In a session at the Transport Select Committee on Wednesday 12th, new Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin showed lukewarm support for HS2. In a short series of questions McLoughlin prevaricated when asked about his commitment to the timetable set by the previous Secretary of State, Justine Greening. When asked for a commitment to getting the legislation through for Phase 1 by 2015, he simply said
“I would certainly like to see the legislation by 2015, yes.”
When asked about the Y route, he said he intended to publish Phase 2 before the end of the year, but that he had not taken the time to look at the documents which Justine Greening had previously been sitting on for around six months.
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 said;
“Patrick McLoughlin showed he is well aware that infrastructure, like new railways, takes a long time to develop. It’s important therefore that the right infrastructure for the country is planned, and Stop HS2 think that HS2 is simply a bad project which should be cancelled as soon as possible. It is vital that the early stages of large scale infrastructure are subjected to rigorous scrutiny and like the Transport Select Committee said last year, this has not happened with HS2.”
“Given that Mr McLoughlin was a junior minister when HS1 – then called the Channel Tunnel Rail Link – was being discussed, he is probably also aware that 9 out of 10 rail projects tend to overestimate the passenger numbers. In the Channel Tunnel Rail Link’s case, actual passenger numbers are a third of the numbers originally forecast. Back then, his department failed to realise the airlines would provide tougher competition, the same way that the DfT is now ignoring the way IT will decrease the need for travel, something which they themselves are trying to promote!”
“We are concerned that Mr McLoughlin may have been poorly briefed about HS2 by his Department for Transport staff, as he said he hadn’t seen some of the HS2 Phase 2 documents. When you remember the way the HS2 Environmental Impact Assessment Consultation report was rushed out – on the day that Mr McLoughlin was transferred from the Whips Office – this suggests that some Department for Transport staff are hoping that McLoughlin will not look closely at the work they have done so far on HS2.
“It was our experience that Justine Greening was also poorly briefed, and she refused to meet anyone from Stop HS2 to discuss what we saw were the problems with HS2. Cheryl Gillan said that support within the cabinet was lukewarm for HS2, and from the way he was talking, it looks McLoughlin’s support is lukewarm as well.”
Stop HS2 Campaign Co-ordinator Joe Rukin said;
“It looks like the whole thing is stalling and McLoughlin doesn’t seem particularly bothered about it. He is now only saying they will ‘try’ and get the Stage 2 plans out by this year, but hasn’t even bothered looking at them yet, and would only go as far as saying he’d ‘like’ to get the legislation through by 2015. It was hardly a ringing endorsement. He seemed very poorly briefed and that was no surprise as Philip Rutman, the civil servant accompanying him who had been torn apart by the Public Accounts Committee, didn’t even know that HS2 Ltd had produced a new business case last month. In that document they had fiddled the figures to get the benefit-cost back up, by cutting the value of damage to the environment from £4.3bn to £957m, devaluing the countryside by 78%.”
“Patrick McLoughlin lamented to the TSC that little had changed in the 20 years since he left the DfT in that it still takes a long time for projects to get going. Sadly he has missed the point completely in that this is the problem, that the DfT just work on projects like HS2 in a strategic vacuum. I would have hoped that he would see the continued absence of an overall strategy which might lead to an integrated transport, network as the biggest problem.”
The full TSC session can be seen at
http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=11406, with the HS2 discussion starting at 14:33
Ellman: “Are you committed to delivering the legislation for first part of the HS2 network by 2015?”
McLoughlin “I would certainly like to see the legislation by 2015, yes.”
Ellman “Are you committed to ensuring the line goes beyond Birmingham to the north, on the agreed timetable at least, if not quicker?”
McLoughlin “As I said, right at the start of my evidence and I know from my own experience, rail planning, infrastructure planning takes a very long period of time but it is our intention to complete the Y link, that does take a bit longer but we have to first get the first section to Birmingham operating and it is our intention to do so.”
Hilling “When you publish route of the Y?”
McLoughlin (paraphased) “We had announced like to do it before the end of the year, it is still my intention to try and do that before end of year, that at the moment is the intention but will wait to see the papers that I’ve not yet seen.”
Interviewed on Sky News the new SOS for Transport said HS2 was vital for the future of the UK, that all infrastructure projects start out as controversial mentioning HS1 and how it is now a vital part of the rail network. Also seemed to hint at frustrations that Crossrail took so long to get from the drawing board to construction start. With the new planning rules proposed and current increase in engineers actually working on the ground along the route both South and North of Birmingham, plus the further pledge of support from Labour for this project, it looks as though the new man has been brought in to speed things up.
Added benefit is no Heathrow baggage.
At the meeting the discussion tone did not indicate any lukewarm intents.
This was a preliminary getting to know one another as the video recording shows.
The current HS2 is poorly remitted and is being rushed as a skimped and costly partial approach.
Better the SOS does reappraise options and determine if a different access into London from the north along the WCML/MML/M1 corridor is better than the Old Oak Common interchange.