After proving herself a hypocrite by ignoring the public responses to the HS2 public consultation after decrying the last Government doing the same in the Heathrow Runway 3 consultation, Secretary of State for Transport Justine Greening has proved herself totally clueless about the costs of HS2, not only at the ‘Making HS2 Happen’ conference, but more disturbingly in Parliament.
On announcing her decision to go ahead with HS2, the very first question Justine Greening was asked came from Tory MP John Redwood. He asked how much would be spent this Parliament and was given the answer ‘A couple of hundred million pounds’. This reassured the former front-bencher right up until he received a letter from Greening saying that she had apparently recalled the cost of land acquisition, not all the consultancy and planning costs and that the actual costs were £750m this parliament. However, there was a bit of a problem with this £750m, as this was the original ‘this Parliament’ (2010-2015) cost touted in 2010. Indeed, in another question from Mr Redwood last March, the former Secretary of State Philip Hammond had given and answer of £773m. Again, that figure was slightly misleading as it failed to include the £46m which had already been spent at that point, bringing it up to £819m. This figure however has to come under question as we believe it does not include that ‘couple of hundred million’ for land acquisition, which would put the actual answer for spending this parliament at £1,019 million.
In her speech at yesterdays conference, Greening had sought to correct commentators who had said the London-Birmingham stretch would cost £32bn, as that is the cost for the Y-network to Leeds & Manchester. However, as Stop HS2 has always maintained this is not an all-inclusive cost. £32bn is just the cost of building the line. These are 2009 costs so they do not include inflation for a start, but also tax, interest on the loans, foot bridges, farm bridges, compensation and environmental protection. On top of ignoring the cost of running the line which will never ever make a profit, this also misses off little things like maintenance and of course the trains themselves. When this point was put to her, she completely ignored it.
The rest of the speech included the usual political platitudes we have come to expect, full of spin but lacking in facts. She started off by praising Transport Times for putting on the conference at ‘such short notice’, of course glossing over the fact her department have been working hand in glove with proponents since the start and knew the date of the HS2 announcement (both the actual one and the aborted one) well in advance. She went on to say that HS2 consultation was one of most intense in DfT history with around 55,000 responses and that she had systematically gone through the evidence, a highly impressive feat to have completed in the less than three months between her appointment and her decision to go ahead.
Apparently, at a time at which public services for them are being slashed, HS2 is for our children, so that they can realise their full potential, we have to tackle the problems which are holding us back and that is what HS2 is about. It is about accepting that we have a responsibility to make choices today that will improve our economy and quality of life and despite the rest of the country falling down around our ears, it is the right project at the right time.
She continued with the spin: She said that passengers say journey time is really important, whilst of course still ignoring the obvious point of shorter journeys, that people will simply stay in bed for longer; She stuck with the idea of 18 trains per hour, even though the Transport Select Committee said this depended on technology yet to be invented; She claimed the growth of mobile and internet technology had caused more people to travel by train, still ignoring the extortionate cost of petrol and car insurance; She said HSR had been a success all over the world, which again ignores the overwhelming evidence to the contrary; She said the Chiltern problem had been sorted out with tunnels and cuttings, which anyone who regularly reads this site will know is totally inaccurate; and she said that sometimes we might collaborate with other countries, but from the very start our priority must be to develop the home grown skill and capabilities, despite the fact the first contract since the announcement has gone to an American company.
Finally, with not the slightest hint of irony she said: “Now more than ever our case needs to be made positively, clearly and fully informed by the facts.”
So Justine, maybe a completely different speech which actually contained some facts might have been an idea?