We’ll be linking to the full transcript from yesterday’s Transport Select Committee session on HS2 and high speed rail when it becomes available. In the meantime, you can watch the entire session here.
It was clear that the majority of the witnesses – including those who stand to benefit from HSR – thought that HS2 was badly specified and the design process was badly handled.
In the first session, Professor Vickerman from the University of Kent looked at the economic effects.
He compared HS2 to the Paris-Lyon high speed line. The regions round Lyon had lost out, because investment in the area had been centralised on Lyon. “We are pretty good at working out aglomoration in one urban environment. What we don’t know is what happens when you connect two environments.” He later asked whether the Government was willing to lose jobs in one area and move them to another area.
Claims of improvements to the economy tended to be “bigged up” he said. It had happened with High Speed 1, but the economic “effects of HS1 are not visible to the naked eye”.
There was huge concern from the witnesses about how badly the public engagement had been handled.
Fiona Reynolds, National Trust, said that people had been excluded from the earlier debate about the need for high speed rail. We’d learned how to design roads sensitively from road objectors, she commented, but were starting this argument again with HS2. As Ralph Smith from the CPRE said, the M40 had been done “to us, rather then with us” and was still having repercussions 30 years on.
Professionals were not given the information they needed. The Assessment of Sustainability was inadequate even for professionals. It was impossible to compare what was in the document with specific places. Steve Roddick gave the example of the Chilterns, which had been lumped in with Ruislip and Aylesbury. Not even the total landtake of HS2 had been made known.
The airports were surprisingly unenthusiastic about HS2.
The first criticism was that it was not part of a integrated transport strategy. There’d been no aviation industry representative on the challenge groups. And the design, which meant Heathrow passengers had to change at Old Oak Common, was not going to make HS2 the “seamless connection” necessary to encourage airport travellors to use it.
Intrestingly, the representative from Flybe said that when the London terminus of HS1 changed from Waterloo to St Pancras, the number of passengers flying Southampton to Paris from the south of England had increased, showing just important it is to get the location of the stations right.
They thought the possibility of modal shift was limited, with perhaps 2% of flights being removed from Heathrow, but these would be quickly taken up by alternative routes.
Concern was expressed in the third session about the effects on the wider economy.
Mark Barry from the Cardiff Business Partnership was concerned over the effects on Wales. He pointed out that a Greengauge 21 report showed that Wales would lose 21,000 jobs from high speed rail, and the South West a further 40,000, and that those figures were based on the assumption that the GWR route had been electrified.