If you have signed the current Stop HS2 petition on the Government e-petition website, you will have got the response from the DfT. (If you didn’t have the response emailed to you last week, you’ve not signed the petition and should do so immediately here).
As you might expect is straight out of the Governments’ playbook on HS2, a promotional blurb that goes on forever – far longer than the strict word limit for the petition itself – ignoring what the petition says, with a mixture of hype, half-truths and downright lies.
The main headline is that “HS2 will provide new rail network capacity, drive economic growth, create jobs and investment, train the next generation of engineers and better connect our major cities. It is on time and on budget.”
With this opening gambit, the Government fall at the first hurdle. No-one said that HS2 would not deliver capacity; the point was that in 20 years HS2 would deliver capacity where it is needed the least, with the lowest flexibility, at the greatest cost, whilst more beneficial rail projects have already been cancelled. In a similar vein, no-one said it wouldn’t create jobs, but £56bn for 27,000 construction jobs – over £2m to create just one job – is terrible value for money. This is something the independent economists mentioned as criticising HS2 keep bringing up, along with the claim Government have restated that it will drive economic growth.
But the biggest lie here is the one that is repeated in every press statement, in every interview, in every article and speech, that HS2 “is on time and on budget.” I’m sorry, but repeating this statement over and over again does not make it true. Forget the fact Chris Grayling made the HS2 Development Agreement which states the actual budgets and timescales HS2 Ltd are working to a state secret due to ‘commercial confidentiality’ (even though it’s an agreement between him and HS2 Ltd, a ‘private company’ that he is the only shareholder in), are we talking about the 2010 budget that was £32.7bn when Philip Hammond had his job and said it was ‘on budget’, or the £42.6bn or the £50.1bn budgets that HS2 has been ‘on budget’ to at various times?
No, they are talking about £55.7bn in 2015 prices, the official cost since George Osborne said it was going up only to account for inflation, something politicians still claim even though an FOIA has shown this it to be a complete lie. As for HS2 being on time, Government seem to believe that starting enabling works two years late, and only signing contracts for a final design a year after construction was meant to start, doesn’t count as being late because they’ve not moved the completion date. Basically, no matter how much you can see they are behind both original and revised timetables, they have this mind-set that until they decide they have no choice but to admit they are late, they will say they are on time.
This highlights perfectly the real problem with HS2, it simply does not matter what the truth is, or indeed how obvious the truth is, Government will not only ignore the truth, but they will actively lie with no compunction, no matter how obvious it is they are lying, and the next part of their response is another perfect example.
“HS2 will form the new backbone of our national rail network, providing new capacity and better connecting our major cities, while creating more space for commuter and freight trains on our busiest lines. This will create better connections and more seats for passengers and allow more goods to be moved by rail, which will also help to improve air quality.”
“Opening in 2026, the HS2 network will serve towns and cities including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Crewe, Nottingham, Derby, York and Newcastle, with trains running on to Scotland. By 2033 up to 18 trains an hour will run in both directions, carrying up to 1,100 passengers each.”
“HS2 is a major investment but an essential one. HS2’s total budget is £55.7bn. Over the current Spending Review period spending on HS2 will equate to 0.14% of GDP. We are keeping a tough grip on costs and are determined to deliver HS2 on time and on budget.”
Far from being the ‘new backbone’ of the rail network, HS2 is more like a vestigial tail, a throwback, a 19th century solution for a 21st century economy. The concept that HS2 is needed for freight growth, when currently half the freight paths on the West Coast Mainline are unused (according to HS2 Ltd) and of course HS2 won’t carry freight makes this a ridiculous justification.
Government seem to have got the 2026 opening of Phase 1 to Birmingham and Phase 2 in 2033 mixed up, as almost every city on their list wouldn’t be ‘served’ by Phase 1 of HS2 and of course the cities that will lose connections lie Coventry and Stoke are not mentioned. But even that list of cities ‘served’ by HS2 is a half-truth. Derby and Nottingham will supposedly be ‘served’ by a station on the very edge of Nottingham, which will see a reduction in services to both city-centre stations. Places like York, Newcastle, Edinburgh & Glasgow are supposed to be served by ‘classic compatible’ trains, which when they leave the HS2 tracks at Manchester or Leeds will actually go slower than current trains.
Even the seemingly innocuous claim of 18 trains per hour each way is simply made up as there is not a high speed rail network anywhere in the world that runs more than 14tph, 18tph quite simply relies on technology not yet invented. Of course there is no way we would end up with 18tph running and the very real danger that if a train broke down the one behind would hit it. But for now Government have to stick with that figure, because they have published a service pattern promising cities X amount of trains for their unswerving support, so they cannot possibly admit at this point that there will not be as many trains as promised, but this is in line with their policy claiming there will be ‘benefits all round’.
There is of course a large section in the response about how great HS2 will be for the North. Well, not quite, more a little bit of HS2, and how Government are doing other stuff for the North of England, saying they are “delivering unprecedented investment in infrastructure in the North”, sort of forgetting the point in the petition about the cancelled electrification on Trans-Pennine, Midland Mainline, Lake District and Great Western lines, seemingly thinking that they can keep repeating the phrase “Northern Powerhouse” and that’s good enough.
The next bit of the response has a truly beautiful sleight of hand, stating “HS2 will support growth in the wider economy, worth an additional 100,000 jobs. 70% of all jobs created by HS2 will be outside of London.” So that’s 70,000 jobs outside London, right? Wrong. This is typical of the way HS2 Ltd imply things that aren’t true. ‘Worth and additional 100,000 jobs’ doesn’t mean HS2 creates that many, the actual line from their original business case is “HS2 Ltd predicts that additional commercial development brought forward as a result of HS2 in areas immediately surrounding HS2 stations could support up to 100,000 jobs.” When HS2 Ltd are saying 70% of the jobs it creates would be outside London, they certainly aren’t talking about 100,000, they are talking about the 3,000 people who would work at the stations and maintenance depots, so that 70% isn’t 70,000 but just 2,100.
The response finished off with the fact the real reason HS2 is being built, because the contractors who swill from the trough of billions in juicy contracts, have lobbied gullible politicians into believing HS2 is ‘essential, transformative’ and all that guff.
You can sign the petition here, and please send it on to your family and friends.