Now that the HS2 Consultation is over, there are a few interesting responses coming into the public domain. This is from Brian Coleman, London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden.
Dear Secretary of State
I am writing to you as the London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden to respond formally to the consultation document regarding the proposed introduction of a high speed rail line from London to Birmingham and onwards to Manchester and Leeds and I should be grateful if this letter could be registered as my formal response.
I believe that the Government’s plans for the introduction of a high speed rail line from London to Birmingham and then onwards to Manchester and Leeds are deeply flawed. The reasons for this are manifold and varied, but they fall into three main categories. First, the cost of this project is vast – particularly at a time when the Government is, by necessity, tightening its belt to reduce the UK’s deficit. Second, the disruption that this project would cause is unacceptable. Much attention has been focussed on the Chilterns and areas of outstanding natural beauty, but the plans through Hillingdon and Camden and around Euston station will cause great damage to the life, liberty and property of a great many Londoners including large numbers of my constituents in Camden. Third, there is a lack of evidence both from within this country and around the world that high speed rail will provide anything like the benefits that its adherents assume.
Given the level of indebtedness of this country, at a cost of £17bn for the London – Birmingham stage and £34bn for the completion of the project, High Speed 2 is an unaffordable project. However, whilst the bare figures are stark enough, it is the opportunity cost of these funds that make high speed rail such a poor choice of project. If the money can be found then HS2 does not represent the best option for spending it. Given that HS2 is essentially an additional West Coast Mainline, it is worth noting that for a fraction of its cost you could double capacity on the West Coast Main Line by introducing 12-car trains and switching a first class carriage to standard class.
If Britain is able to spend £34bn on public transport projects then there are a great many smaller projects where that money could be better spent. For example money would be better spent on projects such as:
Crossrail 2/ the Chelsea-Hackney Line
Electrification of all Britain’s mainline rail
Lengthening platforms and providing additional rolling stock to allow longer carriages on a great many lines throughout the country.
Making every family in Britain pay £1000 for high speed rail is quite clearly not the way to incentivise growth.
The disruption that would be caused by proceeding with HS2 will be astronomical. The work that would be needed to transform Euston alone into a station capable of coping with HS2 will take the best part of a decade, massively increase Euston’s footprint, and require the compulsory purchase and destruction of homes and businesses. The Regent’s Park Estate would be demolished, residents of the Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate will have their parade of shops removed and replaced with a 2-storey ventilation shaft, and both the Royal Mail Sorting Office and the Ibis Hotel would disappear. Further to this, much needed redevelopment of, for example, Maria Fidelis Convent School and the Langtrey Walk Shopping Parade will be put on hold until all work at Euston is complete.
In order for Euston to cope with the projected numbers of additional passengers it will undoubtedly be necessary to make further changes such as Crossrail 2 or an additional tube line. Such projects would be beneficial to Londoners, but given they would add untold billions to the cost of HS2 and HS2 is unfeasible without them, these further changes should be factored into any cost equation.
Further disruption will be caused by plans to utilise the increasingly busy North London Line to link HS2 to HS1. The North London Line – which travels from Richmond to Stratford via Camden – will see its services disrupted even as that service becomes ever more reliable and well-used. It marks a pattern where the introduction of HS2 would lead to a serious reduction in the standard of existing services.
Lack of Evidence
Much of the argument in favour of High Speed Rail rests on the view that it has been a huge success around the world and that the cost benefit analysis is strong. This is quite simply untrue. Currently Britain has one high speed line, HS1. For an investment of £7.1bn, over £4bn has had to be written off. Furthermore passenger numbers are around 1/3 of those forecast.
It makes no sense to build a High Speed Rail network in Britain simply because many other countries built such networks 20 or 30 years ago. It makes even less sense when one considers the many differences between Britain and countries where High Speed Rail has been successful. It is clear that the case for High Speed Rail is much improved when it exists to link cities which are great distances apart. However since London and Birmingham are only 100 miles apart, the potential time savings and benefits will be considerably less than they would be in linking, say, Beijing and Shanghai. Finally it is worth noting that around the world, capacity increases have not happened. The business case for HS2 contains assumptions about increased demand, which have rarely been met anywhere.
The Government has failed to make the case for why HS2 is a good way of spending money that we don’t have. It has failed to make the case for why the disruption is a price worth paying and it has failed to provide evidence that HS2 provides useful and sensible solutions to British problems.
I should be grateful if the above could be taken as my formal response to the consultation.
Cllr Brian Coleman AM FRSA