Taking the Pith

Quite often we spend time analysing and rebutting what those in favour of HS2 say. By ‘those in favour of HS2’, we mean the misguided politicians and business leaders, along with those involved in the construction industry and others with vested interests in HS2 being built.

What we don’t bother wasting our time on is a tiny but vocal group who seem to think that the best way to support HS2 is to attack anyone opposed to it. Championed by a professional train-spotter who has apparently recently taken to writing blogs solely to abuse the Stop HS2 campaign (as tweets simply aren’t long enough), the sensible approach is normally to treat these people like wasps and ignore them. However, occasionally they feel they can turn to media outlets which people actually read, as Fraser Pithie ventured to do in the Kenilworth Weekly News last week when he claimed the election result showed that no-one cares about HS2. When this happens, it is time to roll up that newspaper and swat them with it.

Here’s some of the responses published this week.

It is difficult to take Fraser Pithie seriously but I do feel obliged to reply to his recent post-election article, not least because I am sure that Jeremy Wright, whom he champions, would want to distance himself from his mindless ramblings. Also as an opponent of HS2, I will endeavour not to be “alarmist” or peddle “deceitful nonsense.”

Firstly it is perhaps no surprise that Jeremy Wright increased his majority by 70% given the collapse of the Lib-Dem vote. It doesn’t mean, however, that all those who voted for him support HS2. Indeed Fraser may have found the answer himself, (which is difficult to believe!), when he stated that “the public have shown HS2 is not an overriding issue to them that transcends everything else.” There were many opponents of HS2 who found it impossible to vote for the Greens or UKIP as there were other major issues which influenced their vote. I belong to this category, even though I am convinced that HS2 makes no economic sense at all.

Of course, Fraser does not accept that anyone can oppose HS2 unless, they have been deceived by ranting protesters. He singles out the national media for their lax approach and presumably he feels the same way about the majority of the academic world, the Institute of Directors and countless other bodies which oppose HS2. Indeed the most recent high profile critic to emerge is Jeremy Paxton who deplores HS2’s “laughable costings” and “charmingly unworldly thinking” but even the fearless Fraser would flinch from accusing him of not being a “robust challenger.” Opposition is relentless as is evident in the recent critical report of the House of Lords Economic Committee where Lord May of Oxford declared that he wouldn’t trust those involved in HS2 to mow his lawn. Perhaps Fraser is right they have all been bewitched by HS2 opponents and they would all see the errors of their ways if they could only meet him.

What I did find surprising was Fraser’s political innocence. He doubted “whether there is anyone that does not support the need for the application of adequate compensation.” Well, perhaps he should look at the House of Commons where scant interest has been shown in providing fair compensation. Indeed the concept, the Polluter Pays, has been replaced by the mantra, Fairness to Taxpayers, which, in effect, means no additional expenditure for mitigation.

I know at first hand that Jeremy Wright works hard to help affected individuals but the task is uphill and sometimes fruitless. Also I doubt whether he would take too much pleasure from the Select Committee proceedings, though Ufton did secure a zebra crossing!

Finally a positive thought about HS2. If it is constructed would it mark the end of Fraser’s rants? But it could have been worse. Just imagine if he had been elected crime commissioner. What would have happened to those councillors who spent money on opposing HS2 and what would have been the fate of those alarmist nonsense peddlers?

Archie Taylor, Burton Green.

No indication of size of opposition.  (Unedited version)

Although I am disappointed to acknowledge it, I agree with Fraser Pithie (Opinion 15th May) that there is little evidence that opposition to HS2 had any bearing upon the results of the parliamentary election for the Kenilworth and Southam constituency that took place earlier this month.

The results speak for themselves; in particular, the two parties with manifesto pledges to scrap HS2, UKIP and the Greens, achieved results broadly comparable with their national share of the vote, rather than demonstrating additional support from anti-HS2 voters in the constituency.

But I strongly disagree with Mr Pithie’s inference that the poll result should be taken as an indication that opposition to HS2 within the Kenilworth and Southam constituency has been overstated by those of us who ‘continue to rant on about the scheme’. Ample evidence that HS2 remains a big issue in the constituency is provided elsewhere in that issue of your newspaper, where you quote Jeremy Wright as claiming that he spends 80 percent of his time on HS2, I think that it is safe to assume that this workload is not the result of hordes of constituents contacting him to express support for the project!

My view is that our voters each went to the polls to ballot on the basis of their own considered decision on what party should form the next government.

For most this is an important choice, far too important perhaps to be used as the opportunity to register a protest vote, however much one might disagree with HS2.

Opposition to HS2 is not only confined to communities along the route. YouGov polling has consistently shown falling support for HS2 within the population of Great Britain as a whole, with around twice as many opposing as supporting when last measured in October 2014. A recent ComRes poll confirms the low level of support for HS2; only 22% of the public saying they were in favour of the construction of the railway line when asked if they would support the project at the current official cost of £50bn.

Significantly this support fell away rapidly when respondents were asked if they would support HS2 if the costs increased; only 13% supporting it at a cost of £70bn, and just 7% at a cost of £100bn.

Mr Pithie raises the financial support that our local authorities have given to legal action in connection with the project, which clearly rankles him. The need to involve the judiciary has come about due to the parliamentary process being employed resulting in the project bypassing important environmental safeguards that have been introduced since the process was last used. Although one of the judges that has sat in determination has identified the ability of HS2 to avoid essential examination that is designed to minimise its environmental impacts as not to be ‘desirable’, constitutional technicalities appear to have prevented the UK courts from closing this obvious loophole. Since there is a case for the UK Government to answer that it is, as a result, in breach of international treaty commitments, the determination has now moved to the international stage.

The environmental and planning implications of all of this wrangling are significant, and it is right that they be tested. It is, as I understand it, not uncommon for local authorities to incur legal expense in connection with planning inquiries, and I see the involvement of our local authorities in the HS2 judicial review process, and consequent expenditure, as a natural extension of this wholly-proper function. Notwithstanding, I should add that, as far as I am aware, the Warwickshire local authorities are not making any financial contribution to any ongoing international legal action.

I also fear that Mr Pithie’s article may leave the impression with your readers that the action groups in the constituency and our Member of Parliament are at loggerheads; this is far from the situation. We have been working together, in my view amicably, to try to secure the best outcome for Mr Wright’s constituents. Whenever the opportunity has arisen in a public forum, I have been pleased to record my appreciation for the assistance that Mr Wright has given us. However, in all instances in which I have been personally involved, Mr Wright’s well-meant efforts have so far failed to gain a single extra pound spent on mitigation or compensation.

It is true that I would have appreciated the morale boost that would have come from Mr Wright voting against HS2 at Second Reading, and a number of my colleagues have criticised him for not being present at the division. I do however understand his motives for abstaining, and agree with the view that he has expressed that any =93no=94 vote from him would have not affected the result.

I do though find solace in the verbal assurance that he gave me at one of his election meetings that, when it comes to Third Reading, he would assess any mitigation and compensation measures that are achieved by the Commons committee stage for adequacy and would put his constituency before his own career ambitions when deciding how to vote.

Peter Delow, Chairman Cubbington Action Group against HS2


MP Thought that HS2 mattered.

It is a sad fact of the debate about HS2 that those who unwaveringly support the scheme spend little time trying to extol the virtues of HS2, but instead spend their time attacking the opponents of it. In that respect, the letter last week from Fraser Pithie was typical, save the fact it was in print opposed to the constant stream spouted by a small cohort of like-minded individuals on twitter. It claimed that the campaign against HS2 peddled “alarmist and at times deceitful nonsense”, with “continued rantings”, and that we have lost our collective minds whilst the media has been lax in challenging what we have had to say.

If we take that at face value, then surely the heavy criticism of HS2 from every independent body which has looked into it, such as the Parliamentary Public Accounts, Treasury Select, and Environmental Audit Committees along with the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee and many, many others, must all go into the bracket of alarmist and deceitful rantings which a lazy and gullible media have irresponsibly swallowed.

The gist of the letter was that the election result shows that no-one cares about HS2, and besides compensation, no-one should care. Perhaps in that respect, more attention should have been paid to the fact that none of the candidates in the election had a good word to say about HS2. Indeed, about a quarter of the main election pamphlet from Jeremy Wright was dedicated to HS2. The bulk of this contained unattributed quotes from people praising him for his performance at the HS2 Hybrid Bill Committee.

Despite Mr Pithies idea that the dozen action groups in the constituency have done little to help those effected by HS2 whilst Mr Wright has done, his presentation that day was effectively a watered-down version of what the action actions had asked him to say.

As a result, the contention is that the action groups, and more importantly the councils should give up any activity on opposition. This is an odd position from Mr Pithie, who when he stood for Police and Crime Commissioner, was about the only Conservative candidate to stand in Warwickshire since HS2 was announced, to unconditionally support the project. As he claims election results should be the yardstick which defines whether HS2 should be opposed or supported, maybe he should note that he lost his election, whilst those councillors who have consistently opposed the project did not.

Joe Rukin,

Kenilworth Stop HS2 Action Group.

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2 comments to “Taking the Pith”
  1. Is Cameron about to bottle out. Afraid to expand Heathrow and Gatwick because of chums not economic sense. Time approaches on possible second Cameron mistake from choosing to suit others not nations future. What a lacking the person hadn’t intended through over interference for a few mates. Bottling out through lack of vision and yielding for party patronage not commonsense.

  2. The Chiltern Line capacity is limited more by the current trains than track. The HS2 UK approach to Network Rail’s network had significant merit. The not invented here attitude of HMG DFT and HS2 predominated despite the more expensive HS2 HMTreasury approach. Some changes in London to better connect the Chiltern Line arrivals to other stations and the underground and Crossrail will enhance the distribution and collection effectiveness. Similarly enhancements in Brimingham between New Street/Bullring and Snow Hill will also provide more demand and better connectivity. Secretary Hoon and Adonis both failed to scrutinise the Route 3 and the regional needs. The UK can benefit from more connections between locations that are not served by railways but are being overlooked because the approach of HMG is to concentrate on where business and other rate extractions are possible in return for devolution. This is another approach to misleading the nation to pretend there is latent added value to Gross Regional Product from a railway link. The relaunching of Euston simply over estimates the potential within this small land and property area which mainly arises from displacement and not from the direct benefits from rail routes and station termination. HS2 and Heathrow were confused by Lord Hoon and are being confused by Boris Johnson each to suit political grandstanding. There is the need to reassess the Chiltern Line and changes to this route to enable faster end to end journeys and better London and Birmingham station connections to the urban networks. The East West Route between Oxford and Cambridge will enable more connectivity for people and with extension to Bristol, Swindon to and from Oxford and Bicester many people in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire will benefit than from HS2 Route 3. Hopefully as the pressures increase from the HMTreasury spending reduction and have to continue through the next 5 years Cameron and Osborne will realise HS2 does not provide a viable approach and Network Rail will be given the HS2 organisation to enhance the Network Rail network with some of HS2 UK link upgrades emerging. The Chiltern Line needs to be more productive in moving more people each day and to be electrified as should East West Rail to enable trains to run into the ECML, MML and WCML using sections of the Chiltern Line, Great Western Line and East West Rail. Tomorrow’s power house corridor can be from Oxford to Cambridge and an enhanced Chiltern Route with larger passenger volumes.

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