On 8th August 2012, Conserve the Chilterns and Countryside Group, organised a meeting in the White Lion in Great Missenden with presentations from Steve Costello of Heathrow Hub and Mark Bostock, a former ARUP director who is currently working as a consultant examining the problems of accessibility to London’s Heathrow Airport and assessing the potential for creating an inter-modal transport hub on the UK’s Great Western Rail Line.
Costello started by stating that when HS2 was announced, they had expected a route via the M40 which is what had been promoted to five different Secretaries of State for Transport, but the problem was that HS2 became this grand projet which completely forgot about overall transport policy, and specifically aviation. Whilst the Government talk about Victorians, they feel that HS2 is a traditional Victorian railway of the private era in that it goes point to point and doesn’t provide interconnectivity.
They obviously had been punting their own route for HS2. This alternative would avoid The Chiltern AONB by tunnelling through at it’s thinnest point, and reduce the effects on West London, costing billions less and crucially from their point of view it would get people to use trains instead of cars to get to Heathrow. The only disbenefit in Costellos mind is that it would take 3 minutes more to get from London to Birmigham. They, like the other people campaigning against HS2 have used the Governments own figures in that analysis, but in their own analysis they expect that the actual cost of HS2 as proposed would be a whopping £81.2bn netting revenues of only £22.2bn, representing a cost to the taxpayer of £59bn.
Now, with the HLOS announcement for various parts of electrification, instead of a new HS2 route they are suggesting that another option for interconnectivity would be that following a high speed link from HS1 to Heathrow, high speed trains could be put on the proposed east-west line to Cambridge, with any interconnecting station serving Heathrow also feeding in to the Great Western route to Cardiff and Bristol.
Mark Bostock was quick to bemoan that the Government had forgotten everything they had learned from the experience of HS1 saying;
“With HS1, the Government originally came up with 4 alignments. None were thought through, and this has been replicated with HS2, in that it has all been done without communicating with the people affected. We (ARUP) came up with other plans and back then we didn’t need to go to Judicial Review to get the Government to listen. We had come to the conclusion that speed wasn’t the thing mainly needed. We felt HS1 should follow existing motorways and interconnect with rail. These became known as ‘The Kent Principles’ and HS2 Ltd has not been willing to consider any of these issues.”
“We’ve had to look at this forensically. The reason we have ended up with the current HS2 proposal is because HS2 Ltd were instructed to take it through Old Oak Common and it’s been like that since then. Ministers have found looking at Heathrow a complex issues which they didn’t want to get involved with the politics of it. Also there are a lot of people in DfT with long memories which didn’t like getting beaten 20 years ago. Back then, there were different proposals which the Government looked at properly. We can’t understand why they are not looking at that now. They were all looked at from a cost and environmental point of view, but Government aren’t interested in that or the wider economic impacts either, they simply have this engineering led solution. I find it extraordinary that Heathrow was retrofitted and other solutions were not looked at. If there is a better solution, lets see it and we might back it.”
Costello then said;
“HS2 Ltd have ignored the fact that 98% of people [travelling between Oxford and Heathrow] get to Heathrow by road and what a rail link could do to effect that. None of the HS2 routes looked at the Kent Principles and they ignored what had happened previously in international examples, such as making airport links through lines. HS2 Ltd also ignored access from west, which was in their remit. HS2 Ltd have never considered tunnelling under the M40, like has happened on continent.”
Whilst Costello had been talking about talking about the fact Heathrow Hub have been talking about alternative route options, he was keen to reach a consensus, not on different route proposals which organisations such as Stop HS2 would not be able to support as of course changing the route does not mean HS2 would suddenly become a good idea, but a consensus on the process.
“What we are looking for is a consensus, not on any specific proposal, but on the process and that that process should pause, the government should stop and look at the issue of an overall transport strategy and make the best decision for UK PLC. You could get 84858km of cycleways for £16.9bn and all the health and environmental benefits they would bring on top, you could get an urban tram for the 10 largest cities for £2bn looking at what the cost has been in Nottingham and you have to look at what Stop HS2 have been saying about broadband and looking at our transport infrastructure in the round. We are a small country which depends on interconnectivity and we want a form of consensus on pausing, so if we are going to do something, we do something sensible. If we are going to have a rational debate about aviation, it has to include rail and road. The problem we face is these grand projets are exciting to politicians and it makes it look like they are doing something.”