A plan backed by Sir David Attenborough to protect the first nature reserve in the world from HS2 has been undermined by the Prime Minister, who has today said he wants the part which would go through it between Leeds and Sheffield to be built sooner than planned.
Last week, Sir David Attenborough backed the campaign to have the Walton Hall Estate near Wakefield recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but as that process could take up to ten years, if Mr Cameron has his way, by that time HS2 will be being constructed to run through it.
When Charles Waterton built a wall around his estate in the 1820s, he made Walton Hall the site of the first nature reserve in the world, and last week Sir David wrote to Wakefield Council, saying:
“Walton Hall is an extremely important site in the history of nature conservation worldwide. It is, arguably, the first tract of land anywhere in modern times to be protected, guarded and maintained as a nature reserve. I hope very much UNESCO will recognise the importance of the Walton estate by declaring it a World Heritage Site.”
As part of the process of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site. Walton Hall would have to be nominated by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. That has potentially become less likely, as on a constituency tour of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, David Cameron has said he wants the HS2 link between Sheffield and Leeds to be ‘fast tracked’ as a standalone project, with the possibility that construction could start in five years.
Whilst Sir David Higgins has said that the Leeds-Sheffield section of HS2 could be operational before other parts of Phase 2 of HS2 there is one big question; ‘Why?’, as all it would realistically be until plugged into the rest of network is a shuttle service from the middle of Leeds to Meadowhall shopping centre. As such, operation would require a masssive subsidy.
Though if course the real answer to ‘Why?’ is there is an election coming up and David Cameron, like so many politicians has this crazy idea in his head that HS2 is a vote-winner. The reality is that the latest polling, conducted just a couple of weeks ago shows that only 22% of the public support HS2, given the £50bn budget. In Yorkshire, which with two planned stations is supposedly one of the ‘big winners’ from HS2, that figure is only marginally better, with just 24% in support of HS2. That figure comes down sharply if the price goes above £50bn, which it is certain to do.
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HS2 replaces TSR2 as a national funding limited project
Britain is living on borrowed time and money – but you’d never know it from this election
Lord King, former Governor of the Bank of England, was right. Any fiscal consolidation plan stretching over more than one parliament is bound to fail
Just before the last election in 2010, Mervyn King, then Governor of the Bank of England, did something for which he has still not been forgiven by Gordon Brown and his then Chancellor, Alistair Darling. He appeared to break the assumed taboo on political commentary for central bank governors by favouring Tory plans for fiscal consolidation over Labour ones .
As it happens, the Bank of England has a long history of interfering in politics, most notably back in the 1960s under Lord Cromer, a Bank of England governor once famously described by Harold Wilson as a threat to democracy. Yet since being granted independence, the Bank of England is meant to stick strictly to the monetary sphere. Fiscal policy is for the politicians.
Lord King’s point was, however, an entirely valid one – that any fiscal consolidation plan that stretched over more than one parliament lacked credibility because markets could have no faith in a government that faces re-election mid-way through that programme actually being completed. The temptation to abandon the plan, go for broke and attempt to buy re-election would be too great. Ergo, the Tory plan for closing the deficit within five years was a better one than Labour’s, which envisaged an eight year consolidation.
As it happens, the Tories haven’t managed it either, and we now see in spades the sense of what Lord King was arguing. During the current election campaign, the “austerity” agenda has been thrown to the winds , the latest example of fiscal incontinence being Nick Clegg’s promise to lift the public sector wage freeze . This may in truth only recognise the political reality of a zero inflation environment, as well as the threat of quite serious industrial action after the election if the long freeze isn’t eased a bit.
• Every party, every policy: a comprehensive guide to all the key pledges
Even (Taiwan OTC: 6436.TWO – news) so, it is yet another instance of wild giveaway promises with no credible explanation of how they will be paid for. The Conservatives have been as bad as everyone else worse in some respects. During the course of the campaign they seem almost wholly to have given up on their former economic USP, that there is no money left. This line of attack was once seen as a political asset; it largely set the political agenda for the last parliament. Yet it is plainly not working as a campaigning message. All three main parliamentary parties still have their fiscal plans the Institute for Fiscal Studies is due to release a detailed analysis of them on Thursday but they don’t seem to mean a great deal any longer.
Certainly they are not taken seriously in the City. I can find no independent analyst who thinks that the Coalition plan to shrink total public spending to 35.2pc of GDP by the 2019-20, as outlined in the last Autumn Statement, is remotely likely to be met. Instead, there is ever greater political reliance on “growth” to erode away the deficit. Perhaps oddly, there seems to be almost as much “austerity fatigue” in financial markets as among voters and politicians. So far, the welter of election promises has had very little discernable effect either on bond prices or the pound.
This may change, of course. Rewind to Harold Wilson’s confrontations with Lord Cromer, and it is worth noting that all four of his governments were subject to repeated economic and financial crisis. Today’s world is very different except in one important regard, Britain is again cursed by a record current account deficit, and, nearly seven years after the financial crisis, a still-yawning Budget deficit. Combined, they are by far the highest of the developed world. Britain is living on borrowed time and borrowed money. But you wouldn’t know it from the extravagance of the election campaign.
Can people believe the Election lectures and soundbites
Time to support wisdom not obsession. The MPs in the Hybrid Bill made the wrong call by group think. Support locally loyal candidates not party loyal candidates. Ask the candidates directly would you defy your party on HS2 votes.