HS2 – “an act of faith” based on outdated ideas

Today Michael Heseltine has come out strongly in favour of HS2: he’s already been interviewed by the Today program on Radio 4 and will be delivering a speech to  the Royal Town Planning Institute this evening.  Heseltine is no convert to high speed rail, approving the route of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (now HS1) under Thatcher, and his support for HS2 has been evident since 2010.

It’s worth noting that the route for HS1 which he approved was not any of the suggested British Rail routes , but one developed after their flaws had become evident.

Heseltine’s support for HS2 is based on outdated thinking and assumptions about the project which are simply incorrect.

He is due to say “It’s all about drawing together our economy as a whole as well as improving our access to the enlarged, and enlarging, home market of Europe.”

However HS2 will not link well to Europe.  The current proposal is to use the North London Line for trains going from HS2 to HS1, but this line is already heavily used, both by freight and local stopping traffic.  At most there is space for 3 HS2 trains an hour, trying to fit in round the existing users.

What’s more telling is that when Heseltine approved HS1, the expectation was that Eurostar  trains would be able to use the North London Line to access the West Coast Main Line: that proved impossible due to engineering constraints.

Heseltine talks about property development at Kings Cross and St Pancras.  However HS2 Ltd massively underestimated the scale of the work they would need at Euston, both in financial terms and the length of time to rebuild it.  Instead of rebuilding Euston, the current HS2 vision of Euston has been described as a “lean-to bolted onto a shed”, and foregoes the chance for a Kings Cross type regeneration scheme for decades.

The thing is, Michael Heseltine’s vision of the future is rooted in the past.  He refers to “ladies and gentlemen of the slide rules”, but slide rules are now museum pieces, replaced decades ago by electronic calculators.  HS2 bypasses the fastest growing cities in the UK, like Milton Keynes, and uses the same stations in Birmingham and London – at Curzon Street and Euston – which were opened in time for the coronation of Queen Victoria.

Michael Heseltine says history will judge us if we don’t build HS2.  But if it’s built, the kinds of questions history will ask include:

  • Why did they dismiss the effects of videoconferencing?
  • Why did they build HS2 through so many sensitive and irreplaceable wildlife sites?
  • Why did they not include a direct link to Heathrow or whatever airport site is recommended by the Davies commission?
  • Why did they choose such a limiting connection to HS1?
  • Why did they ignore the possibility of driverless cars?
  • Why did they base so much of the case for HS2 on minutes saved on a train, when people use technology to make travel time productive?
  • Why did they build a long distance railway when long distance travel was falling?

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4 comments to “HS2 – “an act of faith” based on outdated ideas”
  1. Listening to the interview with Heseltine on the Today programme, I was absolutely amazed at the calm way he just dismissed the cost of the trains and of building the stations from the overall budget. I suppose that is the only way they can bring the final sum under £50bn!

  2. I bet hs2 will be like Concorde ,just for the lords and rich to use for them selves Lord hesetine the person who lead the govenment to invest in the Concorde project and used it many times like all the rich did he should be ashamed of him self putting himself first and not thinking of all the people he will be putting out of there homes along the lines lets all hope this project is stopped in its tracks soon so we can get our lives back

  3. So the. Government rips off all the people along the route with not paying proper compensation ,then rubs salt in the wounds by selling of the rail system to foreign countries .But you know what they will tell you that the country needs hs2 I say clap trap the sooner we get rid of this idea the better of we all will be .another thing I bet it goes no where near Lord hustle tine manor

  4. Govt is clearly desperate to bring out Lord Heseltine to defend HS2 now. If anyone can lambast the negative / nimby campaigners, he’s the one. I heard him get going with building a head of steam this morning:
    They’re talking nonsense / it’s all about rebalancing the North-South divide / they’re making up their figures and even our £40bn does not matter anyway.

    He’s right, it’s not the figures they count that count, it’s the figures they don’t count that count:
    Blight: by the time people get any compensation, by its current strategy to inflate the housing market and inflate away debt, govt could save 30-50% in real terms of the cost.
    Environmental damage: no measure whatsoever – just mitigation. So they can drive straight through ancient woodland in a concrete channel and only ‘take’ 10% of it – must equate to 90% mitigation, surely?
    Connectivity costs: how much will NR have to fork out to connect up to HS2 first at Lichfield but later at even more complicated junctions.
    Disruption to life and travel when roads (and rail) are blocked or re-routed etc etc: We can count the cost for classic main line work but HS2? -forget it.

    I’m sure when ‘engine for growth’ comes up in the speech, there’ll be the usual round of applause.

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