Core cities and high speed rail

Stop HS2 and other organisations have previously criticised on the Coalition’s government transport strategy.  It seems to consist of high speed two (which relies for it’s business case on increasing demand for long-distance travel), reduce demand for travel and cutting carbon (although even Philip Hammond admits that HS2 will be “broadly carbon neutral“).

However, it seems that they are considering options which will make it impossible for them to be in charge of a national strategy altogether.

According to the Observer on Sunday:

Greg Clark, the minister for cities, intends to change the law so that he can strike deals between Whitehall and eight core cities that would allow them to set their own policies….

The devolution of power over transport could also see cities arranging joint public-private deals to connect each other through high-speed rail lines.

Stop HS2 has no problem with the core cities – Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield – having greater responsibilities for some of their policies, but there are major problems with devolving decisions about high speed rail to these cities.

The essential problem is that although high speed rail can connect cities, it has a huge negative effect on the places it passes on the way.  However much Stop Hs2 criticises the Department for Transport’s attitude towards the people directly effected by HS2 and the inadequecies of the information given, at least central government has some responsibility towards the communities which will by the line and the communities have some influence over their MP.

The core cities do not have any similar responsibility to the communities en route.

HS2 Ltd at least considered stations at Aylesbury, Bicester and Milton Keynes, (even though they rejected the Bicester and Milton Keynes options because too many people would get on the high speed trains there).

The core cities might not be expected to even consider stations en route, regardless of the national or local arguments in favour of such stations.

And then what about the other communities which might be affected?  For instance, Coventry City Council are against HS2 because they know that HS2 will suck investment away from the city.  Local MPs can vote against HS2 in Parliament, but if the votes were being made by Birmingham City Councillors and another core city, Coventry voters would have no say in the decision.

So whatever the merits of the core cities being granted some responsibilities by central government, decisions about high speed rail should not be devolved to them.

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