This is a guest article by Nigel Shepherd, chair of the Amersham HS2 Action Group and vice-chair of Agahst.
Last Friday the Daily Telegraph website announced the ‘Shock’ news that the Department of Transport was intending to extend the HS2 tunnel through the Chilterns by an additional one and a half miles at a cost of £500 million, an eye watering sum.
This move has almost universally been interpreted as an attempt to pacify the objectors and defuse the mounting criticism of the scheme. It would be nice to think so, but unfortunately this is NOT the case. It is however a clever piece of ‘spin’ intended to split the opposition and muddy the waters following the disastrous Transport Select Committee report and ahead of the report on the consultation – which had an amazing 55 000 responses – the vast majority objecting to this ill conceived folly.
From my discussions with HS2 Ltd. last summer an extension to the tunnel was always on the cards. Ending the tunnelling in a 100 foot deep and 350 ft wide cutting was always going to create enormous maintenance and ‘what do we do with the spoil’ problems. Common sense tells you that given the tunnelling machines will be on site it would make much more sense to just keep on tunnelling until you reached the surface.
The possibility of extending the tunnel first emerged in a conversation with one of the engineers at the consultation last summer. At the time I tried to get more information, but the ‘slip’ was quickly, and very professionally, covered up by Miranda Carter, HS2’s Director of Consultation and Communications. Shortly afterwards, at one of HS2’s technical seminars, I asked one of the senior engineers about this issue – the expression on the face of Alison Munroe, HS2’s Chief Executive, was like a storm cloud – it was perfectly clear I was entering deep and murky waters.
At the time it was evident that the last thing they (the executive team at HS2) wanted was an admission of technical incompetence; obviously it would come out sooner or later, but at a time of their choosing and spun for all it was worth – after all, a change on this scale could be presented as ‘mitigation’ – showing their concern for the people of Amersham and the Chilterns. And so it has come to pass…
And what of the £500 million price tag? Those in the know say extending the tunnel from Amersham for one and a half miles on a site that is already there won’t cost anything like that much. I have been informed that HS2 Ltd’s estimate probably excludes the enormous cost of digging the cutting it replaces and includes other mitigation and tunnelling options along the line.
Again we are facing smoke and mirrors, but that is what we have come to expect from the DfT and HS2 Ltd. Both organisations paid for by you and me, the taxpayer, both exhibiting not only incompetence on the grand scale but the morals of a Sunday tabloid paper. Perhaps as well as the storm of Judicial Reviews that are now being lined up against them we should be calling for a public enquiry along the lines of the Leveson Inquiry into the press.
I am tempted to say that you couldn’t make it up, but the truth is we have all seen this before, on Yes Minister, but without the laughs.