Letter from 51 Group to every MP

Just before Christmas, the 51M group sent a letter to every MP about why HS2 is a bad project for the nation. Here’s the text of the letter:

21 December 2011

Dear Member of Parliament

High Speed 2

In January the Secretary of State for Transport will be making the decision on whether or not to proceed with HS2. The project has been mired in controversy from the outset, lauded as a once in a generation opportunity and denounced as a vanity project with equal conviction.

The 51m alliance of 18 local authorities fears a rushed decision, possibly based on flawed information, could commit future generations to unnecessary and unaffordable debt.

The 51m alliance is urging MPs to give serious thought to the facts of this case and the implications the proposals will have for every UK resident.  51m feels the country cannot afford HS2, particularly in these times of austerity; it does not form part of a national transport strategy; the business case is flawed; it will impact negatively on the environment.  This scheme will not bridge the north-south divide, as has been claimed; and there are cheaper alternatives which could be delivered now, when the country needs them.

HS2 comes with a £32 billion price tag; that’s £51 million for every Parliamentary Constituency. But the overall cost would be much greater.

To give just two examples;

  •  the Heathrow spur is estimated to cost up to £9 billion, plus providing a new underground line to cope with the increased passenger numbers generated by HS2 at Euston Station once the route reaches Manchester and Leeds, would cost a further £6 – 9 billion.
  • In addition, HS2 will require improvements to regional transport networks to deliver essential connectivity that has yet to be costed.

Consequently, the taxpayer is facing a final bill in excess of £50 billion at a time when the nation is experiencing the most serious financial situation it has faced for 70 years.

The 51m alliance welcomes the concept of a national infrastructure plan the Government has put forward as one important way to achieve economic growth.  However, the Transport Select Committee at its session with the Transport Secretary last week was rightly concerned at the absence of strategic coherence.  At the meeting with the Select Committee, Justine Greening stated the key driver for selecting capital projects, including rail, must be value to the taxpayer. The single project that dwarfs all others in terms of cost, HS2, has a benefit to cost ratio of just 1.6.  When one considers thatthelargest element of the monetised benefits in the business case – £5 billion – is based on the hugely questionable journey time savings, its profound weakness in delivering value for money is crystal clear.

From the outset, HS2 has been promoted without setting the project against alternatives. By spending around £3 billion on improving pinch points on the West Coast Main Line (WCML), adding carriages and changing the mix of first and standard seats, passenger capacity can be increased by over 200%.  Moreover, such improvements can be brought in much sooner than the 15 years HS2 would take.

Similarly, with regard to WCML, the capacity for improvements to existing lines is given short shrift by the HS2 lobby. In September this year Chiltern Railways introduced its new Chiltern Mainline service,reducing the journey time between London to Birmingham,by a fifth to 90 minutes.  Although still longer than 49 minutes journey time claimed for HS2, Chiltern Mainline runs to Moor Street and Snow Hill in the heart of Birmingham, not to a proposed new station at Curzon Street.

Although much of the Government’sfocus has been on speed, supporters have said the project is fundamentally about capacity.  If more emphasis were placed on capacity and less on speed there would be more flexibility to enable the route to follow existing transport corridors and the number of stops could be increased, dramatically widening the benefits to may cities and towns that HS2 simply bypasses.  Christian Wolmar, the acknowledged rail expert, has said, if the High Speed 2 trains ran at 186 mph rather than 225 mph, the London to Birmingham journey time would increase by 3 to 4 minutes.  It seems extraordinary that tens of billions of pounds can be risked in pursuit of such marginal benefits.

At the heart of the argument is the need to deal with the overcrowding of the WCML.Given the credible alternative we and others have put forward it is crucial to examine the existing peak loading data for the line.  51m has asked to see this data but our Freedom of Information request has been refused by the Department for Transport.  At the same time, the Department has released this data with respect to the West Coast Line to the Sun Newspaper. It is astonishing that, if the capacity case is so overwhelming, the evidence for this is not made public.

Another perceived benefit of HS2 has been its green credentials.  In fact, even the Government accepts that the scheme is at best carbon neutral. The shift from car and air travel, set out in the business case is just 6% and 7%. This massive project will make, at most, a negligible contribution to the national carbon reduction targets and could make things worse.  In terms of the environmental impact the route of HS2 would go through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Beauty, having a devastating affect on countryside of national importance.

A further claim made for HS2 is that it will rebalance the economy.  Evidence from high speed rail schemes elsewhere in Europe is inconclusive.  In fact, one outcome might be that, in terms of jobs created, London may gain at the expense of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.  Indeed, the DfT acknowledges 70% of the jobs created will be in the South-East. There is a strong possibility that job increases in the cities directly on the HS2 route will be the result of displacement – ie jobs transferring from surrounding regions.

Professional bodies and experts including the Institute for Economic Affairs, The New Economics Foundation, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the RAC Foundation, The Adam Smith Institute and The Economist magazine have continued to raise serious doubts about HS2. Even the Transport Select Committee’s report published in November, while expressing qualified support for HS2, raised a substantial number of fundamental questions about the project the Transport Secretary must consider.

We are in danger of rushing headlong to a decision on high speed rail that will have catastrophic consequences for this country. If over-crowding on the WCML is an urgent priority, why is HS2 being championed as the solution when the first phase between London and Birmingham will not be completed until 2026.

The Transport Secretary must be urged to say no the High Speed 2.

Yours sincerely

Martin Tett

Leader, Buckinghamshire County Council

and Chairman of 51m


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3 comments to “Letter from 51 Group to every MP”
  1. WCML was upgraded in 2003 from 25kV upto 50kV for 125mph running of PENDOLINO Fleet, EUSTON to RUGBY

    How-ever this speed can only be reached 5 miles from Euston – exit from Kensal Green tunnels (1/4mile) @85mph

    Timing from Wolverhampton to Euston stopping at Birmingham News Street B’ham International & Milton Keynes
    Central on the older 1960s 87 1hour 20 minutes average speeds 100-110 Watford tunnel – Primrose Hill ( 2.5miles)
    source “Runfurrow video” including heavy rain from Hertfordshire to Harrow & Wealdstone, yet there are still many CSRs (Compulsory Speed Restrictions) on WCML – even for Pendolino having Network Rail permission 125mph /200km/ pH ?

    Following the fatal derailment at Hatfield, CGC (Ccorner gauge cracking) was discovered wide-spread in the Willesden Junction area ( 5.5miles ) Still today many Freight use WCML from South Hamsptead via Camden Road junction, these and many other hidden factors are strong enough case to revview Main-Line & inter-county services which compete with Freight towards Rugby & beyond —–

  2. An excellent attempt at pointing out the obvious……except that there are none so blind as those that do not want to see the inconvenient truth.
    The whole HS2 approach is flawed and, as has rightly been pointed out here and elsewhere, there are many cheaper options that are just being ignored.

    The recent PR exercise of having the cabinet meet in the Olympic handball arena had some unfinished signs as part of the Britain is great idea. One was a picture of the countryside labelled “Countryside Great”. Unwritten part? “For driving eyesores like HS2 through!!!!

    Listening government….do not make me laugh.

  3. I keep hearing that HS2 will lead to many more local services on the WCML
    what I dont hear about is if all the revenue for intercity goes to HS2 who will pay for the increased services let alone the existing ones which will lose that revenue
    Surlely the line is run by a private company and they will want to run profitable services so will it need even greater subsidy or am i missing something

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