This report was produced for the recent Labour Party Policy Review. Submissions closed on 29th July 2011.
Labour Party Policy Review: Transport
This submission is on behalf of Stop HS2. Stop HS2 was formed as a grassroots campaign to oppose HS2 (High Speed Two). Our online petition has nearly 50,000 signatures with many more on paper copies.
Our active members come from a wide range of political backgrounds and include trade union activists and Labour party members.
Penny Gaines, Stop HS2, 131 Warwick Rd, Kenilworth CV8 1HY
What is HS2:
HS2 is the Government’s proposed high speed rail line, which will cost £33 billion to build (2009 prices) and will join just four cities – London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds in a stand-alone “network”. The London-Birmingham route won’t open until 2026, with branches to Manchester and Leeds not operational until the 2030s.
The expected benefits are based on time on trains being wasted but it will cause massive, real environmental damage, as well as damaging the economies of cities which do not have stations.
An integrated transport policy?
HS2 is not part of an integrated transport policy. Reasonable objectives for an integrated transport policy include
• local public transport
• reduce demand for travel,
• reduce carbon emissions,
HS2, as currently proposed, is in direct conflict with all of these.
In addition, links from HS2 to HS1 and to Heathrow were not in the original plan and seem to be afterthoughts to the main design.
Local Public Transport
Spending on local transport can bring greater benefits to more people and faster then the HS2 project would. In particular, spending on local transport is necessary for people on the lowest incomes who rely on it to get to jobs and shops. It is better value for both local growth and sustainability.
Although some organisations such as Centro suggest there may are improvements to local transport near stations as part of the HS2 project, these are not costed and will mean additional spending. However these may not be the priority improvements needed by ordinary local people in the area.
HS2 is another example of spending on transport infrastructure that brings most benefits to London: transport spending on London far exceeds per capita spending on transport elsewhere in the country. As HS2 Ltd say the majority of permanent jobs will be located in London, it would seem that spending on HS2 could count as even more transport spending in London.
Reduce demand for travel
HS2 depends on a massive and long term growth in demand for long distance travel, with a further 22% of passengers using it simply because it has been built. The HS2 Ltd demand forecasts from the original February 2010 proposal suggested that demand for long distance travel would double over the next two decades. The February 2011 HS2 Ltd consultation document used a lower growth rate, but extended demand projections up to 2043, for no reason other then that is when their projected demand for HS2 will have doubled.
The demand forecasts for HS2 ignores competition from the internet and videoconferencing, which will increasingly replace long-distance travel for business purposes. If HS2 goes ahead, by the time it is operational employees in their ‘20s and ‘30s will have grown up communicating via the internet and it will be a natural part of their working lives to use videoconferencing rather then travel to meetings.
Reduce Carbon Emissions
HS2 Ltd say that operating HS2 will be carbon neutral. This is not good enough for a project that is expected to cost £33 billion: especially as it does not include the carbon emissions caused by building HS2.
The amount of modal shift HS2 Ltd is expecting is very slim: 65% of passengers would have transferred to HS2 form using conventional speed railways. Only 6% of passengers will transfer from air, and 7% from car according to HS2 Ltd. However, domestic air passenger numbers are already falling: for example Manchester-London air passengers falling by approximately 5% a year, and many of the remaining passengers transferring to another flight.
Who uses High speed Rail?
High speed rail tends to be used by the wealthiest people. According to the latest data, published 28th July 2011, the top quintile by income travels 3.5 times further by rail then the bottom quintile.1 If fares are subsidized, then the richest people are being subsidized by everyone. If fares are not subsidized, they will be completely unaffordable by the less well off.
This excludes the cost of building HS2 which will be subsidized by the tax payer but produce no revenue until at least 2026. HS2 will not even cover its costs: the Coalition government say that it will never make a profit.
Although HS2 is being promoted on its possible regenerative effect, and the potential to reduce the North-South divide, academic studies are divided on the regenerative effect of high speed rail. Although areas immediately around HS2 stations are likely to experience some job creation, there is concern that these jobs will not be genuinely new jobs, but relocated from areas a bit further from the station.
Further, according to HS2 Ltd, over 70% of the permanent jobs created would be in London. Although there are areas of economic deprivation in London, if the purpose of spending £33 billion is to create northern jobs, this money should be targeted where it will have that effect.
In addition, Birmingham Labour MPs have criticized plans for the depot at Washwood Heath in Birmingham, on the grounds that alternative plans would provide more and better skilled jobs sooner then HS2: the HS2 depot would have about 300 job opportunities, but other alternative plans would provide 3,500 job opportunities, much sooner then any jobs from HS2. These concerns about delayed regeneration are echoed in London along with questions as to whether whatever jobs are created will go to local people.
The HS2 documentation appears to take no account of any job losses to businesses on the route of HS2, caused by the construction or operation of HS2.
Other Environmental Costs
As well as the issue that HS2 will be carbon neutral, it will also have a number of other negative effects on the environment.
These include destruction and damage to at least 21 ancient woods, and 160 wildlife habitats during phase 1 between London and Birmingham. Splitting habitats causes problems for biodiversity, and the sustainability of wildlife populations.
There will also be the loss of amenities used by local people within cities.
For most of it’s route, HS2 is routed through open countryside, splitting farms and risking rural jobs, yet it still manages to cause significant damage in socially deprived areas of London, Aylesbury, Solihull and Birmingham.
Also high speed trains will use more energy then conventional trains: 65% of passengers will have transferred from conventional rail, increasing the country’s energy requirements, and necessitating more power stations,
A “Grand Project”?
Some Stop HS2 members can understand the appeal of a “grand project” as a source of national pride. However, a grand project which flops is a source of national embarrassment, not pride. Around the world, other countries are scaling back on high speed projects. (Please see appendix re HSR projects in other countries.)
The current HS2 proposal has no place in a integrated transport policy. It will cause significant environmental damage, at a massive cost to the country. Benefits are uncertain, and the £33 billion project will displace other alternatives which provide targeted help to the sectors of society which need it.