This is Penny Gaines’ personal evidence to the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill: it is published on the Committee’s website here.
Written evidence from Penny Gaines (HSR 23)
1. This submission is from Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2, in a personal capacity. Penny was a co-founder of Stop HS2, which was set up in June 2010, after months of studying the HS2 documentation.
2. The HS2 command paper with the route for Phase 1, was issued in March 2010 by Andrew Adonis, shortly before the 2010 election. At the time, the Government-owned HS2 Ltd had been in existence for 14 months. Peter Mandelson has since told the Financial Times about the Cabinet’s decision to go ahead with HS2:
a. “In 2010, when the then Labour government decided to back HS2, we did so based on the best estimates of what it would involve. But these were almost entirely speculative. The decision was also partly politically driven…. We were on the eve of a general election and keen to paint an upbeat view of the future. … Probably the most glaring gap in our analysis were the alternative ways of spending the £30bn cost, appraised against the stated objectives of HS2…. All were based on the central assumption that if you could cut the travelling time between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, HS2 would transmit business and economic growth across the country, justifying the tens of billions of expenditure involved.”
3. The Coalition’s Programme for Government said that they would build a high speed rail network as “as part of our programme of measures to fulfil our joint ambitions for creating a low carbon economy”. But following a letter from Stop HS2, in February 2011 Philip Hammond, the Secretary of State for Transport at the time, wrote to MPs agreeing with us (and the HS2 Ltd documentation) that HS2 was carbon-neutral.
4. When HS2 was announced in 2010, people were told that it would need a Hybrid Bill: it was not until 2013 that the idea of a Paving Bill was put forward. Many people think that the Paving Bill (now called the High Speed Rail (Preparation) BIll) is only needed because the project is running into financial difficulties without the extra funding: especially as many of the provisions for spending in the Bill were already included in the HS2 costings.
5. It is highly concerning that the Preparation Bill is being presented as if a decision has been made on HS2, when in court for the Judicial Reviews, Government lawyers argued that no decision had yet been made. There has been no Public Inquiry into HS2: Judge Ousely at the Judicial Review made it clear he was not looking at whether HS2 should be built, saying “it is not my task in this judgment to reach a view one way or the other on the merits of HS2”.
6. In the ruling, Judge Ouseley specifically said that the decision was to be made by Parliament, in the Hybrid Bill.
a. “The Command Paper was, however, a statement of Government policy on high speed rail, and of the stages by which, subject to consultation and further work, the policy was to be put into effect, by laying a Bill before Parliament for its decision.”…”All that has been decided is the detail of the project which the promoter intends to place before another body for its decision: ie the detail to be in the hybrid Bill to be enacted or not by Parliament.”
7. It is therefore a huge concern that the Hybrid Bill stage may be rushed to get it through before the next election, just like the initial decision to announce Phase 1 was rushed to get it out before the last General Election.
8. The majority of people who want HS2 are in favour because they want more capacity on existing railways (more below). This is the latest in a series of the many shifting rationales for HS2 which has been put forward and then dropped. These rationales include the need for a low carbon economy (HS2 is not low carbon), the desire to copy the Victorians and the desire to replace what the Victorians built.
Issues with the High Speed Rail (Preparation) bill
A Blank Cheque book
9. The Bill is effectively a blank cheque for expenditure on HS2. There is no financial cap in the Bill, and the explanatory notes say “it is not possible to give a definitive figure for expenditure that will result as a consequence of this Bill”.
The Bill specifies that it includes expenditure
1(4) (a) on pre-construction activity (such as surveying and design),
(b) in acquiring property, and
(c) in providing compensation in respect of property likely to be affected.
10. These costs were all included in the original budget. However, by moving them to the uncosted paving Bill, it would appear to be a ‘back-door’ method of upping the HS2 budget further.
11. There are a number of elements which are not currently included in the HS2 budget, but which will add considerably to the eventual cost of HS2. These include the cost of the Heathrow link (or other London airport if a new hub airport is developed), the cost of linking HS2 to HS1 and local transport links from the HS2 stations into the surrounding area. The Paving Bill could be used to pay for these, adding billions of pounds of additional expenditure.
12. In addition, the original £33 billion cost for HS2 included “optimism bias” of £11.1bn.
13. The first expenditure report will not be seen by Members of Parliament until after the next general election. Although annual expenditure reports are required by it, the Bill itself defines the end of the first financial year as 31st March 2015: Parliament will be dissolved within two weeks of this date.
14. Given that HS2 Ltd have already got their budget forecasts spectacularly wrong – such as the cost of work at Euston, which they originally estimated at £1.2 billion, but revised to over £2 billion – it is vital that the costs are closely scrutinised.
15. The text of the Coalition’s Programme for Government to build HS2 says “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.”
16. In contrast, HS2 will be at best carbon neutral in operation. HS2 Ltd themselves, in their 2013 draft Environmental Statement says “Whilst a high speed line may not necessarily be the lowest-carbon solution, it is considered to offer the optimum balance between carbon reduction and economic benefits.” (The economic benefits derive mainly from time savings, which means that speed of the railway has been prioritised over all other considerations.)
17. In the carbon report which Greengauge21 produced for CPRE, they concluded that for HS2 would not reduce carbon emissions, unless the speed was lowered to 300kph: this option has already been rejected by HS2 Ltd. (Earlier documents from HS2 Ltd have already said that HS2 could lead to increases in carbon emissions.) For HS2 to result in a lower carbon economy, Greengauge 21 said it would need a package of other measures, all of which could be enacted without building HS2. These measures included regulating air traffic, decarbonisation of electricity generation and road pricing.
18. Most of the pro-HS2 witnesses supported building a new railway, because they thought that it was necessary to increase capacity on the railways.
19. One argument used by proponents of high speed rail is that it would cost nearly as much to build a conventional speed railway as a specifically high speed railway. However the 2010 HS2 command paper said that a conventional speed line would give the same capacity benefit as a high speed line, for a lower cost.
20. However many of the environmental problems of HS2 come because it has been engineered for speed. For example, because of the design speed, HS2 tracks cannot avoid any of the 160 sensitive wildlife sites that Phase 1 will directly affect.
21. Further, even a small reduction in costs could be a huge sum. HS2 Ltd claim a new conventional speed line is marginally cheaper to build, but If it costs just 10% less to build a conventional speed line, this equates to spending nearly £5 billion less than the proposed HS2 line. As a percentage this might be quite a small amount of the HS2 budget, but in absolute terms it would be a huge saving to the taxpayer, as well as a significant reduction in environmental damage.
22. The National Trust recently said that HS2 plans are “are responding to engineering need, rather than landscape aesthetics”. While it is important on any project that the engineering is done well, a project of this scale must not ignore the needs of the people it affects and the landscape it passes through. As Fabricant said in a Parliamentary debate on HS2 and ancient woodland “We cannot credibly lecture other countries on deforestation while taking a cavalier approach to the loss of our own equivalent of the rain forest”. We cannot build infrastructure that is world class if we ignore the natural and human world.
Issues with HS2 Ltd
23. During oral evidence session, it was striking how HS2 Ltd were willing to engage with people from areas who were getting stations who support HS2 but not with other people. This was not just a lack of engagement with the people being blighted, but also came up in evidence from the Campaign for Better Transport.
24. While it is convenient for politicians to blame the people blighted for being unhappy, the attitude of HS2 staff to communities who are blighted causes avoidable problems.
25. The most public of these was when HS2 Ltd issued a press statement about the decision to cancel the Euston rebuild.
26. As leader of Camden Council, Sarah Hayward gave evidence last week, “High Speed 2 came to us completely out of the blue, with no prior discussion, in February, with what it calls option 8, which was effectively to bolt a lean-to on to the current shed that is Euston station. We have got all of the demolition, but none of the redevelopment of the existing Network Rail station and no lowering of the tracks.”
27. Alison Munro (HS2 Ltd) gave evidence that the decision to reduce the scope of the work at Euston was because HS2 Ltd had underestimated the cost of the work at Euston by nearly £1 billion and underestimated the time required to rebuild Euston by two years. The downgraded plans at Euston still cost more than the original rebuild. (HS2 Ltd fact sheets issued for the 2011 consultations said that the rebuild of Euston would take 7-8 years.)
28. However the press release from HS2 Ltd painted a very different picture about the decision to change the plans for Euston. It said “This option, developed partly in response to concerns from the community about the potential disruption caused by redevelopment that would have taken more than a decade, would obviate the need to rebuild all the existing platforms.”
29. Local communities feel like they are being turned into scrape-goats for a decision that did not come from them, but was due to major errors by HS2 Ltd. People affected by HS2 are not just angry that they are being lied to by HS2 Ltd, but are angry because HS2 Ltd is also lying about them.
30. Another example of the cavalier attitude to HS2 Ltd towards the people blighted came after the consultation. It was revealed, in two separate occasions, that responses to the HS2 consultation had been ‘lost’ and not analysed properly. In total over 1000 responses were completely or partially ignored. The responses that HS2 lost include three of the groups which brought the judicial reviews, as well as the personal response of the Stop HS2 campaign manager.
31. I gave other examples of this attitude in a letter I wrote to Justine Greening in July 2012, in which I said
32. “We were prepared to give you a fair chance. We want the community forums to result in the best possible plans for the local residents, even if we disagree with the perceived need for HS2. We are willing to talk, but this means that HS2 Ltd staff must give us the information we need and listen to what we say.
33. However, this causal disregard of the communities affected by HS2 has been endemic from the moment HS2 was announced. HS2 Ltd squandered the chance for local issues to be identified last year, as the closed questions in the 2011 consultation did not ask people to identify local issues or ways of mitigating them.
34. Further anger and resentment is building up because HS2 Ltd are unwilling or unable to treat residents with respect.”
35. Anger is also being fuelled by the secrecy from HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport. Freedom of Information requests are routinely denied, especially where the information damages the case for HS2. For example an FOI on passenger loadings on the West Coast Main Line was refused for about a year, before it was eventually revealed that long distance passenger numbers at peak times from Euston were 52%.
36. The whole attitude of HS2 Ltd has made people question whether senior managers at HS2 Ltd actually believe in the railway they are proposing.
Inadequate review of the alternatives
37. Although HS2 Ltd set up challenge panels “to provide independent expert scrutiny” on the HS2 plans most of the members were enthusiatics for railways.
38. The transport Select Committee report into High Speed Rail Nov 2011 said
39. “Of the three groups, currently comprising 22 people (all men), only the Analytical Challenge Panel contains any evident critic of high-speed rail. The Strategic Challenge Panel comprises eight transport and local government experts who are almost all publicly supportive of high-speed rail, including the Director of Yes to HS2, the Director of Greengauge 21 and the Chairman of Network Rail.”
40. One of the reasons why there are a third of the passengers on HS1 than were originally forecast is because the forecasts did not allow for the growth in low cost airlines. It would seem sensible for the Department for Transport to assess the HS2 case against possible alternatives that could affect the demand for its services. As seen above, Peter Mandelson says this still has not happened.
41. However, HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport have ignored the effect that different types of digital communications technology will have on the demand for travel.
42. Three years after we first mentioned it, the Department for Transport are coming round to the possibility that mobile technology (eg laptops and smart phones being used by passengers) will have an effect on the business case, because time savings no longer translate into a direct economic benefit.
43. However the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd persistently ignore the effect that videoconferencing and similar technologies will have on demand for travel. Ten years ago, special equipment and a dedicated room were needed for videoconferencing. In contrast the latest TVs can log into ‘Skype’ when they are switched on. Today’s teenagers have grown up with the internet, and by the time HS2 opens in over a decade, they will be as used to making video-calls from their tablet computer with the familiarity that today’s workers use a mobile phone. This will have an effect on the overall demand for travel (long distance car journeys are already falling), because employees and companies will see less need to have face-to-face meetings in the same physical location.
Problems with HS2
44. When looking at rail alternatives to HS2, such as the 51M alternative, enthusiasts for HS2 often focus on the possibility of disruption to rail users, but ignore the disruption that construction of HS2 will cause outside the rail system.
45. It seems perverse that proponents think it is unfair for rail users to have to put up with the disruption from improvements to the existing rail system, (even though they will benefit after the improvements) but dismiss the disruption that will be caused to non-rail users during the construction of HS2. This will not just be felt by individuals who live close to the tracks: for example local communities away from the tracks will suffer from construction traffic through their areas. The disruption from the construction of HS2 will be widely felt, and by people who do not expect to get any gain from HS2 Ltd. On a large scale, the M6, the M42 and the M1 will all need to be altered for HS2.
46. HS2 Ltd estimate that 20% of jobs in businesses directly affected by HS2 will be lost. These are jobs that exist now, but that building HS2 will destroy.
47. This does not include the opportunity cost of jobs that could be created if HS2 did not go ahead. For example Liam Byrne, MP (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) told a debate in Parliament on 25th January “In the past year or so, two major businesses, both seeking something in the order of 1 million square feet, wanted to invest in the site, but ultimately they turned away to go elsewhere because of the uncertainty that HS2 has cast over the [Washwood Heath] site.”
48. There are numerous problems with HS2, with HS2 Ltd, and with the Preparation Bill. HS2 should be scrapped immediately, so that the country can start looking at the real transport needs we face.