Joe’s HS2 speech to the party conference

This is the text of a speech given by Joe Rukin at the UKIP party conference last week: his trip also included stops at the Green party and Plaid Cmyru.

High Speed Rail. Those three words, high speed rail. It sounds like it must be a great idea, doesn’t it? That’s what I thought when I first heard those words, but then I committed the cardinal sin, I looked behind the spin and actually read the plans. On doing that, I quickly concluded that HS2 has no business case, no environmental case and there is clearly no money to pay for it.

Over the last year the Government has come up with that it will be wonderful for the environment, that it has a strong business case, that it will be value for money, that it will change the economic geography of the UK, that it will create jobs, that it will solve the country’s transport problems and that it is a magic wand that will cure the north south divide.

Those have been the arguments they have put up and they have been arguments made of straw, as they have put them up, we have knocked them down.

The reason the arguments have been so flimsy is because they started from of a point of “high speed rail is the answer, now what is the question?”

I wonder if you can guess why the UK Government came from that starting point of saying we had to have high speed rail? Come on, this is UKIP conference!

Of course, there is a European directive for a high speed rail network, so we can’t improve our existing network as their trains won’t go under our bridges and you can’t even look at other options like having a maglev because that’s not what Europe has got and shock and horror, that would mean you had to change trains to go to the continent. Oddly enough the only part of HS1, the channel tunnel link that makes money is St Pancreas Station, for the very reason that you have to change trains there.

In the best traditions of the EU, HS2 solves a tiny bit of a massive problem in the most expensive, and most environmentally damaging way. But as unpopular as this might sound here, there has been something very positive for the Stop HS2 campaign which has come out of the EU, the tireless work in the West Midlands of our MEPs, Mike Natrass and Nikki Sinclaire, for which we are highly indebted and I thank UKIP as a party for standing shoulder to shoulder with us and opposing this colossal vanity project which will only benefit the richest at a time when the country is bust, and is simply not what this country needs.

They said there would be environmental benefits and the coalition agreement says it helps us get a low carbon economy, but even the government’s own plans say that is a lie, in that HS2 will not lower carbon emissions and in that statement, they have ignored the carbon cost of construction, they have ignored the roadworks that will cause and they have ignored the fact people will have to drive to out of town parkway stations. That is before you look at the 21 ancient woodlands and 160 wildlife sites which will be impacted just by the first stage, getting from London to Birmingham.

They said it has a strong business case. Even on their own 60 year plans, it never makes any money. They say it will bring £44bn worth of economic benefits, but how do you get those? From the cash value of time. You start off with the completely false presumption that all time on trains is wasted, so if you have ever seen someone on a laptop on a train working away, you are wrong, that does not happen. You then put a cash value on the time saved by going faster based on the idea that everyone on the train earns £70k, multiply it by a grossly inflated passenger forecast and multiply it by 60 years. That gives you £38bn out of the £44bn. Last year they were saying £67bn, but this had to come down as they revised the passenger forecast from a 267% increase to a 214% increase. The reputable forecast for the same period are in the 70s. But that lead to something amazing, when Philip Hammond launched the consultation he more or less said, last year we were saying there would be £67 billion, now it’s £44 billion, yeah that’s right we’ve already lost a third of the economic benefits, so this must be great.

Then you have the costs. Last year it was £17.8bn for the first stage from London to Birmingham. They moved about half the route, added a link to HS1 and hey presto, still £17.8bn. The same is true for the £32bn quoted for the full network with branches to Manchester and Leeds after it had the Heathrow link added. This is all on 2009 costs, does not include VAT or interest on the loans and of course this is just the cost of construction. Trains are extra and I’m sure no-one in this room is naive enough to believe a massive government construction project, the almightiest white elephant ever would ever come in either on time or on budget.

The worst thing is of course HS2 will just benefit the richest few in the areas which already have the best transport links. The last thing the sustainable development commission said before it’s abolition was, that besides HS2 being completely unsustainable, that it would mean putting in a massive subsidy to something which only benefits the richest in society. And the validity of the plans for HS2 has been questioned by Natural England, English Heritage, the New Economics Foundation, the Tax Payers Alliance, the Wildlife Trusts, the Woodland Trust, Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs to name but a few.

The worst thing of course is that there is an alternative, investing in the current network. Improvements in signaling, which in some places is still Victorian means you can run more trains. We have had British built trains on our network with a top speed of 160mph since 1990, but they can’t go at that speed because the money has never been spent on the signals. There are simple pinchpoints which can be addressed and simplest of all, you could have longer trains. If part of the solution is simply more carriages, they could be built at Bombardier in Derby, but it might not surprise you to learn that the Yes to HS2 campaign bus has Siemens written on the side. The fact is that investing in the current network will mean more benefits to more people more quickly for less money. The only response we get saying that to government is for them to call us luddites and nimbies.

There is one thing they got right though, HS2 might change the economic geography of the UK. Just this week, Mark Barry from the Caridff Business Partnership went to the transport select committee quoting a report from KMPG commissioned by Greengauge 21, who believe it or not are a pro-HS2 lobby grou. The report said that HS2 will cost Wales 21k jobs and the West Country 47k jobs. Everywhere else not on the core network will suffer similar fates. HS2 doesn’t create jobs, it moves them and HS2 will suck economic activity away from the areas that need it most in support of the regional supercities agenda, an attempt to make us more like Europe.

Other cities will actually lose train services if HS2 goes ahead. Coventry has 3 trains an hour to London because it is part of the service to Birmingham. If you take out the London to Birmingham part and put it on HS2, you cannot justify those trains to Coventry. Many other cities like Stoke and Leicester will suffer a similar fate.

They say we need HS2 to catch up with Europe, but if you take Spain, Italy, Germany and France and look at the journey times between major cities, Britain wins, because Britain is a different country. We are not catching up with them, they are still catching up with us. Britain does not need this solution imposed on us from Brussels, we need a solution which suits this country and benefits the people of this Britain and at this time we cannot afford a gargantuan white elephant that makes the millennium dome look like a duck house just because we’ve been told to do it to be like them.

Thank you for your support on this issue, together we can stop hs2.

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