked. And surprise, surprise, a review headed by a former chair of HS2, written by DfT civil servants and based on evidence from HS2 Ltd themselves said HS2 was a great idea. Falling directly in line with the spin from lobbyists such as NPP and the oh-so-impartial High Speed Rail Industry Leaders Group, they concluded HS2 would be great for the North of England, handily ignoring every single piece of international evidence (and of course the reality of our current London-based hub and spoke transport system), that it will just drag more economic activity down to the capital.
Of course what we are all waiting for now is what Tony Berkeley has to say. The former chairman of the Rail Freight Group and deputy chair of the Oakervee Review has basically said he wants nothing to do with it, that the whole thing is exactly the sort of spin you’d expect from the people who were put in charge of writing it. Berkeley has sensibly chosen not to launch his findings during the General Election malaise, and may well wait until Oakervee officially reports before he does. But while we wait, both the destruction and the direct action continue. On that score, we’d love to see you down in Denham on 29th December, as whichever way the election goes, we doubt there will be an answer either way this year. The direct action we have seen up until now will only expand, and if you are interested in taking part, we want to hear from you. After the election, we also expect the press to be interested in HS2 again, and they will very much want to hear from people losing land and property without being paid for it.
So there we are. While candidates on the line of route almost always say they are against HS2, we’re not sure that is good enough for Labour and Liberal-Democrats candidates, when their parties are so adamantly for HS2 in their manifestoes. As for the Conservatives, well this is what Boris Johnson said yesterday ay the JCB factory. It’s the usual sort of comment that says everything and nothing at the same time and can and will be interpreted based on what you think. One thing is for certain, we don’t know what it means.
“HS2 I think is a scheme that is running now at £88 billion in estimated costs, projected costs, I think it could go higher, to be perfectly honest. If there is a chance to make HS2 work better, or if Mr Oakervee says it’s a bad idea, then obviously we will have to look very seriously at that. But I want to give you my instincts. I think I’m probably the candidate at this election who has done the most to build massive infrastructure projects, I know a bit about it. I’m a massive enthusiast for it. On the whole, this country is woefully under-provided for fantastic infrastructure. So whatever Doug says, whatever his team says, I’m going to be temperamentally very much inclined to want to go ahead with a great national project if I can. But I’m also going to want to be able to save whatever money I can, those are going to be the instincts I will use when approaching it.”
If you know what that means, especially with the “whatever his team says” line, then well done. What we do know is that both the Green Party and the Brexit Party oppose HS2, that is if you even have the choice to vote for either of them.
Merry Voting, and a Happy New Government!
Joe & Penny
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