Since the start of the propaganda farce that is The HS2 Consultation, the pro-HS2 lobby has been out in force. This was always on the cards as it is the very reason we are at this stage, with HS2 being punted as the only game in town for exactly the reasons Sir Rod Eddington concluded in his 2006 transport study; “The challenge to be tackled was not fully understood before a solution was generated, due to intense political lobbying from advocates.” It was only inevitable that once the phoney war was over, we would see far more ‘intense political lobbying from advocates’ and that these advocates would still not fully understand, because they simply don’t feel they need to.
There is a lot of bluster, but is there actually public support, beyond politicians and businessmen who only want to hear one side of the story? Even the Birmingham Post survey showed the public are against it, and as this is written, the Stop HS2 Petition is pushing the 40,000 mark, whilst the Yes To HS2 Petition has managed just over 200 signatures.
Maybe given that, it’s not a total surprise that one of the main things the pro-camp have been doing is attacking Stop HS2 campaigners on a personal level, trying to put them off, saying that we as individuals we are ‘frightening’ and ‘misleading’ people with lies, when all we are doing is quoting information from the HS2 consultation documents. It is those consultation documents which truly mislead and frighten. Another myth, which sadly Private Eye has missed the mark on this fortnight, is that we are all rich, Tory, land-owning, luddite, southern nimbies, with my personal favourite being when they repeat Philip Hammonds spin, insisting that we are incredibly well funded. For one, I am yet to see this, but we have a pro-lobby which we all know has been funded by businesses and government. As for well funded, I know I am not alone in having stopped doing as much on a national level as I had been doing because I could not financially afford to keep it up.
A couple of weeks ago, the pro-lobby turned to the local press in Kenilworth, first with someone an anonymous correspondent attacking me personally without any verifiable facts, and then a certain Mr Alan Marshall appeared. After the lengthy letters kicking it off, my first response came out at 3036 words, longer than this article for the Kenilworth Weekly News letters page, meaning they quickly introduced a 300 word limit! That helped as next time I could counter one only of the issues from Mr Marshall, a myth that this week has repeated from advocates, and the one point that truly highlighted the width of the gap between myth and reality; “[HS2] will be hardly wider than a single carriageway road”, which as Mr Marshall would have put it, was a vastly “Misleading contradiction”.
He was seeking to counter information we had up in the window of Woolworths for about seven months, that HS2 would be wider than the A46, a six lane dual carriageway which passes the Kenilworth, when the simple measurement of this road shows that the final standard land take of HS2 would be almost three times wider than the road surface. HS2 is more like a runway than a railway in terms of land take.
Page 92 of the main consultation document shows quite clearly, that the internal fence to fence width of HS2 is to be 22 metres at speed. The A46, with six lanes is 27 metres, so take out the central reservation and that bit is pretty much dead on six lanes of road. Of course, a mock-up of HS2 recently posted on the HS2 Ltd website shows it as just three lanes of road. But 22 metres is just the distance between the internal fences. Back in March 2010, the proposal documents clearly stated there would be ‘no-vegetation zones’, averaging 25 metres each side, which could be bigger, depending on the depth of embankments and cuttings. So what happened to them? They are not now shown in the land take on page 92, so surely good news? No, like the feeble attempt at greenwashing that cut and cover tunnels are, they have dug a hole and buried those 50 metres. They can now be found in the Appraisal of Sustainability (Volume I, Page 8 ) and the term is now the much nicer sounding ‘clearance’, which might have stuff planted on it in places, if they decide the leaves aren’t a problem. They haven’t done the work on that one yet. Last week at a meeting in Warwick, HS2 Ltd Chief Engineer, Professor Andrew McNaughton, confirmed that they would only make a decision on planting after Secretary of State Philip Hammond had made his decision whether or not to proceed with HS2. He was willing to go as far as grass though. However, without realising it, he also confirmed they intend to rush HS2 through stating that they hope to have made the decision on planting (i.e. after Hammonds decision to proceed) ‘by the end of the calendar year.’
So we are looking at a land take of 22+25+25= 72 metres, or over 200 feet. For anyone watching the FA Cup Semi-Finals this weekend, the pitch at Wembley is just 69 metres wide. As Mr Marshall had come up with be ‘hardly wider than a single carriageway road’, the gap between myth and reality on that one was about 16/17 lanes of road. Of course, if you take a look at the engineering specifications for gradients, the land take could be a lot bigger than that, as simply using HS2 Ltds own formulae and the depth of the line compared to current ground level, we have found the biggest land take on the Kenilworth Map (23) to be 105 metres. This width is of course not adequately represented on Map 23.
My real concern was that printed directly after my letter about on this in the KWN, was another from Alan Marshall. It explained why he’d got so upset that I’d got ‘Rail’ and ‘Rail News’ magazines mixed up before, as he signed off; ‘Alan Marshall, Editorial Director RAILNEWS.’ That was just scary, because that is one of those people who others will see as an ‘expert’, while I am simply a ‘nimby’ and the one portrayed as being motivated by self-interests. He had been willing to say I was say I’d deliberately got things completely wrong, when in reality he either hadn’t got the first clue what he was talking about, or knew he was lying. Worse still was his actual letter, which stated; “The three principal media reporting the British railway industry — Railnews, Rail and Modern Railways — have all now declared their support for the HS2 project”. This just left me wondering if the other two were as well informed and objective as the first one clearly isn’t. It also reminded me of when BBC Midlands Today reported from the consultation launch that ‘Business leaders support HS2’, with interviews from representatives of Siemens (who make trains) and Bombardier (who also make trains). Perhaps in the next few weeks we will hear other startling revelations, such as finding out that Easter Eggs are generally popular amongst children?
Of course this sort of playing the man and not the ball from all comers is what a lot of us have become accustomed to over the last year, and at least this time it is coming from the advocates, the people who are the real opposition! Oddly enough, they all seem –at least with me- to be picking on this issue of width. The next bloke was Martin Cross, a ‘Railwayman of 37 years’, who responded to the posting of this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QI1wNuK7mm0 on the Woodland Trust Woodwatch Facebook page, the day that organisation launched environmental campaigns joint statement of opposition to HS2. He started off with “Believe what this chap says and you will be mislead, on purpose.” Hopefully he has now left contented that he has ‘exposed’ me, without being able to counter one single fact that I put forward, only attempting the land take and claiming “Alan Marshall was mostly correct”. If anyone else wants to give him the opportunity to be ’exposed’, please click the link.
It’s sad really, but it does truly highlight that we are engaged in a political campaign against a flagship government policy. All an opposition like this will offer is saying; “You are wrong about everything”, as that this is what happens at this level of politics and has to happen from their point of view, due to the plan for HS2 not standing up to any scrutiny whatsoever. As Andrea Leadsom MP said in the recent Westminster Hall debate, the thing that annoys her most is the level they are trying to have the debate at, which is simply to attack opponents of HS2 as people not fit to hold a considered opinion based on facts, when it is the proponents who have the real vested interest, a vested interest which blinds them to the facts of the matter. This is proper yah-boo, because they think it is a winning tactic and there is so little substance in their argument.
This takes us back to the real problem with HS2; the facts, the facts as portrayed in the consultation, and the propaganda surrounding the consultation. Many of us have said that every time we find out something new about HS2, it gets worse, and the meeting in Warwick that happened again. Mostly due to the lack of facts we got from it. We’ve spent all year telling HS2 Ltd things that are in their documents which they have missed. I remember telling Professor McNaughton back in September about a large electricity substation in Burton Green that HS2 goes through, he wrote it down and said he’d look into it. HS2 Ltd tweaked the maps for February and it’s not that it still goes through it, but there is no plan for what happens next, there will have to be a new one, so where is it? More importantly, this means that the cost of moving a significantly large substation, along with loads of similar things along the route isn’t represented in the bottom line and won’t be until after the decision and the EIA.
At the meeting with him last week the subject came round to Burton Green again. This time it was about whether or not the village hall gets knocked down or not, because after a year of being asked, HS2 Ltd haven’t got a simple answer to what the land take required for construction at that point will be. What was a deep cutting has become a ‘green tunnel’, which means it’ll be a deeper cutting that they will cover over. Prof. McNaughton and Ian Cox went round in circles for five or ten minutes about how wide this was going to be and where the information was and there was just no answer. In the end I asked if he could just tell us the dimensions of the tunnel walls, and then at least have a starting point to work it out from, and not just for Burton Green. McNaughton said this was the obvious answer, but he; the Chief Engineer, didn’t know how wide the tunnels are on what he has previously described as “My Railway”.
And that’s the thing, the people who went to that meeting were looking for some answers, or facts as we like to call them, and we didn’t get a lot. They want to do more than statutory to minimise impacts, they want to invest in wildlife sites, and they are “Seeking to maintain rights of way in principle”, but “We do not use the word commitment”. The most telling thing he said is; “Right now we have to have a successful consultation – in that it is seen to be an open consultation.” Professor McNaughton also admitted the deficiencies of the plans which have gone to consultation; “All the maps show so far is that Yorkshire is somewhere to the north east of Birmingham.”
McNaughton can always be relied on for his candour, as he once let on the real reason we are where we are; “There is a political will in this country for high speed rail, if the French can do it, why can’t we?” I’m sure the feeling amongst the people who felt that way now feel; “It was bad enough when it was just the French and the Germans, but come on, the bloody Spanish have got it now!” Spain, for those of you who didn’t know is a massive country, mostly flat with not a great deal in the middle of it. Spain is also on the brink of complete financial meltdown, or so Robert Peston keeps saying. Something to do with taking too many loans out on stuff they couldn’t afford, I seem to remember.
The last thing to mention is that the Professor said that everyone was being presented with the same information, the information from the consultation, there were no discrepancies, no matter where the meeting. This one I was willing to take, and believed it all the way up until after the meeting. Just after I’d found a C4 envelope to stick the classy biscuits in to supplement a picnic at the weekend with, I found one solitary 3 page fold out A5 leaflet ‘High Speed Rail, Investing in Britain’s Future. Have Your Say’, which is in use for the current consultation. I opened it up and immediately thought, “Hang on, that’s a different bloody map!” And you know what? It was a different bloody map!
More on this in my next article, but for now unlike the ‘national’ map in the main consultation document, only Liverpool is marked as being served with HS2 trains running to it on current lines. As for Glasgow and Edinburgh, the dotted Y coming up from Manchester is in this publication a ‘possible extension of the core network’, as is the line on the other side as far as Newcastle, as had been previously published. So which map are we working on? A document which is being given out during the consultation shows a completely different proposition for the extended Y, something which will influence the way different people look at question two in the consultation. In the consultation document, the map reads like trains will be able to go straight up to Scotland on both sides as soon as the lines to Manchester and Leeds are finished. In this leaflet, it looks like they will be kept waiting for Stage 3 of HS2, but they will get HS2 eventually, with a different route, at an extra cost of course. Which is it?
This is the state of things at this point, during public consultation. This, the rest of the consultation documents and the questions in the consultation itself shows that the whole thing is a farcical sham and must be treated as such. Pressure has to be put on Cameron & Hammond to be called to hold a public inquiry, because otherwise £32.2bn plus whatever else it’ll cost could be spent for little more reason than “intense political lobbying from advocates.”