Dear Ms Greening
We hope you might still be able to join us in the Grand Committee Room today, Monday 28th for our event at 4.30pm. As you will no doubt be aware, there is widespread doubt about whether HS2 is the right project for our nation, especially at this time. When Stop HS2 was set up in 2010, we adopted the slogan; “No business case, no environmental case, no money to pay for it.” Since that time, organisation after organisation has come out and backed that standpoint.
The reason for the shortcomings and failures in the proposals is straightforward. Lord Andrew Adonis went to the DfT, set up HS2 Ltd and told them to design a high speed railway to Birmingham and justify it. He was not interested in whether or not it was the best use of resources strategically or financially, the starting point was that it was known that high speed rail was the answer, even before they bothered to ask the question.
Sir Rod Eddington warned of this approach in 2006. In his study for the DfT, he concluded: “The challenge to be tackled was not fully understood before a solution was generated, due to intense political lobbying from advocates. The decision on this scheme was not informed by detailed appraisals of specific high-speed rail proposals, or against appraisals of other policy options for achieving the same objectives.”
Nothing has changed since then. The arguments which support high speed rail have been retrofitted, which is why none of them fit properly. This is the reason there have been such opposition to the project. This is not limited to the areas which will be directly affected, where people are regularly attacked as nimbies and luddites for being bothered to read and able to understand the proposals. A whole host of other organisations have now questioned the plans.
Organisations questioning the HS2 proposals include the Adam Smith Institute, The Sustainable Development Commission, The Taxpayers Alliance, The New Economics Foundation, the RAC foundation, Federation of Small Businesses, RSPB, The Council for the Protection of Rural England, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Countryside Alliance, The Wildlife Trusts, The Woodland Trust, and The National Trust.
Most recently members surveyed by the Institute of Directors saw investment in the existing rail network as a much higher priority and few think HS2 will be value for money. Last week’s report from the Right Lines Charter found that the process of and proposals for HS2 were falling far short of what was expected.
The most devastating criticism, the Transport Select Committee report into high speed rail, published on 8th November raised a number of questions about HS2. They concluded that before a decision to proceed with HS2 is taken, there should be more clarity on:
• the Policy Context.
• the Assessment of Alternatives.
• the Financial and Economic Case.
• the Environmental Impacts.
• Connections to Heathrow.
• the Justification for the Particular Route Being Proposed.
These are not minor niggles, but major issues which affect the very foundation of HS2 Ltd’s case for their proposed high speed line. The Select Committee were highly skeptical as to whether 18 trains per hour – a key fundamental of both HS2’s case as a transport solution and the business case – would ever be possible.
It is clear that there is a need for investment in Briatin’s rail infrastructure, but it is not in this £33 billion ‘grand projet’, it is in the ordinary and everyday transport needs: electrification, track doubling, new stations, upgrading signaling and addressing pinchpoints. We find it astounding that the HS2 project, might be prioritised when investing in the existing infrastructure will deliver more benefits to more people more quickly for less money.
The Coalition’s Program for Government said, on the subject of high speed rail: “We will establish a high speed rail network as part of our programme of measures to fulfil our joint ambitions for creating a low carbon economy.”
The Transport Select Committee backed the Green Party on this issue, believing that HS2 will not reduce aviation, and stating that the “claims of substantial carbon reduction benefits don’t stand up to scrutiny.” The only thing the coalition agreement was willing to commit to with regard to high speed rail has been blown out of the water and all the other arguments have been shown to be nothing more than hopeful and unproven hearsay. This is before you consider the irreparable damage which will be wrought to the natural environment.
As for the process, this was best summed up by the Freshfield Foundation Report which said: “The HS2 decision‐making process has not been disciplined and transparent. Even if proceeding with HS2 now did fit in with the 2007 strategy, the business plan is flawed. There are weaknesses in the way benefits to travellers have been valued, the high level of uncertainty involved with the project over 60 years has not been acknowledged, and the credibility of the 2011 Consultation Document has been compromised by apparent conflicts of interest.”
The consultation process itself was hugely biased, as the New Economics Foundation stated, “It read like a marketing document, with contributions from organisations promoting high speed rail.”
On your appointment as Secretary of State you said that you would “approach the job with a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm, but also a huge amount of care.” We hope you realise it is clear that no care has been taken in getting HS2 to this stage. We feel it would be completely careless to commit to this boondoggle, with a whimsical plan based on nothing more than nice words. We are convinced the cost of HS2 will be a multiple of the £17.8bn quoted for London to Birmingham, a gamble which is surely too great.