High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Sue Taylor and Christopher Boyce (HSR 119)

1.  Main arguments either for or against HSR

We oppose the plan for a second high speed rail network. In our view (set out in greater detail below):

(a)  there is no convincing case for HS2 on economic, business, environmental or national interest grounds;

(b)  other transport policy objectives claim higher priority, especially at a time of severe financial constraint; and

(c)  although Government promotes HSR as an innovative policy, enabling the UK to match the transport infrastructure of our European partners, it is insufficiently forward looking, taking too little account of advances in communication technology, and missing the opportunity to design a new model of transport suitable for a small and densely populated nation.

2.  How does HSR fit with the Government's transport policy objectives?

We do not believe that HSR is consistent with other key transport policy objectives, in particular:

(a)  Much improvement is needed in our existing infrastructure to give us a properly "joined up" transport network (air, rail and bus), representing value for money for the bulk of the population, as well as cost effective and "green" ways to move goods around. HS2 is set to be an immense drain on resources without achieving the necessary result for our communities and our economy.

(b)  The environmental damage will be great—both in construction and operation. This is not consistent with the Government's stated objective of encouraging low-carbon travel.

(c)  As part of a more considered response to our transport infrastructure deficiencies, we would urge the Department to look seriously at Rail Package 2 to upgrade the West Coast Mainline, as the alternative to HS2 Phase 1. RP2 is capable of delivering much greater capacity than HS2, with less disruption and at much lower cost.

See also 4 below.

3.  Business case

We do not find the assumptions and methodology adopted in the business case for HS2 to be robust and compelling. For example:

(a)  Critics (including businessmen, senior politicians and economists) calculate the cost of HS2 to every family at over £1,000. At the same time, we learn that the date for benefit to be realised has been extended by a further 10 years to 2043, alongside a small and questionable benefit ratio and an inflated demand target based on outdated assumptions.

4.  Economic rebalancing and equity

In our view, HS2 will not promote economic regeneration by tackling the north-south divide, nor is its impact likely to be socially equitable. We would argue that:

(a)  To have an impact on the economy, transport systems must keep the country working at a time of severe financial constraint—enabling ordinary people to get to and from their places of work and other regular travel destinations such as education, healthcare and leisure services—easily and at affordable prices.

(b)  HS2, by contrast, is costly and focused on a long-distance travel market, ie a relatively small and wealthy socio-economic group which is less locally/regionally focused than most workers and their families. We note the Government statement (in the document mentioned below) that in contrast to this market, two thirds of all journeys are under five miles.

(c)  In Creating Growth, Cutting Carbon (Cm 7996, January 2011) the Government appears to recognise the huge importance of local transport systems as an engine of our economy. This document sets out the goal of a transport system which is "greener and safer and improves quality of life in our communities ... improving the links that help move people and goods around". Importantly, it states that:

"Local transport faces a sustainability challenge—excess delay is costing our urban economies £11 billion per annum, and carbon emissions impose a cost to society equivalent to up to £4 billion per annum. The costs to the health of our communities are even greater—up to £25 billion per year on the costs of physical inactivity, air quality and noise..."

(d)  Against this background, it is reasonable to question how Government can justify net expenditure of almost £12 billion (comparable to the cost of delays in local transport, see above) on HS2, especially when on the Government's own estimation, benefits will not begin to be seen for decades to come.

(e)  The more privileged business travel market that would be the principal beneficiary of HSR should shrink over the proposed development period as a result of continuing advances in communication technology, reducing the need for long-distance, high-speed business travel and replacing it with a 'low carbon' solution.

(f)  According to DfT, the large majority of regeneration jobs will be in London. This seriously undermines the argument that HS2 can rebalance the UK's north/south divide. It is also important to bear in mind that the current plan, budget and timetable concentrate on the London to West Midlands route. Impacts beyond that point must remain extremely speculative and long-term until detailed proposals have been put forward and properly scrutinised.

5.  Impact—environmental costs and benefits

The absence of a published environmental impact assessment to underpin the HS2 business case is a matter of serious concern to us, as we live in the heart of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (the Chilterns). Our concerns are both for the Chilterns and for the broader environmental impact of the scheme. We would wish to highlight that:

(a)  There is no convincing evidence that HS2 will move traffic from air or road to rail, since most passengers will be making new journeys or transferring from conventional rail. Lorries on roads are ignored.

(b)  HS2 is not a "low carbon" solution—high speed trains have much higher energy consumption than conventional rail.

(c)  The destruction of the AONB in the Chilterns, with no compelling business or environmental case, sets a very dangerous precedent and a pattern for what may be undertaken further north, if and when the line is extended. Many wildlife sites, ancient woodlands and SSIs are threatened, as well as agricultural land and water supplies.

May 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011