BBC Question Time – Almost universal hostility to HS2 in Lancaster

Last week, when the HS2 Stage 2 route was announced, politicians and business leaders were queuing up to say what a great idea it was. However, the BBC Question Time broadcast in Lancaster proved a rude awakening. As James Delingpole from the Spectator noted, the politician class think one thing, but ordinary people thing something completely different.

29 comments to “BBC Question Time – Almost universal hostility to HS2 in Lancaster”
  1. Lets all hope the minster is wrong and the judgement stops this project in its tracks .untill after the next election when he will find himself out of a job if he likes high speed trains that much why not stop in Japan and advise them or is it that he is being wined and dined by the train makers for them to supply the trains for hs2

  2. Not a conflation (what two concepts have been combined)
    I have voiced an obvious, comparator; Concorde v satellite launch (an historic truth) the economic impact of which remains pertinent.

    The economic and passenger projections of HS2 are similar (conceptually) to those used to argue for Concorde which
    was also imposed on the British public with a promise to change the world and provide jobs and wealth.
    It was technically stunning, beautiful but it did not deliver and was a financial disaster in the fuel crisis.
    HS1 has not really delivered save as a subsidized service but as I said it linked a quantum change in travel
    namely England to the Channel tunnel and Europe. HS2 does not offer this it will simply move bodies faster to slightly more out of the way stations which will then involve secondary travel. HS1 has not transformed British or European business.

    I knew of your likely response is which is why I have also provided the link to money week which is more hard nosed.

    Essentially yours is an answer of faith or dogma over probable, predictable fact. Such optimism has the naive charm of the Festival of Britain or 1960s town planning( let us tear down adn rebuild Cities with tower blocks rather than promoting organic urban growth )
    It is also one that is closed to reasoned, non destructive green alternatives.
    Essentially you are a believer in the romance that has been spun over this project. You want to believe.
    I chose to doubt , this being the weighted choice, as I have not been convinced, the facts are not forthcoming and the propaganda from HS2 ltd is overt, self-preservation and self interest .
    Doubt is cautious, conservational and prudent.

    The media is full of the romance of railways,romantic projections harking back to Victorian Robber Barons, Empire and the power of steam made possible by the systematized exploitation of labour. When a politician cites such tosh to support HS2 it shows the argument is weak. Remember Beeching?

    I am an old cynic. HS2 is too fast for flexibility of route and connection to city centres, too fast for economic travel, based on nuclear power availability (which has just hit its own buffers). It is limited in scope and sited in the wrong place for easy development into other regions. In its present form it fails to offer anything to Scotland,Wales, the West-country,Ireland or the Eastern counties who will all pay for it.

    I challenge you to properly and academically prove your argument based on supported fact not fallacious and also explain the sustainable predictions to jobs and wealth creation solely linked to High Speed travel in this specific context.
    I have trawled most of the academic literature and it seems

    • @paul harlow: “Not a conflation (what two concepts have been combined)”

      Unbelievable – your selective amnesia has become such so routine, you no longer even notice it! Improved rail travel and Concorde are not comparable but it suits your purpose to mislead the public into believing this myth

      @paul harlow:HS1 has not really delivered save as a subsidized service but as I said it linked a quantum change in travel namely England to the Channel tunnel and Europe. HS2 does not offer this”

      Yet more selectivity on your part – I must have imagined the part where HS2 will link directly to HS1, facilitating through running direct services from UK provincial cities to near mainland European destinations – see following relevant URLs

      @paul harlow: “Essentially yours is an answer of faith or dogma over probable, predictable fact”

      Oh really, so I just made up the fact that 31 million passenger journeys (and rising) were undertaken on the WCML alone last year. I try wherever possible to back up my opinion with evidence based information – a feature sadly lacking in much of the rhetoric emanating from the anti-HS2 community. When confronted with such evidence those hostile to HS2 tend to simply ignore inconvenient truths and you didn’t disappoint in that respect – why no comment on the article I linked to elaborating on the future role of HS2 – too difficult to deal with?

      Paul, believe it or not I respect your right to express your viewpoint in a robust manner but you should reciprocate by appreciating the clear evidence supporting current High Speed Rail policy – stop trying to mislead with selective editing of facts or just ignoring them where they don’t fit with your argument!

      • Peter, the leaflet available at the second link that you have provided, “Serving the Continent” includes the following statement:
        “We propose building a short link to connect the proposed new HS2 line to the existing HS1 line. This could allow direct travel between, for example, Birmingham and Manchester to Europe.”
        The important word in this statement is “could”. My analysis, which you can read in “Good idea, but” (at is that direct links are not being offered as part of the current Phase 1 and Phase 2 plans. Passengers from HS2 stations will have to disembark at Old Oak Common, clear emigration and board an international train.

        • @Peter Delow

          Just so happens I’ve made a FOI request, which will confirm (or not) a precise and unequivocal answer to this question, I’ll keep you posted on the information I receive back

          Much has been made of the need to link HS2 and HS1 and without it, any claims to facilitate direct through running services from UK provincial cities and with it modal shift from short haul air to high speed rail are meaningless. In the plans for HS2 it is stated that the tunnelled portion of the link must be constructed during phase 1 because it would cause havoc to try and add it in later, say during phase 2, so I remain convinced that the tunnelled link will be constructed.

          More to the point though is the provision of integral border control facilities at stations planned along phase 1 and phase 2 – that’s the purpose of the question I have sent to HS2Ltd

        • During the judicial reviews it came to light that the Heathrow link has a benefit to cost ratio of 0.3 to 1. It would also be interesting to know what the ratio is for the link to HS1. I suspect it will be worse than the 0.3 for Heathrow.

          • I agree with you “Finmere”, the BCR for the HS2 to HS1 link is something that we should be told. My inquiries appear to indicate that the Government is being coy about this. In response to a FOI request made in October 2011 (see FOI11-321 at, which asked just that question amongst others, HS2 Ltd appears to resort to obfuscation to avoid having to give a direct answer. I have looked at the documents cited by HS2 Ltd in the “answer” – note that the links given no longer work – but the linked documents do not appear to provide the information that was requested. The FOI response refers you to page 37 of the February 2012 HS2 economic case document for “HS1 tunnel costs”. All that page seems to contain is a total cost for all HS2 tunnels, including the HS1 link tunnel.The reference to Table 6 on page 35 for “HS1 benefits” is no more helpful; the HS1 benefits have been included in a total benefits figure, and are not identified separately. I think that is pretty shameful and not at all in keeping with the intention of the freedom of information legislation.
            In Chapter 12 of its response to the HS2 public consultation, the 51m alliance identifies the cost of the link as £0.9 billion and the benefits as £0.4 billion (see paragraph 12.6). This indicates that the BCR is probably a little better than the Heathrow link, but is still much less than 1.

    HS2……. would involve the same “empire-building, pork-barrelling, incompetence and skewed incentives as most other projects”.

    He concluded that HS2, far from providing a positive benefit to the taxpayer, or even breaking even (ever), would “generate a loss of 79p on every £1 spent”. There’s a big difference between that and a gain of £2.

  4. The financial argument has always been a bit of a red herring and one a lot of agencies were led on to utilize in argument. The finances and projections of same are a fiction and the benefits can always be spun and strategically shifted. This renders the financial argument void as another ethereal paradigm is deployed which in its present form is neither penetrable, justifiable nor answerable. Now it is 100,000 jobs, 100s billions of ‘growth’ because of development and capacity. I am sure this was always the plan. Set up a false paradigm and then break it. The justifications have been so glib as to be contrived and planned long ago.
    There is little academic support for sustainable benefits from HSR in England plain, unsupported by mass development.
    Improved transport across the country (including the West Country, Eastern Counties Scotland and Wales with considerable development and financial input is likely to have an effect greater than HS2 alone.
    HS2 by its nature, its route and its environmental impact have always been the real issues of contention.
    HSR has no parallel for comparison, HS1 linked London with Europe and the Tunnel. The other ‘benefits’ to Kent have largely linked to ‘regeneration’ (major greenfield and brownfield) inc housing which could have occurred independent to HS1 (very few stations although the blight facilitated development) but based on simply better standard communication. HS1 was linked with the Thames Gateway and its extensions.
    What is the undisclosed Trojan Horse that HS2 is bringing?.

    The nearest parallel to the naked HSR is Concorde. It relates to simple speed of delivery of the relative few.
    Concorde was responsible for the UK giving up its satellite launch and development programme.
    It is obvious today where the money, effort and national preoccupation would have been better spent.
    HS2 will not just consume money but other resources and manpower/planning effort etc.
    These assets could be more wisely used.
    The spatial connections and links with other transport are poor and badly formulated, some essential one such as Heathrow are not formulated at all.
    . Manchester as ever is pampered and over-resourced over other cities such Liverpool, Sheffield etc and this is likely related to their power of lobby over actual demonstrated potential.

    HS2 is an out of date aspiration, too fast to have a flexible route (except Tatton; flexible triumph of politics over truth) ,Too counsuming of power and resources/materials, executive travel time does not relate to productivity as has been represented.
    England is small and well connected compared to its competitors. HS2 will damage the environment and reputations for ever. Unlike a windfarm it cannot be dismantled.
    It may be elegant,sophisticated, world class etc but is it useful,serviceable and in its present form truly beneficial.
    In its distant original concept it was hoped to ape HS1 and follow transport routes, then as super high speed its route was altered.
    HS2 will be the concorde for the next generation.

    • @Paul Harlow
      Nice attempt to conflate HS2 with a project that has not stood the test of time

      However your argument is fatally flawed because it’s predicated on the same biased assumption of High Speed Rail as the exclusive preserve of “Fat Cat” Executive business types whizzing hither and thither on meaningless trips they could have easily conducted via some mythical future super fast broadband fuelled virtual reality.

      That simply isn’t going to be the case

      HS2 will tap into an established market of 30 million plus (and rising) passenger journeys on a rail corridor that goes from strength to strength – this article explains in more detail the supporting rationale

      In short HS2 is not going to be the expensive white elephant that anti-HS2 campaigners would like to portray – in-situ it will begin to play an increasingly vital role in the UK’s transport infrastructure, eventually becoming an indispensable asset we’ll wonder how we managed without in previous times.

        • Thank you for your considered comment @Nameless

          Care to explain why (with some evidence to back up your claim) you think my remarks are “a load of nonsense” rather than just post a random, knee-jerk response?

          • It was very considered. You are clearly deluded regarding your own brains and I dont waste effort on the delusional/hostile/ignorant – so no. Many academics slated it as “absurd” already – use google.

    • As I remember it, the Wilson government had three possible major projects: Concorde, Maplin airport -at the seaward end of the Thames Estuary- and the Channel Tunnel.

      Since then Concorde has been grounded, though leaving a legacy of Anglo French Aerospace collaboration, the” Boris Island” plan remains an uncertain possibility while the Channel Tunnel was completed to a modified design and, with the HS link completed, rather belatedly, connected with the Capital and the existing rail network.

      With regard to Elaine’s comment, below, I don’t think any national leader has guaranteed happiness since ‘bread and circuses”were laid on to keep the Roman population from rebelling.

      Without getting inside Mr. Cameron’s head, how can you possibly know how he does or doesn’t care- this railway is after all, just one item in the Government’s programme- and why should he pay attention anyway when he is insulted and all those supporting the project are accused of being dishonest and/ or corrupt!

      • Now that is conflation. Concorde ‘as sold’ was a failure.
        Any benefit to aerospace was secondary when it could have been the primary intent as I argued.

        The other projects were other projects and did not relate to the concept of this argument.

  5. kingsnewclothes I agree, the way Cameron states HS2 will be built shows that he neither cares the devastation building it will cause or.
    the fact that it is upsetting thousands of people.,When he vowed he wanted to make us all happy.We are not, and never have all been Nimbys.
    He has appeared to treat those who pay him with contempt.I have been at meetings from the start full of people just wanting to know why this construction is the best idea for the country especially when many important things are being cut.We have seen nothing to reassure us infact everything to the contrary.I have always weighed things up at elections but always ended up voting tory.HS2 was not made clear that it would be on the agenda as have other things.How can we know what we are voting for.Whilst one or two M.P.s seem to be doing a good job for their constituents their seem to be many others that are out to make as much as they can from the ordinary hardworking taxpayer.I probably wont vote at the next election as i dont like the choices offered.

    • Have a listen to David Cameron here:

      He states: “I don’t think it is good, I don’t think it is right for people if we, and our country, if we give up on paying down our debts and just pass that down to our children. I don’t see anything good or even moral in, in that approach.”

      So is it good and moral to pass on the debts of constructing, running and maintaining HS2, when the high-speed rail takes 60 years plus to pay for, using a major portion of the annual transport infrastruction budget, and is highly likely to cost more than the finance it generates?

      • We have certainly had many robust, two-sided debates about HS2. The problem with these debates being that anyone with robust factual arguments against HS2 are not being taken seriously by those who wish to build it. It’s like saying, of course you can have your view, but it won’t make any difference because we are going to construct HS2 even if most of you in our Big Society have good reasons for believing it is going to be a tremendous environmental and financial mistake.

  6. May I ask Peter Davidson where the money for HS2 is coming from? The UK is broke and getting “broker” by the day.

    • @william
      Here I explain my understanding of HS2 construction funding
      1. The current (as in right now) state of UK finances has little or no bearing on the funding for HS2 because the lion’s share of HS2’s headline construction budget is allocated to a period beginning late 2016 and ending sometime in 2033 – only a relatively tiny proportion of spend is going on right now during the present Parliamentary period – I believe there was a question asked in the Commons about this specific issue before Christmas 2012 and it turned out the total running at that stage was approx £156million or less than one half of 1% of the much touted headline budget.
      2. If you’re looking for a large rail infrastructure project consuming large amounts of central taxpayer funding right now, as a potential target for cancellation and subsequent reallocation to more deserving priorities, look no further than CrossRail. Construction of CrossRail is consuming approx £2bn per annum right now and the company charged with the task of construction, CrossRail Ltd, is largely funded by the central taxpayer
      3. Which brings us on neatly to where HS2 construction funding will come from, which is the same £2bn per annum strategic infrastructure funding pot currently sustaining CrossRail construction, which rather conveniently (don’t supppose it was planned in advance do you?) is scheduled to complete sometime during 2016, when that same pot of funding (and presumably a proportion of the highly skilled workforce it pays for) will transfer seamlessly to HS2
      4. That £2bn strategic transport infrastructure funding pot is built into long term UK govt budget forecasts so it’s already factored into any future govt borrowing plans for the next ten/twenty years or so (or however far forward such plans are made)

      Trust this brief outline explains your question?

      • I have no interest in going over the whole issue of funding streams again but as you know they are not yet finalised for hs2 including the complex issue of local funding
        However transport spending is not ring fenced and in my view we have far greater priorities for taxpayer funding including nhs,skills,green initiatives,existing infrastructure which is in a poor state including caverns on our main roads etc,etc

        • @John: “and in my view we have far greater priorities for taxpayer funding including nhs,skills,green initiatives,existing infrastructure which is in a poor state including caverns on our main roads etc,etc”

          That’s your prerogative and a polictical preference you (and millions of other UK citizens) can freely express, come general election time. It should also be noted that huge sums (far in excess of the annual pro-rata funding allocated in the future to HS2) are now committed to the existing rail network – £37bn for the 2014-19 control period alone.

          In 2010, more than 90% of votes cast endorsed parties advocating High Speed Rail (HS2 was already in the public domain at that juncture). In 2015, we (collectively) will have another opportunity to either renew the existing clear political/electoral mandate or choose an alternative (there are parties offering these alternatives) future strategy.

          I believe the overwhelming majority will continue to back current policy choices – that’s a reality the anti-HS2 community has been unable to successfully challenge. If the 2015 general election returns an administration continuing to back HS2, I wonder if anti-HS2 campaigners will be big enough to say; the British public have spoken” and desist with their futile efforts to frustrate this long overdue project – somehow I have my doubts?

          • A vote for the major political parties is not a vote for HS2 as that is so far down the list of most voters priorities that it is a complete irrelevance, even if there was a real alternative which there was not. So yes, the three major political parties are in favour of HS2, and yes the majority of voters go with one of the three main parties, but these are in no way cause and effect. Similarily while UKIP may pick up some anti-HS2 votes in the next election I would in no way claim that every UKIP voter is against HS2, as that would be equally nonsensical.

            One other comment on your earlier post – Crossrail was over 60% funded by London taxpayers and London businesses. So while a considerable amount of money was provided by central government (i.e. all taxpayers) most of the money was produced by those that would benefit. I do wonder how keen the good citizens of Birmingham/Manchester/Leeds will remain on HS2 when the message that they will have to stump up some of the cash becomes less hidden…

            • @Andrew Gibbs: “One other comment on your earlier post – Crossrail was over 60% funded by London taxpayers and London businesses.”

              Sorry but your factually incorrect you need to keep up Andrew – we’ve been over this one before – read my post again – I referred specifically to CrossRail construction costs, which is being undertaken by CrossRail Ltd, funded almost exclusively by the Department for Transport, ie. UK taxpayers

              Yes, eventually the money will come back in from CrossRail passengers via the farebox, London council taxpayers and businesses but that’s eventually – the same principle can be applied in large part to HS2 – are you saying that tickets on HS2 trains will be free?

  7. One question that the old Crossrail 2 plans and the like brings to mind is this. It’s all well and good shaving 30-40 minutes off a trip down to London from “Up North”, but surely that time gained would likely be lost again sat in a cab on the Euston Road, or watching yet-another-tube-filled-to-capacity sail in and out of the platform with the traveller being unable to board?
    This massive investment in national infrastructure would surely offer more bang-for-the-buck if it were spent on local transport improvements?

  8. If anything positive has come out of HS2, it has served to focus minds on the creaky infrastructure of our existing rail network, which a shiny new train running north-south isn’t going to fix.

    Unforeseen by our ‘visionary’ politicians, a reverse twist of fate has widened the HS2 debate into what we really need to improve links around the country and not just up and down.

    A halt needs to be called to financing just one flashy new line, in order to consider the wider benefits of spending £33 billion improving rail services across the UK, which would prove much more pioneering and radical ‘a la Victorian mode’ than just a single super-fast express.

    The politicians love to dress themselves in the glory of Victoriana greatness, thinking the words alone will make them sound like wise statesmen, when in fact we can all see their new clothes.

    • @Geoff: “A halt needs to be called to financing just one flashy new line, in order to consider the wider benefits of spending £33 billion improving rail services across the UK, which would prove much more pioneering and radical ‘a la Victorian mode’ than just a single super-fast express.”

      I have to challenge the implications of your statement.

      You seem to be saying that improvements to the UK’s “creaky [rail] infrastructure” amount to HS2 and not much else – this is clearly not the case!

      HS2’s headline budget figure (we can debate what the true figure might end up in another thread) amounts to less than £2bn per annum spread out over a 17 year period.

      Network rail recently announced a programme of classic line upgrade work for the 2014-19 five year control period, amounting to £37bn – that’s in excess of £5bn per year or 2.5 times the pro-rata annual rate for the entire HS2 project.

      There will a further two full five year control periods between the end of 2014-19 and the scheduled start of Phase 2 train services in 2033 – not sure about you but to me that sounds like a awful lot more investment going into the existing “creaky infrastructure” network than the sums budgeted for one flashy new line called HS2?

      I do agree with a generally held consensus that HS2 Ltd and the DfT are doing a pretty poor public relations job in disseminating these basic facts to the UK public, which might begin to explain the kind of reaction seen on the Question Time programme referred to in this article?

      • @Peter Davidson: “Network rail recently announced a programme of classic line upgrade work for the 2014-19 five year control period, amounting to £37bn – that’s in excess of £5bn per year or 2.5 times the pro-rata annual rate for the entire HS2 project.

        Yes, I saw that announcement on the BBC News website which also said:

        “Network Rail says it aims to reduce the cost of running Britain’s railways by a further 18% and cut annual public subsidy to between £2.6bn and £2.9bn in 2019, down from £4.5bn in 2009 and £7bn in 2004.”


        “However, the plans will be affordable only if Network Rail manages to make these savings. It also assumes fares will keep rising by more than inflation every year to help pay for it.”

        A lot of ifs and buts as usual. You faith is commendable. I shall watch developments with interest.

      • That’s progress.

        You seem to at last acknowledge that a major part of public opinion is against HS2 ( even though you suggest this is simply because the DfT and government haven’t got their spin working properly ). The public can’t all be NIMBY’s can they ?

        I think you underestimate how much contempt politicians are held in. From the moment David Cameron ( and particularly Nick Clegg ) said HS2 was a good idea you lost the argument in many peoples eyes.

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