What we say about Norman Baker’s comments on HS2 in his speech about transport to the Lib Dems.
Norman Baker says HS2 is needed because that there is a “desperate need for more capacity north-south” and that upgrading the West Coast Main Line is not an option. But the HS2 solution involves waiting 15 years to see any improvement, during which time there will be 7-8 years of disruption at Euston (HS2 Ltd’s timetable), affecting all trains going to the London end of the West Coast Main Line. As there will be disruption on the West Coast Main Line terminus if HS2 goes ahead, surely it is better to look at solutions that will increase capacity on the line much sooner then HS2 might.
He says that HS2 is needed to share prosperity around the country. We agree that prosperity and jobs should not be concentrated in one part of the UK: we want to see people in Manchester, in Newcastle, in Wales having real choices and real options about jobs. But as evidence to the Transport Select Committee, from Prof Vickerman of Kent University, said a fortnight ago, the academic research isn’t there to back up claims that HS2 will reduce the north south divide. The evidence is that HS2 will reduce the number of jobs in Wales.
And what is worse, is that HS2 Ltd were not set upto design a railway to reduce the north south divide. They were not asked to assess alternative ways of addressing the problem of regional disparities: they were asked to look into building a fast railway. By tying up £33 billion of taxpayer’s money on HS2 and calling it the means for reducing the north-south divide, the money is not available for other options, while politicians cross their fingers and hope it works.
Norman Baker says “Thirdly, there will be carbon gains arising from modal shift from domestic air to rail.”
But this is not what HS2 Ltd say or Philip Hammond says. They both say that operating HS2 is “broadly carbon neutral”: HS2 Ltd say, in their February 2011 consultation document, that carbon emissions might actually increase.
In some ways what was of most interest though was the quotes that Norman Baker used to illustrate his speech:
“That wildly wrong assertion is perhaps bettered only by William Preece, the Royal Mail’s Chief Engineer, who in 1878 grandly stated: “The Americans need the telephone but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.””
HS2 Ltd is making the case for the new line based on a predicted massive increase in the demand for travel. Things won’t change, they say, in spite of people using telepresence videoconferencing and other digital technologies…