High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Great Missenden Stop HS2 (HSR 147)


1.  Great Missenden Stop HS2 is the umbrella organisation for communities in the Misbourne valley in the very heart of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This includes the villages of Little Missenden, Great Missenden, Ballinger, South Heath, Heath End and the larger settlement of Prestwood, a population totalling well over 10,000.

2.  In this submission, we avoid any discussion of the local impacts of the HS2 preferred route as that lies outside the scope of this inquiry. We would however like to extend an invitation to members of the select committee to visit Great Missenden in due course so that members can have an opportunity to discuss the many outstanding issues relating to the Government's preferred route and in the absence of a full Environmental Impact Assessment.

3.  Great Missenden Stop HS2 would respectfully remind the Transport Select Committee of the Public Accounts Committee's observations of November last year that:

"The unique and complex structure of the rail industry makes it inherently cumbersome and expensive, and provides little external challenge to its vested interest in its own growth. The Department should conduct a fundamental review of the rail industry's structure, to ensure better accountability and value for money, with the aim of reducing conflicts of interest, aligning efforts on maximising efficiency, and restraining the tendency to seek solutions through growth." This should form part of the Transport Select Committee's considerations.

Question 1. "What are the main arguments either for or against HSR?"

4.  The committee's starting point should be consideration of how the term "High Speed Rail" is defined. Great Missenden Stop HS2's understanding is that for newly constructed lines, "high speed" is a minimum of 140 miles per hour. The Campaign to Protect Rural England points out that:

"While High Speed 1, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, was designed for 300 km/h (186 mph), HS2 is proposed to cater for very high speeds of 400 km/h (250 mph). No services in Europe currently operate faster than 330 km/h." (Campaign to Protect Rural England, August 2010, High Speed 2 Statement )

Speed is key here because it determines the design of the route and the amount of energy required, both of which are of huge environmental significance.

5.  It is also noted that the Inquiry is into the strategic case for High Speed Rail, although this is not defined, rather than the specific case for High Speed 2. GM Stop HS2 believes strongly that it is possible to support the strategic case for "high speed rail" as defined as a minimum speed of 140 mph, without endorsing HS2.

6.  Indeed, we take the view that it is crucial that the two ie HS2 and "high speed rail" remain distinct. This is because the HS2 proposals envisage an ultra-high-speed not high speed line with trains travelling at 225 - 250 miles per hour - well above the defined minimums and in excess of the European average for high speed rail. There are specific issues relating to the proposal of a dedicated line capable of accommodating those speeds. To quote the CPRE again:

"400 km/h was chosen as the maximum track speed [for HS2] - without any consultation - as it was believed to the maximum speed possible for track based trains…. 'Lines designed for very high speeds have to be very straight, making it harder to fit them in with the landscape and avoid sensitive areas. In addition a bigger gap between tracks is needed, while tunnels must be wider to allow trains to pass safely. So very high speed lines are considerably more expensive to construct and have a greater impact on the local environment… very high speeds mean… much more energy is needed for propulsion. For example, a train travelling at 36 0km/h requires 50% more energy than one travelling at 300 km/h. Very high speed rail would only save a couple of minutes for most trips at huge cost financially and to the local environment.' (Campaign to Protect Rural England, August 2010, High Speed 2 Statement)".

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

7.  Question 2.1 asks:

"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?"

We note that a significant plank of the Department for Transport's policy has been omitted - the travel reduction strategy.

8.  The travel reduction strategy was announced by Mr Hammond last autumn. In a speech on Sustainable Transport at the START Summit on 14 September he said:

But you might be surprised to know that the most innovative change we have made in the Department for Transport in the last four months is to introduce a portfolio responsibility for "non-travel".

Promoting alternatives to travel is a key part of the sustainability agenda. And although it has not traditionally been thought of as a transport responsibility, I have decided that we should integrate it into our transport agenda. So my colleague, Norman Baker, is working with colleagues at DCMS, in BIS and in other Departments to look at reducing the demand for travel, particularly for business.

Encouraging home working; promoting the use of high-speed broadband for both business and leisure purposes and encouraging the uptake of video conferencing as an alternative to long-distance travel.

No, it is not the mission of the Department for Transport to stop people travelling, but unnecessary travel is expensive in environmental and financial terms and, if we can help businesses to understand the opportunities to operate efficiently with a need for less travel, we will be advancing both their agendas and our own. (Rt Hon Philip Hammond, IBM START Conference)

9.  Hence alternatives to travel should be considered as one of the transport policy objectives. This is particularly the case with High Speed Rail since Mr Hammond specifies video-conferencing as an alternative to long-distance travel.

10.  We recognise that firm evidence of the take-up of business broadband as an alternative to travel is limited because it is happening so rapidly. Nonetheless the National Statistics Office's latest report, published in November 2010, states that

"…the largest businesses continued to lead the way with adoption of new technology. However, smaller businesses were closing the gap with increasing numbers using broadband and mobile Internet, developing websites and using the Internet to interact with public authorities…Just over 91% of businesses had Internet access in 2009, with 87.4% connecting via a broadband connection." (Office for National Statistics, 26 November 2010, E-commerce and ICT activity 2009, Statistical Bulletin).

11.  In addition, the Government itself is investing in video-conferencing equipment - for example in the Welsh Office - to reduce travel and so cut costs and increase efficiency.

It is now possible for businesses that do not have their own facilities to rent video-conferencing facilities for specific meetings through companies like Regus, which provides serviced office accommodation. Travel companies are now offering "video-travel" packages as an alternative to arranging business trips.

12.  These changes offer the likelihood of a reduction in demand for business travel which should be taken into account when projecting long distance rail passenger demand into the future.

Question 5.1 What evidence is there that HSR will promote economic regeneration and help bridge the north-south economic divide?

13.  The Government claims that one of the major benefits of HS2 is that faster journey times will reduce the North-South divide, but it is more likely that regional disparity will increase as business investment and leisure travel is drawn to the capital.

14.  Far from boosting regional employment during construction, the department for Transport's new business case suggests that 70% of the jobs created by high speed rail will be in London. In addition, outside the immediate urban centres served by HS2, it is likely that the wider regions will suffer as investment and jobs are sucked away from towns and cities off the route, reflecting the experience in France for example.

Question 6. What will be the overall impact of HSR on UK carbon emissions?

15.  We agree with Friends of the Earth and other environmental organizations, that at best the impact of HS2 on reducing UK carbon emissions will be negligible and that at a time of austerity the Government should be prioritizing upgrading our existing rail network and other genuinely sustainable transport alternatives.

16.  Although Ministers have largely dropped the "green" justification for HS2 in recent months, carbon emission reductions are still a claimed benefit of the scheme, in part because of the promised reduction in domestic air travel that the Department suggests will follow once the Y section of the route is complete. The first stage of the scheme will have no such benefits as there are no domestic flights between London and Birmingham. We would submit however that HS2 is likely to lead to significantly increased emissions due to its energy demands as noted in paragraph 7 above.

17.  The danger with HS2 specifically (as opposed to more incremental improvements to deliver "high speed rail") is that it will actually lead to an increase in domestic air travel emissions, as Birmingham airport expands significantly to take advantage of the reduced train time to central London and Heathrow airport runway slots are used instead for more carbon intensive long haul flights. The only way in which this could be avoided, if HSR is really intended to form part of a strategic solution to long-term transport carbon emission reductions, would be to retire the domestic flight slots altogether.

18.  The vast majority of emissions from UK domestic passenger transport, come not from domestic air travel, diesel train services or long distance commuting at all but from short car journeys. HS2 and HSR will not provide a low carbon alternative for these trips of typically less than five miles and where the Committee on Climate Change has pointed out that comparatively small investments in car journey alternatives deliver significantly greater carbon emission reductions.

May 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011