High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from the National Farmers Union (HSR 116)

1.  The NFU represents 55,000 farm businesses in England and Wales involving an estimated 155,000 farmers, managers and partners in the business. In addition we have 55,000 countryside members with an interest in farming and the country.


2.1  The NFU welcomes the opportunity to respond the Transport Committee.

2.2  The NFU is a representative of many of the farming landowners and agricultural tenants on the proposed route who feel strongly about both the economic case put forward by High Speed 2 and also the steps that can be taken to mitigate impact and complexity of the compulsory purchase process. In preparing for this submission, and also our response to DfT's High Speed 2 consultation, the NFU has held six meetings in the affected regions, as well as gathering information on farm holdings affected.

3.  Question 2.1—HSR is designed to improve inter-urban connectivity. How does that objective compare in importance to other transport policy objectives and spending programmes, including those for the strategic road network

3.1  A well-functioning strategic transport network is central to any productive economy, but specifically for those involved in the agriculture and food industries. As UK farmers' productivity increases, improved transport networks are required to aid competition with other countries products, and also to reduce transport emissions. These dual purposes are highlighted in the Government's recent Foresight Report,[325] as food security and emissions awareness both move up the political agenda.

3.2  With this in mind, it would make sense for any transport strategy to lead to better cross country transport links which would make the journey times from processer to distributor and to the port facilities faster and less carbon intensive. With little produce being moved between London and Birmingham, it is difficult to see how High Speed 2 would aid this.

3.3  According to the Economic Case, High Speed 2 should support all transport users through both an increase in rail capacity, but also a modal shift which will reduce congestion on the roads, particularly on the M1. Whilst this will help road users who are forced to use the M1, there are little benefits for road users elsewhere.

3.4  Other road and rail users are concerned that such a large project will leave less funding available for improvements elsewhere, often in places where there could be increasing amount of transport required in the future. For example plans to upgrade the A14, an important cross country road which provides a useful link between the UK's agricultural heartlands to the ports in the east, have been shelved as part of the spending review. A proper assessment concerning the impact of funding availability for transport projects elsewhere should be considered alongside the proposal for High Speed 2.

4.  Question 3.1—How robust are the assumptions in the methodology—for example on passenger forecasts, modal shifts, fare levels, scheme costs, economic assumptions and the impact of lost revenue on the classic line?

4.1  Whilst the economic case goes into some depth analysing the potential benefits of a high-speed rail line between London and Birmingham, very little attention is paid to the cost, beyond the consideration of risk and optimism bias.

4.2  In particular interest to our organisation is the costs which have been considered in relation to taking land out of production. The appraisal shows that £960 million has been allocated to cover the land purchase and compensation costs, but no thought has been given to other costs that farm businesses will face as a result of their land being purchased. Over time the average size of farms in England has increased as the importance of economies of scale has risen, with many farmers renting extra land in order to maximise profitability. The acquisition of small parcels of land from farmers will not only mean that that the farmer loses the area of land taken, but will also affect his bottom line as fixed costs will have to be spread over a smaller farmable area. Whilst there will be a possibility for some farmers to rent other land near by this will not be possible in many cases and farmers will be left out of pocket, and in some cases the farm business will become an unviable asset.

4.3  Access to land via bridges and tunnels is another area where the costs have not been fully considered. There is no indication on where access might be placed on the current set of maps, and there is no estimate of how many of these bridges and tunnels High Speed 2 expects to incorporate. Without access to land separated by the track, farmers will, in some cases, be unable to farm these parcels of land. In other cases farmers may face a lengthy round journey on rural roads, which will increase costs for them as well as increasing congestion, and risk of accidents for other road users as more, large, farm vehicles, such as combine harvesters, take to the roads. We are also aware of cases where the High Speed 2 route effectively isolates farm businesses from access to the main road network, such as removing links that HGV delivery vehicles can use.

5.  Question 3.4—What lessons should to Government learn from other major transport projects to ensure that any new high speed lines are built on time and to budget?

5.1  Costs and build time can be minimised if a good relationship is built up with land holders along the proposed route. Having the individual farmer's support will allow for easy access to the land for the numerous surveys that have to be carried out.

5.2  In the early stages of construction of High Speed 1, goodwill was gained by agreeing a payment upfront, to be given to the landholder on first, second and subsequent visits to the land. A code of conduct should be followed whilst on the land.

5.3  Goodwill was also gained during the construction of HS1, as contractors used by HS1 to do the work had to abide to a construction Code of Practice and a quick dispute resolution procedure. Not only did this improve relationships between occupiers and constructors it also improved the speed of construction as disputes were avoided where possible, or resolved quickly. Construction of HS2 could be improved further by applying a Duty of Care as this will help with the smooth running of the operation of HS2 and for the project to reach its targets and the budget allowed.

5.4  Accommodation works in particular bridges and tunnels need to be considered at the earliest stage in detail and factored into the costs. We know from our experience with HS1 that this element was considered far too late in the process and HS1 did not take on board the access that is required by farmers on a daily basis to reach blocks of land and buildings which are severed by the rail line. Without proper assessment of these costs early on, both budget targets and deadlines will be difficult to meet.

5.5  A further lesson learnt from HS1 was that the initial Bill allowed far too much land to be acquired that was not necessary for the rail link. The total acquisition was 858 hectares whereas 350 hectares was actually required for the rail line and the landscaping. This highlights that it is very important to consider the area of land to be acquired as this will affect the budget.

6.  Question 4.3—Is the Government correct to build the network in stages moving from London northwards?

6.1  It does make business sense to have a part of the line open at the earliest available opportunity, so that those who will benefit from the construction of the line can enjoy it as early as possible, and construction costs can begin to be paid off. However, the decision to consult separately on the two phases, particularly when the Government appears committed to both phases does not allow for those affected in the second phase to respond to the initial consultation with full knowledge of how it affects themselves and their business interests.

6.2  The Economic Case shows that the London to Birmingham line on its own, with a benefit cost ratio (BCR) of 1.6, does not meet the Department for Transport's threshold for high value for money projects of 2. However when considering the whole Y network the BCR is much higher at 2.2. This suggests that, should the funds be available, the project is more likely to go ahead as a whole Y network than simply a line from London to Birmingham.

6.3  Many members of the public have no strong views on this project and north of Birmingham there is a low level of understanding of the Y network. This is especially true for those who live a long way from the urban centres where the stations will be based. Amongst some of the general public, and NFU members, there is an assumption that no new lines would have to be built north of Litchfield, with the trains simply transferring onto the newly upgraded West Coast Main Line (even in phase 2). This lack of understanding reflects the absence of communication with potential stakeholders north of Birmingham, during a consultation which effectively is many people's last opportunity to comment on the worthiness of high speed across the whole country.

May 2011

325   Foresight Report, Department for Business Innovation and Skills, Synthesis C5. Back

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Prepared 8 November 2011