Joe Rukin writes about HS2 and airport expansion.
One of the questions I keep getting asked by people who cannot see the point of HS2 is “Who is it for?” There are of course two issues in that question, firstly who will use it, but secondly what it is its purpose? Lord Adonis, who quickly pushed through his HS2 plans in March 2010 before getting turfed out of office, recently insisted it is about capacity, not speed, despite the fact it was him who delivered the original brief of a track capable of 250mph. In that meeting he also tried to tell Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce that the cost of upgrading the existing rail infrastructure via Rail Package 2 would be more expensive than HS2, a blag even the DfT didn’t try to pull when they jacked up the RP2 costs last month, from less than a fifth of the £32.2bn to just over a quarter.
The other thing Adonis came up with was the oft-punted myth, based on the misquoted idea that rail usage will increase by about 10% every year, was that the we should all panic because the West Coast Main Line will soon run out of capacity. I’m not sure how saying the WCML will run out of capacity before HS2 will be built helps the HS2 cause though, when it is up against more quickly deliverable upgrades of the WCML! But in a way, he is telling the truth when he says HS2 is about capacity, it’s just not about rail capacity. Having spoken to someone who was at HS2 Engineers ARUP (the ones who last year told all their employees not to travel for work, but use video conferencing instead) when that original brief came in, he confirmed that it was about developing an alternative to a third runway at Heathrow, using High Speed Rail. This could not be clearer as HS2 is the line which joins the dots of airport expansion.
It was obvious from when the very first plans outlining the proposed Y network became available in March 2010, that the main purpose of HS2 was to connect airports. Heathrow wasn’t a definite at that time, but we all knew it would get added by the new Government. Birmingham International, or rather a plot a mile and a half away on top of farmland and a Motor Cross track, was confirmed at the start, and then you had; ‘East Midlands’, somewhere between Nottingham & Derby, ‘South Yorkshire’, somewhere around the Sheffield/Doncaster Area, and most obviously with the track that was originally shown in March 2010 going to Newcastle, there was ‘Teesside Interchange’. That last one was the final straw which led me to figure out exactly the scale of the map, just so I could measure where it was. It should come as no surprise to you that it was exactly where Tees Valley Airport is. Whilst pro-HS2 campaigners have recently tried to ridicule those who would point the fact these will be stations at airports as attempted ‘clairvoyants’, the actual fact is it couldn’t be more bleeding obvious. As the same people have found themselves admitting that the increase in the cost of HS2 since 2010 doesn’t even reflect the officially downgraded cost of the additional link to Heathrow -without actually accepting that point, I’m sure these facts will be portrayed as almost satanic.
The other thing that became bleeding obvious at the start was the environmental damage HS2 would bring. This of course wasn’t just the really obvious stuff you could see, like the 160 designated wildlife sites which The Wildlife Trusts say are at threat from just the first stage of HS2 to Birmingham. There’s the less obvious fact that HS2 is an unsustainable method of travel, although it sounds like it must be a good idea environmentally? George Monbiot was quickest out of the blocks to answer that question in spotting the environmental damage HS2 would cause in his blog post Fast Train to Nowhere and his Guardian column back in May 2010. Besides pointing out that the Government hadn’t considered the carbon cost of constructing what is effectively a runway through England, he also noticed that; “Journeys from London to Manchester will produce 60% more carbon than conventional rail and 35% more carbon than car journeys. They will generate only 25% less carbon than plane travel”.
The reason the CO2 impact is so bad is due to energy required for the 225/250mph speeds we are talking about. Twice as fast equals about three times the energy due to air resistance- that’s why planes fly above the clouds. The only way to compare different modes of transport in terms of CO2 output is of course to work them out as emissions per passenger mile. The second part of that equation has of course changed since last year, as HS2 Ltd were originally predicting a 267% increase in passenger numbers, but when the consultation was launched in February this dropped to 216%. As that lead to the disappearance of a third of the supposed benefits; £23 billion pounds just gone due to the figures that came out of the reworked “How much money is time actually worth?” equation, it’s maybe time George redid his maths to see how much higher the environmental damage of this plane on wheels actually is. Of course in terms of expected passenger increases which are used to work out emissions, Network Rail and the Department for Transport predicted increases of only around 70-73% for the same period.
Advocates of HS2 will of course say the CO2 impact of HS2 depends on where you get the electricity for it. Events in Japan have seen the nuclear fanfare turn to a whisper, but the fact is that whilst some in Government are warning that the lights will go out anyway, HS2 Ltd have paid absolutely no attention to where all the electricity is going to come from and how much this might cost in the future, despite the increasingly evident spiralling cost of power.
When you look at the damage HS2 will create in terms of increased emissions, it is impossible to ignore the fact that it is designed to connect airports, therefore facilitating both the increase of air travel and the demand to develop in green belts. Back when big business was trying to justify the third runway at Heathrow, it was claimed that what the UK really needed was an international transfer hub, and it is clear that this is what HS2 is meant to be. It is said that HS2 is a ‘Grand Project’, which in general end up historically referred to as ‘White Elephants‘, but the reality is HS2 is a grand project which is just part of the grand project.
‘The Grand Project’ is doing the usual and giving big business what it wants, connecting up airports as they expand and delivering quicker commuting times, almost exclusively for those who earn the most. Heathrow might not have got the third runway, so have decided to redevelop Terminal 2 and a simple glance at the Airport Watch website shows you the state of play with expansion at other related airports. In Doncaster, bosses at Robin Hood have asked for planning rules to be relaxed, East Midlands have got planning permission for their runway extension whilst Birmingham have not only got that, but also funding from Government to enable their runway extension by moving the A45.
The one place which I’ve always wondered about is Manchester. The original preliminary reports said that getting HS2 into Central Manchester posed “Significant Challenges”, so at the back of my mind, I’ve always wondered if HS2 would actually get that far. The reason for those ‘challenges’ is that unlike Birmingham and London where HS2 will go next to existing railway lines and therefore through a 150 year old legacy of industry and urban wildlife habitats, in Manchester houses line the rail routes coming in from the South, which would leave a far more visible and unpopular scar. So as it is clear that HS2 is intended to connect other airports, surely the one up North that has two runways would have to be included, and if you are doing that, does it actually need to get to the city centre? There are plans to extend the metro link south and there are already regular trains from the Airport to Manchester Piccadilly, so it is reasonable to ask if that will be connection enough.
Over the Whitsun Weekend, I decided to go to Manchester for the ‘Camp at the end of the Runway’, organised by climate change campaigners and locals opposing the further extension of Manchester Airport. The camp itself was in ‘Arthurs Wood’, beautiful National Trust land on the Rover Bollin, which marks a geological fault line. The wood had been the scene of a permanent camp a decade ago when the goal was to stop the second runway from being built. This however went ahead and now the area faces a new threat from the airport.
The current objections at Manchester Airport revolve around not only a potential increase in flights, but the creation of an ‘enterprise zone’. Manchester’s ‘Airport City’ was one of four enterprise zones confirmed as going ahead in March. The plan is to develop more or less every square inch of green belt in a horse-shoe around the Northern Perimeter. Very much like the way Philip Hammond MP with his NIMBY hat on said Surrey County Council had been bribed to advocate the ‘Airtrack’ plans in his constituency (which he then as Secretary of State for Transport squashed), local authorities will be bribed to let planning applications go through as they will keep business rates in the zones for 25 years, after the initial discount of up to £275k which businesses will receive on those rates. The Governments Communities website clearly states; “All Enterprise Zones will benefit from ….government help to develop radically simplified planning approaches for the zone using, for example, existing local powers to grant automatic planning permission”, effectively a charter for green belt development.
Besides the fact the home brew could take your head off, the feeling around the runway camp was very simple, that any development around the airport could only lead to one thing, an increase in the number of flights, but also that this was the wrong place to at best create jobs or at worst move them to. They quite rightly pointed to the need for jobs to the north of the city, to the areas with greatest deprivation, and were quite clear that jobs being located around the airport only suited one set of people, investors and bosses living in the ‘footballers wives’ Cheshire Triangle to the south of the airport. For anyone who is still unsure about just who HS2 is for, please look at the map of HS2 as printed in the consultation summary. It includes six journey times which will become shorter when HS2 is built. With two of the six, the ‘must see’ destination is Canary Wharf.
Manchester Airport and its’ Cheshire surrounds has a direct parallel with Birmingham Airport, where a similar vein of affluence can be found in the Warwickshire & Solihull villages to the south, around the Lapworth, Knowle and Rowington area. For years, this area has acted as a ‘force field’, preventing Birmingham expanding south of the M42, with airport expansion pushing it the ‘right way’; eastwards toward Coventry. So of course my next task was to see if this area was up for having an Enterprise Zone. As you might expect, ‘Greater Birmingham & Solihull’ is on the list for the next stage. Ignoring the fact I didn’t know there was such a place as ‘Greater Birmingham’, at least not as yet (Coventry Beware!), a general rule of thumb in the past has been that whenever the word ‘Birmingham’ is coupled with the word ‘Solihull’, that means the airport. It’s also worth mentioning that Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire have put in jointly for an Enterprise Zone as well.
Back in March 2010 when HS2 was first being unveiled, Lord Justice Carnworth ruled that the Government plans for a third runway at Heathrow were ‘untenable in law and common sense’. Six weeks and a general election later the plans were dropped. He found that the whole issue of airport expansion was inconsistent with the Climate Change Act 2008. HS2 will provide trains that are nearly as polluting (if not more?) than air travel per passenger mile, it will rip up a runways worth of land from London to Birmingham then Manchester and Leeds, and it will encourage even more green belt development, leading to more people having to travel, by air, rail and road to work at out of town businesses. I wonder what Lord Justice Carnworth would say to that?