Since this article was published, a petition has been launched asking for the money earmarked for HS2 to be spent on flood defence and prevention instead. To sign, click here
Just after the Lake District had to drop the word ‘District’ from the title to become known simply as ‘The Lake’, far more flooding has hit far more parts of the UK.
It has long been said that in times of cuts, spending on HS2 has to mean extra cuts elsewhere, and the link to flood defences was first pointed out by a sole local protestor who greeted David Cameron as he drove into Dawlish Station in February last year.
At the time, BBC Chief Political Correspondent Norman Smith speculated that the floods could sink HS2, as MPs were actually having the sense to ask if the billions due to be spent on HS2 might be better spent on the existing rail infrastructure and indeed flood defences. Besides West Coast Mainline closures earlier in December, the impact of the current flooding on rail services has yet to be seen, as almost all trains in the country were scheduled to be cancelled on Boxing Day, and some lines are due to be shut until January 4th because they realised just two days of absent travel just isn’t good enough, but we wouldn’t rule out a ‘Finsbury Park’ situation still arising at the end of it.
But with their goldfish-like attention span, the floods quickly became old news to MPs. Forgetting the £55bn plus ‘official’ cost of HS2, before a track is laid, annual spending has already been racked up to include a £36m bill at HS2 Ltd just on internal wages, whilst at the same time spending on far less sexy flood defences has been cut. According to the Financial Times, funding to the department in charge of flood defences was cut by a quarter in the last Parliament, and the recent spending review will see a further 15% cut over the next four years.
Of course, earlier this month the Government were saying that they had spent money on flood defences, which of course were not only easily breached in Cumbria, but those inadequate walls meant floodwaters took longer to recede, if indeed they have done. Spending loads of money on something which not only doesn’t work, but actually makes things worse against the stated objective is the perfect metaphor for the ‘magic wand that will transform the north-south divide’ aim of HS2.
The excuse touted by Environment Secretary Liz Truss for the failure of flood defences in Cumbria was that there had been record, unprecedented rainfall. It is true that Honister Pass took the recorded record of 341.4mm, beating the previous one set at Seathwaite in 2009 of 316.4mm, or in other words, the brand new flood defences were breached because of just less than an inch more rain fell in a 24 hour period. Sorry, your ‘record rainfall’ is less than an inch above what happened six years ago, and you supposedly based flood defence designs on that never happening again? That’s seriously your excuse? Whilst fresher, that ranks with ‘The dog ate my homework’ in terms of the plausibility of reasoning.
It’s not just that, but due to location, Honister probably got more rain in 2009 than Seathwaite. Nobody actually knows, because although recording began at Honister in 1970, there have been 15 years of incomplete records.
The concept of incomplete records is relevant to HS2 because HS2 Ltd have been using ‘historical’ flood maps along the route in their plans, which of course say HS2 will never, ever flood. Not only have there been many cases where residents have pointed out that floods in their lifetime have more than once surpassed the supposed historical ‘100 year flood’, but more importantly they are using forecasts for future flooding which do not take the seemingly evident effects of climate change into account. On top of that it has to be remembered that the aim of HS2 Ltd is to make sure HS2 doesn’t flood. If driving a load of concrete piles into flood plains makes local flooding worse, that’s not their problem, as long as HS2 itself doesn’t flood.
It has long been known that one of the reasons for the dithering over the location of the proposed HS2 station in the East Midlands has been how to effectively pass the flood prone areas of the Trent, but now things have taken seen a new twist, as both Leeds and Manchester, where many of the most vocal cheerleaders for HS2 can be found, have flooded.
In Manchester, besides the clear fact there are massive pools of water due to a lack of flood defences, maybe the thing to be paying attention to right now is that the 2013 sustainability statement said that HS2 would put Piccadilly station at risk of flooding. And that was before ‘record rainfall’.
In Leeds, it is far easier to connect the dots, as the proposed site of the HS2 station is currently under water at the time of writing. The plans as they were originally drawn, and currently still stand, are for a new station to be built at New Lane, all the way up to the River Aire where the Asda HQ currently stands, or more rightly ‘floats’.
Of course one of the inherent problems with HS2 so far has been interconnectivity, and that besides Euston and Manchester Piccadilly, none of the stations are where people actually want to go. In the case of Leeds, the proposed HS2 station is south of the river, whilst the current station is to the north of it.
So, just last month, whilst launching ‘Phase 2a’ of HS2 to Crewe, which punted the other bits of Phase 2 into the longer grass, partly because they still haven’t figured out how to deal with the Trent, Sir David Higgins published an options report for the Leeds HS2 station location.
In his report Higgins came up with a new idea, that the HS2 and current rail station should be ‘integrated’ and that the decision on whether or not to go with ‘Option Two’ is now with the Chancellor.
The thing is, ‘Option Two’, only moved the proposed the station a couple of hundred yards north. The idea is not to be south of the river or north of the river, but to be both of those and of course in between, on a bridge over the river. Yeah, that’s the River Aire, with its’ current record flood levels.
If you’re a resident of Leeds you may be thinking; “Brilliant, they’ll surely have to build better flood defences or their precious HS2 station would flood”, but past experience should probably tell you that they’ll just build the station above the flood level, most likely just almost an inch above it. As the proposed Northern Powerhouse has now turned into the Northern Bathhouse, what are the people and politicians of Leeds and Manchester now going to think is the more important spending priority, flood prevention or HS2?
It’s clear what most of the country think, especially the likes of my Cousin, whose Daughter in Leyland with babe in arms has just been flooded again, whilst at the same time her local councillor saw her most important duty to tweet about a night on the piss with her Rochdale MP boyfriend (from an equally flooded constituency).
From the image you can see that others felt it more in the service of the populous if they were to go on social media to mention the location of the emergency soup kitchens.
Yes, you can be an elected representative and have a night off, that’s fair enough. But we’d expect you to be able to engage your brains before publicly going something like:“We’re having a great time, don’t care how screwed you are, look at us, we’ve had a few and are clearly about to go to our dry bedroom, which is accessed via our completely dry downstairs, which is unlike both the very wet downstairs in your house and our pants…..”
The problem which is perfectly illustrated by this tweet is; In politics, it’s all about priorities.
The penny about what is the most important priority may never drop in Westminster, as so many of those are totally detached from the reality of the real people around them. Maybe the day the Thames makes its’ way into the subsidised bars of the House of Commons, they might get it.
I wouldn’t hold your breath if I were you.
Unless you’ve been dragged away by raging floodwater that is.
Then, do hold your breath………..
[UPDATE – Claire Hamilton dumped Simon Danczuk the next day. Probably as she had seen that while she was taking those photos, he was busy texting a 17 year old girl, saying he was horny and offering her a spanking]
— Sally Hardman (@SallyHardman) December 28, 2015