High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents


Written evidence from Mr Geoffrey Toull (HSR 202)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This submission focuses on four specific sets of issues that impinge on the Transport Secretary's HS2 scheme being planned by HS2 Ltd, draws conclusions, and makes recommendations. The issues are:

—  Government-sponsored infrastructure project cost and time realities and the need to factor them into the HS2 figures;

—  the need to set HS2 in its operational timeframe;

—  the inevitability of the adverse impact on HS2 passenger-demand forecasts of electric vehicles and telepresencing (with a brief on the latter); and

—  shortcomings of HS2 analyses and their consequences.

One background thread running through the submission is the background of ministerial assertions about the scheme and about those who oppose it. The assertions demonstrate a particular, indeed peculiar, characteristic of project authorities, that of having been 'captured', being in thrall, to their projects. Thus the submission ends in an After-note entitled "the inherent risk in the exercise of authority".

Given that throughout the past 25 and more years project following project has over-run the budget and timetable set down at authorisation, the lessons learned should have been applied to HS2. It appears that this has not been so: DfT has no such material. The submission argues that this must be rectified, the lessons be applied to HS2, and the Chancellor double and more the money to be set aside for the scheme were it to go ahead.

Passenger-demand forecasts have been on the basis of projecting forward year on year the growth experienced in recent years. The background scenario for the forecasts was one of no change, no advance, in ways of conducting business, or of society's changing milieu, in the operational timeframe of HS2. It was not in the HS2 brief to examine the issues of electric vehicles or telepresencing, yet they will have a huge impact on HS2 passenger numbers. These issues are given the light of day in the submission, issues that must be addressed with serious intent.

The above demonstrates particular shortcoming in analyses conducted by HS2 and its consultants, and highlights, briefly, other inadequacies. They must be rectified, forecasts must brought into line with the business and societal realities of the HS2 in-service time-frame, and the as yet unknown-unknowns of the scheme tackled with vigour.

It is recognised that HS2 scrutiny must be a considerable burden on the shoulders of individual members of the Transport Select Committee. It is recognised, too, that the scheme covers a wide range of specialised disciplines, some falling naturally with the remit of other Select Committees, the members of which might possibly be willing to share that burden. The submission suggests therefore that this be explored, with your own Committee acting as Office of Prime Responsibility and co-ordinator.

It is felt wholeheartedly that a scheme of the cost, complexities, and risks inherent in the HS2 scheme are of such magnitude that unstinting help, submissions included, should be put at the service of your Committee. And I therefore commend this submission to you and your Committee colleagues.

BACKGROUND

When challenged by members of the public about aspects of HMG's High-speed Two (HS2) railway scheme, the responses by particular government ministers throughout these last 12 months have ranged from the deliberately shallow, the dismissive, at best, obfuscatory at times, the banal, and to calculated and carefully calibrated innuendo. Examples abound, a very few being set out in Annex A to this submission. Just one pair of examples is included hereunder in order to make three interrelated points. The examples.

The Transport Secretary (SoS), belabouring people living in the Vale of Aylesbury and opposed to the government's high speed rail plans]: "I hear lots of arguments about whether the country can afford it, value for money and the business case". "But 95% of these arguments come from people who just happen to live in Wendover or Aylesbury or Amersham. I don't blame them for fighting their corner but they should be honest that their objection to this project is that it comes through their backyard. It is not a principled objection". Moreover, the SoS had asserted previously that objectors from Wendover and areas nearby were merely "nimbys", nothing more, and thus any factual evidence as to the un-soundness of the HS2 scheme presented by them could be dismissed out of hand by ministers].

In essence the SoS has said: "95% of those that I hear, who challenge affordability, value for money, and soundness of the business case are, because of their places of residence, unprincipled no matter how strong their evidence"--words chosen by him, as ever, with care and forethought. Put another way the SoS had said in essence: "I have counted only five people out of every 100 in the area who have sufficient integrity and moral compass to respond objectively—the other 95 out of every 100 lack integrity, so it is legitimate for me (as SoS) to ignore any evidence that they might adduce".

The first of the three interrelated points is that the above examples are just two of the many that make clear the absolute determination of the SoS to ignore, to dismiss out of hand, all evidence that undermines his case for the HS2 scheme. Note that although the SoS alluded to "affordability, value for money, and soundness of the business case" he failed, as ever, to address those issues. There must be a reason. The second point is that, when presented with "negative" evidence by members of the public, the SoS resorts, time after time, to studied self-serving and sweeping assertions that on examination are lacking in credibility. The third point stems from the SoS's claim that "I have travelled right around the country speaking to people about our plans. I am confident there is large-scale support for this project in the North and Midlands and among the business community across the UK". Doubts arise unbidden in one's mind: what did he actually say; to how many: was it balanced and objective—cons as well as pros—were they serious two-way engagements? On what solid evidence does the SoS base his confidence of "large-scale support among the business community across the UK"(?)—quite proper and legitimate questions to the SoS.

Collectively the illustrations at Annex A[472] and above make clear the SoS's absolute determination that HS2 is to go ahead regardless of the mass of well-founded evidence telling against the scheme. Agreed, some of the evidence (compelling evidence) has indeed come from specialist working groups of experts in the Wendover, Aylesbury, and Amersham areas. Commensurately powerful evidence has come from groups and others much further afield, groups and internationally reputable economic institutions that likewise bring to bear the expertise of acknowledged and objective professionals.

In sum, the picture is one of stark contrast: careful professional analysis and well founded factual evidence by study teams and professional institutions on the one hand, countered by ministerial rhetoric, innuendo, dissimulation, and refutation on the other, coupled with the flawed scenario on which the HS2 scheme has been founded. It is the latter, the scenario, that this submission addresses, and on which the submission's formal aim is based. The submission is not intended to replicate evidence presented to the Select Committee by the several and more groups of experts. The aim is cast more narrowly.

AIM

The aim of this submission is to expose to the members of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee the following sets of issues that ought to be brought to bear in the examination of the validity and soundness of the business case for the HS2 scheme as portrayed by HS2 Ltd, and to draw conclusions and to make recommendations. The issues are:

—  HMG-sponsored infrastructure project cost, time, and effectiveness realities;

—  setting HS2 in its operational timeframe;

—  the impact of Electric Vehicles;

—  modern tele-enabled business systems and their impact on business enterprise and societal culture; and

—  HS2 Ltd analysis shortcomings, consequences and DfT assertions.

HMG-SPONSORED INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECT
COST, TIME, AND EFFECTIVENESS REALITIES

No major national infrastructure projects equivalent, or similar, in scope and complexity to HS2, have been completed on time and on budget throughout the past 25 years. Yet government ministers and their officials of the day must have endorsed as "robust" the assessments of project and in-service costs, and the timetable for each, that were presented them by officials. Equally each scheme would have been risk-assessed exhaustively, and the competence of the implementation executive-team assessed in terms of track record. To suggest such processes were without such rigour would be to traduce the integrity and probity of all concerned.

Nevertheless, project costs and timetables have proved, time and again, to be double, treble, and more,[473] the figures that had been put confidently "on the table" by ministers for Treasury or Cabinet endorsement. Importantly, several of those projects were significantly less complex and demanding[474] than the proposed HS2 scheme. In the outcome the HS2 scheme's assessed cost and timetable would almost inevitably be double, and more, the figures on which the Cabinet would be asked to "sign off". Protestations by today's ministers and officials to the contrary would undermine government credibility. The old saw that: "Ah, yes, but this time it will be different, you will se", would ring hollow.

Astonishingly, the Department for Transport, in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request—copy at Annex B—has replied that the department has no central record of previous major infrastructure project performance; thus no body of information against which to calibrate the assessments provided to it by HS2 Ltd; thus, too, no document available for DfT's own use and use by HS2 Ltd that sets down guidance drawn from the many investigations into past-project shortcomings.

If none exists elsewhere within the department, or within HM Treasury, the National Audit Office could well be an informed source—or be invited to draw on its many post-project investigations to compile one for the DfT and the Treasury. Such a compendium would be worth it weight in gold to ministers and official alike. HS2 Ltd is without one but, when challenged during one of the Consultation Road Shows, one of its senior executives replied that "but we had had a chat with HS1 people" [today's people?]: the planners, cost estimators and project implementers of those now distant years would no doubt have been long gone to distant pastures.

Based on the above, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should extend the civil works phase, reserve at least £36 billion [£36,000 million—all too easy to confuse the Bs and Ms] denominated in today's prices, and factored for 15 years-on-years of cost and price of inflation, to fund the HS2 Phase One scheme, should it go ahead, and add equivalent up-ratings for each subsequent leg. More profoundly, one would expect the Chancellor, secure in his declared prudence, to instigate an independent thorough-going, evidence-based, investigation into HS2 Ltd's cost analyses, and what the company has missed, drawing to the full on its own, and National Audit Office (NAO) records of past outcomes.

SETTING HS2 IN ITS OPERATIONAL TIMEFRAME

During the recent series of Road Shows by HS2 Ltd, when faced with challenging questions, numbers of the company's senior officials claimed that the work was still only at high level and thus it was not possible to satisfy the questioner's request. One justification given was that the fine detail of the topographical line of route had yet to be determined—a known unknown. "Unknown-unknowns" were inconvenient subjects. One such unknown-unknown, and hugely important, is hydrology, yet to be scoped and studied by the HS2 Ltd team. Some aspects of hydrology may well not be amenable to resolution; other aspects may require a considerable injection of funds and lengthy extension of the civil works phase: unknown-unknowns indeed.

All told, the duration of construction of Phase One as calculated by the company is over optimistic. Even if the calculations were accurate the first HS2 train would commence operational service until some 15 years from now. HS2 would continue in service (if not bankrupt) into and beyond the 2050s. Will the business and societal practices of the 2020s-2050s, be those of yesterday and today? Would the British populace have denied itself the benefits of the manifold technological innovations that will have swept across the world beyond our shores? HS2 Ltd and its sponsor department believe this to be so, to answer: "yes, it would deny itself".

For, in its forecast of passenger demand for an HS2 the company has taken it as axiomatic that past growth rates will continue year on year into the long term. Ms Theresa Villiers, Minister for Transport has, in a very recent interview, expressed total confidence in this HS2 Ltd forecast.

Moreover, during one of the consultation Road Show sessions several HS2 Ltd senior officials were likewise as confident. None were able to put flesh on that particular bone, though, and when asked the extent to which they had considered the impact of disruptive technologies on their forecasts there were blank looks. They did not understand the term[475] let alone show any awareness of the transformative technologies that would shatter HS2 passenger number calculations.

What are these transformative technologies that will prove disruptive to HS2? Many objectors to HS2 have cited two particular ones in their letters to the press and to MPs. What has been missing from many of the letters has, however, been evidence to back the assertions. This submission focuses on two sets of these technologies.

One is Telepresence business systems and their derivatives. The other is electric vehicle (EV) technologies and associated advances in electric power distribution. There is huge progress on each of these fronts. Amazingly HS2 Ltd senior strategists seemed unaware of what is happening in these burgeoning fields, let alone their consequences for an HS2. They seem cocooned, shut off from all this, yet the impact of each on the economics of the scheme are momentous. Why this is so remains, for the public at large, an open question. Each technology will have gone through 15-20 years of further productive development and innovation by the time an HS2 could become operational. The two technologies will be major factors in the ways in which business is conducted and in which society sets itself in this new era. The two merit attention here, beginning with EVs.

THE IMPACT OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES

Elsewhere that particular Road Show week the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) was hosting a series of professional lectures, conferences, and workshops having a bearing on HS2 (see Annex C). One series, led by automotive industry technical executives, focused on progress in EV engineering progress, and battery technologies. The companion series focused on current work toward the "smart" electric power grid and associated technical standards for the EV age (further evidence, too, that the automotive and the power generation companies, are committed to a future more "green" than now). None of this work is being undertaken in isolation within the UK. Note that HMG's Department for Transport is much engaged in assisting, promoting and subsidising this transformational field.

When will this EV world come to pass? Not this year. Current battery technology limits EVs to a range of some 90 miles. Across the international automotive industry [Renault to Rolls-Royce] the sums being invested in EV and in battery development are enormous, and consistent with each company seeking competitive edge (Renault: £3.5 billion invested, and 1,000 staff engaged in its programme). Similar sums are being invested in new vehicle-transmission drive systems and electric motors. Renault is just one of many, and was at the forefront at IET's recent conference week. Views from within the industry, confided no doubt to the DfT, are that affordable vehicles with 500-mile ranges will be commonplace well before 2026. Will this encourage the 2020s business folk to switch from their convenient and "green" vehicles to HS2? HS2 Ltd has not tested this area, and, seemingly, nor has its paymaster, the DfT.

Renault UK's Andrew Heiron, authorities such as Ian McDonald, technical director of future transport systems, member of the IET transport policy group and chair of the IET EV Infrastructure technical, group, and the Society of Automotive Engineers are well able to provide an industry-centred briefing—one from the coal-face—to the Select Committee. Equally, DfT technologists should be well placed to provide a complementary brief to the Committee on the subject and on the department's initiatives and ambitions for this field: EV, battery and drive-train advances, the "smart" grid, charging stations and networks, et al, including the "green" dimension. They may well have done so already, so adding an EV Annex to this submission would be superfluous. This is less likely to be so in respect of Telepresence and other tele-enabled business systems.

MODERN TELE-ENABLED BUSINESS SYSTEMS AND THEIR IMPACT ON BUSINESS ENTERPRISE AND SOCIETAL CULTURES

The SoS has asserted that the lack of a [an ultra] high-speed rail service is the over-riding impediment to the success of the business community of today, placing the enterprises at serious disadvantage. No robust evidence that this will be so during the projected HS2 operating timeframe has been tabled for independent scrutiny.

What has substance is that through the adoption of telepresence and its derivatives, private companies large and small have re-cast their business methods to great commercial advantage. Years ago the forerunner, video-conferencing, was hugely expensive and perceived as "clunky", awkward to use, conveying a sense of separation rather than one of togetherness, so was adopted by relatively few. The contrast to today's technologies is startling. They are easy to use, effective, and enable businesses to drive down their costs, including travel budgets, achieve associated time-savings, improve individual efficiency, and enable businesses to do things not possible previously [a much vaunted HMG ambition for the private enterprise sector].

Particular Select Committee members will know that government, too, is taking advantage of the most basic of these benefits. Departments have been instructed to require, unless there is a sufficiently convincing "business-case" that justifies travel, the use of departmental telepresencing-teleconferencing (Tp-Vc) systems.

This is demonstrated amply in Annex D, which summarises responses[476] to a series of FOI requests made during December 2010. Note the further goal of carbon emission reduction in three of the five departmental justifications. Note, too, that the Department for Transport (DfT) cites travel costs, time saving and "green" issues as prime justifications for insisting on the use of Vc-Tp.

Astonishingly, and putting the DES to one side, not one of those departments holds records of resulting cost or time savings (or is prepared to collate them)—not even the DfT—so, seemingly, HMG has no means of measuring the value for money of its departments' Vc-Tp investments. However, undoubtedly departmental chief accounting officers will have been required by the Treasury to cut travel budgets savagely, and should therefore have "before and after" travel budget details, details relevant to the HS2 scenario. However, other benefits might be accruing to departments, and it would be helpful to know what and how great they are. Savings made within the private enterprise and charity sectors tend to be measured, and can be impressive [Guide Dogs: £200k invested in videoconferencing equipment brought travel costs down by £600k—one major British-based international bank must be getting at least as good rate of return, its staff having rung up some 200,000 Tp sessions during a recent 12-month period].

These systems are available for purchase, for lease, and for use on a pay-as-you-go, walk-in, basis. They are being snapped up. Evidence? To save Transport Select Committee researchers undue time, a series of relevant extracts from reputable weeklies and professional institutions, and accompanying commentary, is set out in the briefing document at Annex E. The annex provides a flavour of what is here today, and what lies ahead in the immediate future.[477] It is recognised that the subject comes naturally within the remit of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, which might possible have listed it for review (?). If so, those members may well look at how the technologies might evolve throughout the years into the mid 2020s.

Realistically, the first phase of the projected HS2 would not come into operational service until or beyond that period. The likely business customers of that time and into the mid-life of an HS2 would be the highly computer-literate teenagers of today, grown to maturity. They are people for whom a laptop, a display system, a smart phone, Facebook, LinkedIn and more, are already indispensable accoutrements: They have technology at their fingertips, in their ears, and in their faces. They are the children of the age of instant communication, looking for always for more, and for the attention grabbing latest innovation. The social milieu would keep in step.

And who are these children, the future potential business executives of the 2020-40s? They are likely to include the presently young children of members of the Transport Select Committee, of Prime Minister Cameron, his Shadow Edward Miliband; Danny Alexander Chief Secretary of the Treasury, and of Michael Gove et al. Are those children to be prevented from immersing themselves in today's and tomorrow's telecomms-based technologies and societal norms, and from engaging on equal terms with their technologically-literate peers, in order to rescue the business case for the HS2 scheme and its economic justification?

It would be a grave mistake for the DfT and HS2 Ltd to continue to base HS2 rail passenger projections for the mid 2020s and beyond on the answers to their questions of today's typical middle-aged business persons—persons who in the main will have been long retired by then, and whose understanding of technology and its use will be limited to that of a bygone age. HS2 passenger projections, to have validity, must be set firmly within the technological and societal era of that period. That this has not happened is an inexcusable omission by HS2 Ltd and ministers. It must be corrected.

There is much, much, more in the technological offing, as evinced in Annex E. In sum, such technologies and ways of working and doing business really are transformational and will affect societal norms. There will be two important benefits to 2020s-40s society that are of direct relevance to HS2. One will be the opportunity for all parties to focus much more on localism and Big Society issues, in that the need to travel to work or on business will diminish hugely. The other key benefit will be the contribution from much reduced travel [and adoption of EVs] to the onerous carbon-reduction targets to which HMG has internationally committed the nation.

HS2 LTD ANALYSIS SHORTCOMINGS, CONSEQUENCES AND DFT ASSERTIONS

A great deal of thought has been put HS2 Ltd's staff and retained consultants into the drafting, phrasing and cosmetics of the plethora of documents that have been put into the public domain. It is apparent that the material has been crafted such as to allay reader anxiety and to put an attractive gloss on the HS2 scheme. In part this has gone too far, to the point on occasion of misleading the average reader. Two related examples, chosen because, although so blatantly obvious to those affected, could be taken by others as reassuring, including off-routers who have doubts about HS2.

The examples appear in HS2 Ltd's Appraisal of Sustainability Main Report Volume One and its companion Non Technical Summary. The latter, in its paragraph 4.1.5, and the former in its paragraph 3.3.4, inform the reader that "The proposed scheme would … follow the A413 corridor … before passing to the south-west of Wendover and Aylesbury". This is shown visually in Figure 2 of Volume One, which depicts the line of route as not encroaching on either place. It does encroach: the line of route lies within Wendover Village boundary and within the southern boundary of Aylesbury. The average, without this prior knowledge of the local geography, could assume, happily for the DfT, that "south-west of" would mean distant from—by a mile, five miles? Misinformation, disinformation—or clever "word-smithing"? That wording was not casual. When it happens the credibility of an entire document is undermined, often fatally, with a knock-on to its corporate supervisor and is true for HS2.

Equally not casual was the use of the phrase "the A413 corridor", chosen deliberately and with care. The SoS had already asserted incorrectly that the A413 is a major trunk-road corridor. Thus, implicitly, using its line-of-route would be wholly consistent with government policy of confining railway lines to such corridors whenever and wherever possible. It is yet another illustration of self-serving and misleading propaganda.

Also detracting from the scheme's credibility was the treatment of "HS2 noise" during the several Road Shows. Sound-reducing, still-air, booths had been erected in the halls for visitors to listen via headphones to the difference between recorded countryside noise and the noise to be heard at a distance of 150 metres from a supposedly HS2 railway engine and carriages travelling at relatively high speed - no buffeting pressure wave accompanied the sound. The difference in noise intensity was little less intrusive and loud than the noise made by a car being driven past the hall at less than 30mph. Such a contrast between the headphone-based noise and the real-life thundering blast of noise and buffeting heard and felt in nearby Berkhamstead, standing out in the open at a distance of 150 metres from the town's railway line, while the main-line trains thunder past.

But what science was being used HS2 Ltd's specialist acoustic-engineering consultants to gauge noise and pressure waves from yet to-be-designed 250 mph trains and carriages? When asked during one of the Road Shows about the physics, the person to whom the question was put immediately changed the subject. Instead, he confided that sound recorders had been taken to the Continent and to Kent and noise levels measured (so, what physics, what science?). That is not the sole area in which applied-science seems to have been absent: hydrology[478] being one, and which would come within the general remit of the Environment Select Committee.

But why draw the attention the foregoing five paragraphs and the examples in Annex A to yourselves, the members of the Transport Select Committee, which from outside parliament would seem to be the HS2 "lead" Committee—and risk the charge of impertinence? Put simply, it is an aide mémoire that speaks for itself. And this section of the submission ends, appropriately, with a scrutiny of remarks made by the SoS and one of his Departmental "sources" as to the numbers of responses to the HS2 Consultation Questionnaire. The remarks:

Transport department sources, pointing to what they insisted was a relatively low number of responses, said the last major transport consultation, on building a third runway at Heathrow Airport, drew almost 70,000 submissions. The proposed takeover of BSkyB received 156,000 responses they added, while more than 100,000 suggestions were put forward as part of the Treasury's "Spending Challenge" ahead of last year's Spending Review, and more than two million people responded to a petition in 2007 on road pricing.

Mr Hammond said: "over the last five months we have made every effort to offer those affected by our proposals the chance to learn more about the scheme and to respond to the consultation. Despite those unprecedented attempts to engage as many people as possible the relatively low level of submissions suggests that there is not a widespread groundswell of opposition to the plans that the anti campaigners from the Chilterns have claimed."

The scrutiny:

"Relatively Low Numbers"

Third runway, almost 70,000 submissions. How simple, how quick, to type in a simple no or yes.

BskyB, 156,000 submissions. How easy, how quick, to type in a simple no or yes,

The Spending Challenge, more than 100,000 suggestions—how simple, how quick, to type one's pet phrase,

Road pricing, more than two million responded. How simple, how quick, to type in "No".

Contrast these four with the complexity of the HS2 Consultation questionnaire: nine carefully crafted questions on which there was need to cogitate, each question demanding a thoughtful and considered response—with, note, a limit when responding on-line of 2,000 characters. Adding to the conciseness challenge, when well into the last answer, the "system" had demanded that one registered first. The site was unhelpful in this, providing the daunted with a reason for giving up. Registration, surprisingly, had not been the on-screen start point, yet so obvious. (Why?).

All told, the questionnaire really was a challenge, and one that the very considerable number, 40,000 souls, accomplished.

"The Chance to Learn More and Respond"

Every effort to offer those affected the chance to learn more. Note the choice of wording, "those affected": in other words only the citizens who live hard-by the Phase One London-Birmingham route.

Unprecedented attempts to engage as many people as possible. Implicitly, therefore, engaging only those people living hard-by the Phase One route, not people off-route.

Not a widespread groundswell of opposition to the plans as have claimed. 40,000 is actually a very considerable number of people who put themselves out and invested what could well have been considerable time and thought. in order to accede to the invitation to respond. Not simple, not quick.

And note the continuing self-serving and consciously misleading wording of the remarks quoted on the preceding page: one further exemplar. The Road Shows were held actually at just a few places likely to be affected adversely by an HS2, none held at significantly off-route locations.

The substantive question is therefore: "In what ways, where, and for how long, did the DfT engage 'as many people as possible' living off-route, made them aware of the consultation, and encouraged them to respond to its questionnaire?" The count of off-route non-respondents must not be allowed to be proclaimed as having demonstrated "that there is not a widespread groundswell of opposition". Effectively, those living off-route were not consulted by the DfT.

One wonders how many off-route local newspapers carried DfT material about HS2 and its pros and cons, how many off-route newspapers publicised the Road Shows, and the distance of the venues from the readership population? One wonders, too, what initiatives were taken by the DfT to engage off-route populations via local radio stations? Valid questions.

And how many local MPs were alive to the scheme and its manifold consequences? The mid July reply by one very busy West Country MP to a constituent's letter urging the MP to challenge HS2, speaks volumes. It began "… this is an issue that I have tried (not) to get involved in, as it has little immediate relevance to … and the west country…" We hear on broadcast news and read that this "nothing to do with me" position is held by numbers of "off-route" MPs—yet another cogent reason for the Transport Select Committee to invite HS2 submissions from informed and qualified professionals, and to put the outcome of its examinations into the public domain, and in the House of Commons Library.

SUMMARY

It is evident from the foregoing that the Secretary of State for Transport is implacable in his determination to force the HS2 scheme through parliament. [Such blind determination is a characteristic of those who have become prisoners of their policies and programmes—because of its direct relevance to HS2 a brief after-note (pp 11-12) has been included in this submission]. The SoS has been impervious to challenge and dismissive of even the most compelling evidence that is not consonant with his goal. This should not be used to bury that evidence, that shows, indeed can prove, that HS2 would be both an economically and environmentally destructive investment of the nation's at-risk treasure.

This submission has concentrated on the inevitability of significant cost and time over-runs were the scheme to go ahead. It highlights the need to set the scheme in its operational timeframe. It highlights, too, the technological and societal issues of the period that will affect adversely HS2 economics and its business case. In other words the impact of the widespread use by then of electric vehicles, and the wholesale use by private and public organisations of tele-business systems that will enable the organisations to cut business travel to the bone. The submission points out that none of these three realities has been factored into the HS2-passenger forecasts into the long term,[479] and asks why. The submission leaves the reader to ponder on the potential for conflict between four policies: carbon reduction targets [drastic reduction in travel]; support for manufacturing industry [low no-emission electric vehicles], encouraging business efficiency and competitiveness [adoption wholesale of tele-enabled systems that do away with much of the need for travel] on the one hand, and HS2 realities on the other.

The submission continued by dissecting parts of key HS2 Ltd documents and ministerial statements that can be construed justifiably as misleading, and sets out and scrutinises numbers of sweeping assertions by the SoS regarding the HS2 consultation process and the numbers who responded to the associated DfT questionnaire. In particular it has pointed-up more than once, instances where two things, unrelated one to the other, have been conjoined to create a propaganda picture, which on closer scrutiny is wholly lacking in substance.

In sum, the submission poses many important questions that need serious study and factual answers, thereby fulfilling its aim of exposing the issues to the members of the Transport Select Committee. Yet some of the issues would seem to come legitimately within the individual remits of the Business [Tp], Energy [Electricity Smart Grid and EV charging network; carbon reduction measures], Environment [hydrology and much more], Communities [impact on local communities and businesses] and Treasury [application of lessons from other major projects; soundness and limitations of HS2 Ltd; economics and value for money]. Equally, should a lessons-to-be-learned guide not be available from the National Audit Office, the NAO could be invited to brief the Transport Select Committee (all Committees?) to their advantage on lessons it has drawn from its own reviews of comparable infrastructure and other major government-sponsored projects.

One way forward would be for your committee members to commission specialist consultancies to examine each of the facets italicised in the parentheses above, and report their findings. On the other hand it would seem especially advantageous for those other the five named Select Committees to be invited to take on their appropriate shares of the overall HS2 review (and with the opening for each to commission external professional studies). This would limit the considerable burden facing Transport Select Committee membership. More importantly it would bring the separate and additional experience to bear on matters that one would not expect Transport Committee members to have gained. The further advantage, to parliament and to the "democratic process", would be to enable those many more MPs to contribute and be able, therefore, to communicate their informed judgements about the pros and cons of the HS2 scheme to their constituents.

CONCLUSION

From the foregoing it is concluded that the cost-benefit calculations and the economics assessments of the HS2 scheme are incomplete in having:

assumed that HS2 passenger numbers would without question continue their present year-on-year rise into the distant long term;

set HS2 in terms of yesterday's business and automotive technologies;

ignored the adverse consequences for HS2-passenger demand of the business and automotive technologies that will be commonplace during the in-service life of an HS2;

invested insufficient intellect in confounding issues including noise and hydrology; and

not taken into its assessments, forecasting, costing, and timetabling the lessons from over-runs, omissions, and mistakes of the many government-sponsored major infrastructure projects initiated throughout the past 25 years—and which have been the subject of National Audit Office (NAO) investigations.

It is concluded, further, that were these factors to be examined by professionally qualified outside experts, the cost-benefit figures and economics of the HS2 scheme would be entirely negative, and the civil works timeframe and costs considerably greater.

It is concluded, also, that considerable lengths are being gone to, to seduce the population at large into believing SoS's assertions: assertions to the effect that all and any evidence that exposes weaknesses in the HS2 case by people, even of unimpeachable probity, who live on or near the route, is tainted by "nimbyism" and thus can rightly be dismissed legitimately.

It follows therefore that the Select Committee, could at its next hearing seize the opportunity to require hard factual evidence from the SoS that could justify his propaganda mission and continuing calumny.

It is concluded, moreover that a wealth of knowledge is available in the industrial world for the Committee that could be used to illuminate:

Telepresence and Tele-robotic penetration of the private sector, including major manufacturers, the banking industry, contract production companies, and design establishments, and the nature and extent of the benefits that are accruing to each;

automotive industry intentions and production programmes in respect of EV products, and the benefits that will accrue to the nation; and

the status of technical standards, plans and schedules for a smart electric-power grid to provide for the EV, and the developing scenario of EV batter-charging points.

It is concluded, lastly, given the spread of HS2 issues that impinge on the remits of other Select Committees, that there would be great technical and parliamentary advantages were the Transport Select Committee to delegate relevant aspects to the relevant specialist Committees.

RECOMMENDATIONS

It is recommended that the Transport Select Committee:

invite the Business, Energy, Environment, Communities, and Treasury Select Committees to take on, on behalf of itself, those aspects of the HS2 scheme that fall naturally within their individual remits—he Transport Committee acting as co-ordinator and office of prime responsibility;

in respect of Telepresence and derivative business systems (DBS):

commission, possibly in conjunction with the Business Select Committee, a study by, say, the specialist Market Research company) Gartner, or Frost & Sullivan, to review the field, the uses to which Tp and DBSs are being put as a service offering, on the one hand, and as a procured product on the other, in the private and public sectors, to ascertain and quantify targeted and realised benefits, to research innovative ways of exploiting the technologies, and to forecast growth and sectorial penetration; and

invite authoritative and knowledgeable executives from the TP sector to brief the Committee on the technologies, latest advances in the field, the areas of application and take-up.

in respect of EVs and associated electrical energy supply provision:

invite in conjunction with the Energy Select Committee, authoritative figures such as Ian McDonald, technical director of future transport systems, member of the IET transport policy group and chair of the IET EV Infrastructure technical, group, from the Society of Automotive Engineers, say Andrew Heiron, of Renault UK and from the UK Power industry to brief the Committee on developments and product intentions leading to the take up of EVs from the early 2020s and their supporting energy infrastructure scenario.

in respect of HS2 issues:

in the absence of NAO reports held by the DfT, invite the NAO to provide summaries to the Committee and to HS2 Ltd of their reports on the failures, and their causes, that dogged the many government-sponsored major infrastructure projects initiated throughout the past 25 years;

task HS2 Ltd with applying the content of those summaries to the HS2 scheme, and reporting the outcomes;

task the DfT and HS2 Ltd with re-setting the company's HS2 passenger-demand forecasting in the mid 2020s-mid 2040s and taking proper account of the impact of TP-DBSs and EV take-up, and reporting back;

in concert with the Environment Select Committee, call on HS2 Ltd to address the consequential issues of hydrological disturbance along and in the vicinity of the Phase One line of route, and the costs of avoidance and remediation, and report back; and

call upon the Secretary of State for Transport to provide the Committee and the public at large with hard factual evidence sufficiently robust and objective, that could justify his stream of dismissive and pejorative assertions and questioning the morality and probity of those who provide evidence that undermines his case for the HS2 scheme.

September 2011



472   The Annexes to this submission are not printed with this document. Back

473   The author is not entirely a "layperson"' in this respect, having worked within the Whitehall complex for some 8 years in policy, planning, infrastructure-project scoping, specification and initiation, followed by a further eleven years from the outside as contractor and consultant-and co-author of a 1994 report into shortfalls in HMG procurements of complex large-scale information systems. Back

474   Also at local-regional level: Edinburgh and Croydon tram systems, the Scottish parliament building, the Cambridge redundant rail-track bus route-some incurring five and more year overruns, with comparable cost increases. Back

475   An example offered them related to concerns in the late 1890s that the streets of London and other major cities would be a foot deep in manure within 10 years because of the continuing increase in demand for public and private horse-drawn transport. Come the year, the motor vehicle was supplanting the horse (and its droppings)-disruptive technology. Back

476   It would have been useful to complete the picture. Unfortunately, requests for such information from other government departments, made in January via constituency MPs, "went astray" in the respective MP's in-trays. Hastening has taken place. If received in time, any positive outcomes will be offered as an after-note to this submission. Back

477   As yet there is no professional or trade body representing this new sector. However, there are vendors and users more than able to brief on the market place, on value for money, and on the impact on businesses and on their bottom-lines. Back

478   Including the destructive effects on aquifers, on streams feeding reservoirs, and consequences for near-route and on-route settlements as well as natural environments. Back

479   Those canvassed in any fresh forecasting must be informed unambiguously of the Tp and EV scenario that will have come to full fruition, and what these hold out for work-life and leisure by the anticipated HS2 mid 2020s in-service date. Back


 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011