Putting the ‘con’ into consultation

In an extraordinary set of remarks quoted by the Daily Telegraph, David Cameron has tried to pre-empt the results of next year’s promised consultation on high speed rail.

HS2 was “not a done deal” in October, or so Theresa Villiers, minister of State for Transport, told MPs gathered at the Parliamentary Lobby Day. This was – according to their website – official Department for Transport policy. She told MPs – who included members the Transport Select Committee – that the consultation would cover four issues. And the first issue was “the principle of whether new high speed rail lines should be built”.

Yesterday, David Cameron decided he didn’t need to wait and see what the country thinks about high speed rail. He didn’t wait for the Transport Select Committee to even finish their current enquiry which includes high speed rail. He ignored the many questions posed by even the least critical of MPs on Tuesday’s Westminster Hall debate on High Speed 2.

David Cameron is quoted as saying “This is incredibly difficult when high-speed rail is thundering through your constituency, because you, yourself, may not see the benefit from it.”

When MPs say there are no benefits from HS2 to their constituencies, it is not because they are unwilling to look for them: it is because the chairman of HS2 Ltd, Brian Briscoe, told them there will be no benefits from HS2 to Buckinghamshire.

David Cameron lists the few places expecting stations: “So, it’s going to stop in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, with oneor two extra stops along the way – no more.”

Extra stops ruin the economic case: again David Rowlands, former chair of HS2, said this even before the current route was announced. The main HS2 report says that intermediate stations add over 5 minutes to the journey times of the other passengers, hitting the economic case, and would be likely to lead to capacity problems. HS2 themselves – in their main report published in March – say that they do not recommend intermediate stations.

Meanwhile the MPs north of Birmingham are going to be hoping that their constituency wins the station lottery – but if their constituency loses, their towns and cities will suffer from the same disadvantages as Coventry are expecting.

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