High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (HSR 140)


—  Although many people and organisations make strident and sometimes simplistic claims that High Speed Rail (HSR) will or will not result in certain outcomes, whether economic, environmental or social, the evidence shows that the impacts would depend hugely on policies in other areas and external factors, not least the future price of oil.

—  Just as decarbonising energy use will require using more electricity, even if total energy use could be reduced, CPRE believes decarbonising transport will require using rail for a many more trips, even assuming the overall distance travelled could be reduced.

—  Other countries, such as France and South Korea, have set out long term transport plans to rebalance their transport systems in favour of rail and to secure significant modal shift of passenger and freight trips. We believe that a major shift away from road and air would be particularly appropriate for this densely populated country and lead to more efficient use of land, thereby protecting the countryside.

—  CPRE believes it needs to be understood that High Speed Rail (HSR) can mean building new lines (High Speed Lines - HSLs) or it can mean upgrading and prioritising long distance passenger services on existing lines.

—  Alternatives to HS2, such as Rail Package 2A, would mean a focus on the "wrong type of capacity", increasing seat numbers on existing services rather than overall number of train paths. By prioritising long distance passenger services, the potential to increase and increase local passenger and freight services on lines that are already congested could be severely limited.

—  Problems with the Government's current case for High Speed 2 (HS2) and particular impacts of the currently preferred route do not mean that the principle of a new HSL - as opposed to the detail of the preferred route - between London and Birmingham is wrong.

—  We need to be realistic about the limits of trying to model precisely the long term impacts of profound changes to transport networks.


—  CPRE believes that a new national rail plan is needed: the 2007 Strategic Rail White Paper failed to set out long term strategy and has been overtaken by events, while the post-McNulty review paper the DfT plans to publish in November will only focus on governance and structure of the rail industry.

—  As well as providing for interconnectivity between HS2 and the existing rail network, such a plan should set out long-term ambitions to upgrade the regional rail network, including rural branch lines, to ensure that the benefits of investment are not focused only on the stations that would be served by HS2.

—  The draft National Networks National Policy Statement due for publication by the end of 2011 should contain new policies to lock in the benefits resulting from HS2 freeing up space on roads and runways. Without such policies, HS2 is unlikely to reduce carbon emissions or improve the overall reliability of our transport networks.

—  A more transparent approach to judging the benefits of transport investment is needed - rather than trying to pretend the future can be predict accurately, appraisal should judge proposals against different future scenarios. Better balancing of and communication about trade-offs between incommensurable impacts are needed, rather than trying to simplify benefits into monetary measures.

—  It is concerning that the current consultation is constrained by a very tight timetable: given the scale of the investment proposed a slight delay to allow time to improve the route could be justified. A completely different approach to route development and public participation is needed for phase 2 (north of Birmingham). The French approach of a structured public debate before any route proposal has been developed in detail has much to commend it and should be trialled.

—  It is unsatisfactory that the route's precise impacts on countryside still remain unclear. The DfT should work with national and local organisations to ensure that the potential impacts of this type of infrastructure are better understood and addressed. Funding for community engagement should be considered.

—  The location of stations needs to be planned better: CPRE is concerned that there has not been a two-way process between land use and transport considerations. In particular, new airport and parkway stations should be avoided.


1.  We welcome the opportunity to submit evidence to the Transport Committee on High Speed Rail. Although CPRE commented in the 1970s on the abortive Channel Tunnel and rail link proposal, it was during the planning of the Channel Tunnel in the 1980s and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in the 1990s that CPRE established its expertise in relation to the planning of large rail infrastructure, including the involvement of local communities. The combination of our national policy work and our local reach through branches and our parish council members allows us to understand the big picture as well as local details.

2.  With new High Speed Lines (HSLs) returning to the agenda, CPRE has taken a leading role again. In 2008 we drew up Five Tests for Sustainable High Speed Rail[110] (HSR), which won the support of other NGOs and think tanks, such as the Bow Group. Recognising that the impacts of HSR can vary depending on a wide range of factors, these called to: protect the local environment; tackle climate change and minimise energy needs; shift existing trips rather than generate new ones; improve local transport, and integrate with planning and regional regeneration.

3.  Last year we published Getting Back on Track, a referenced research report looking at HSR as well as the broader issues surrounding it. This written evidence should be read in conjunction with that report. At the start of this year we created the Right Lines Charter[111] that sets out four principles "for doing High Speed Rail well", relating to the need for national strategy, testing the options, public participation and minimising adverse impacts. Ten leading national NGOs and one regional NGO have now signed up to the Charter and we have met with the Secretary of State for Transport to urge him to meet its principles.

(i)  What are the main arguments either for or against HSR

4.  When discussing HSR, it is important to differentiate building new lines from upgrading services on existing lines. The development of HSR in the post-war period prioritised long-distance passenger trains over other services and led to local stations being closed on our main lines. Adding additional tracks, whether parallel or on separate alignments (such as by reopening disused railways) can allow many local communities to reclaim these railways so they can be used for local services again and increases the potential for rail to take lorries off our roads.

5.  An argument against a new line is that rail growth has been greater for local trips than long distance ones. The problem with that argument is that only by separating very high frequency, high speed services from existing tracks between Euston and Rugby will there be enough capacity for sufficient additional local services. This is particularly the case for new routes that would connect different rail lines and open up sub-regions, such as Aylesbury - Milton Keynes - Northampton.

6.  A truly national High Speed Rail strategy would mean improving existing lines as well as building sections of new HSLs. CPRE is concerned that the Government's consultation focuses narrowly on a new HSR network and fails to set out a coherent vision for the rest of the rail network. Many arguments against HS2 are perhaps better conceived as arguments against this limited approach and vision.

(ii)  How does HSR fit with the Government's transport policy objectives

7.  The previous government planned a White Paper for 2012 as the culmination of its Delivering a Sustainable Transport Strategy (DaSTS) process. Since its election, the Government's focus on transport has been cutting the deficit and delivering HS2. The previous DaSTS policy seems to have fallen out of favour so there is no wider set of transport objectives or indeed any proposal to create any new strategy in the Departmental business plan. Indeed CPRE is concerned that there seems to be an aversion to long term planning within the Government.

8.  Other countries believe that taking a long term view is essential for their competitiveness and environmental commitments. For example, at the start of 2011 France published a draft of its long term National Transport Infrastructure Plan, a key commitment of its Grenelle Environmental Law of 2008. Almost two-thirds of investment is proposed for rail, a fifth for urban public transport and a tenth for waterways.

9.  Groups such as the RAC Foundation suggest that as 89% of UK trips made on roads, a similar proportion of investment should go to roads. This misses the fundamental point that there are compelling arguments to change the way we travel and shift a much greater proportion of trips to rail. In its recent White Paper,[112] the European Commission called for the majority of medium-distance passenger to go by rail and the majority of freight to go by rail or water by 2050. Countries such as South Korea are aiming for a rapid shift to rail, an increase in passenger trips from 16% in 2008 to 27% in 2020 and freight increase from 8% to 19%.[113]

10.  Just as decarbonising energy use will require using more electricity, even if total energy use could be reduced, so decarbonising transport will require using electrified rail for a many more trips, even assuming the overall distance travelled could be reduced. Both energy and transport sectors in the UK have suffered from a lack of clarity and ambition from the Government in recent years and this makes it less attractive for the private sector to invest. Were the Government to be more ambitious for the share of trips made by rail and state clear objectives for future modal shares, companies bidding for rail franchises would have the confidence to propose greater investment, for example to upgrade or reopen branch lines that could feed main lines.

(iii)  Business case

11.  As business cases currently attempt to predict sixty years into the future, they are extremely sensitive to even small changes in assumptions. CPRE has undertaken analysis of the methodology for decades and has a fundamental disagreement with it. Rather than trying to predict the future and then provide accordingly, we should work out strategic objectives then plan what measures we need to achieve them. If we want business as usual - that is to say increasing congestion, increased carbon emissions from transport, land hungry patterns of development and car or lorry being the only practical option for many journeys then meeting predicted future trends could be a credible option.

12.  We believe that a different course is needed for a more prosperous future. According to French experience, although existing modelling methods can cope with marginal changes, profound changes to transport networks, such as new High Speed Lines, cannot be modelled accurately, due to impacts to economic geography, such as where people live or work.

13.  We do not believe that simply relying on further upgrades the West Coast Main Line is a credible option, if there is to be significant modal shift to rail. Unfortunately the assessment of alternatives to HS2 focused on seats on long distance services and not the total capacity of the railways to have more services, including new freight and local passenger services. It failed to factor in the infrastructure needs of new local passenger or rail freight services.

14.  Controlling rail travel by price even more than at present would have severe economic, social and environmental outcomes. Although arguments have been made that rail travel is only for the rich, demand management by increasing peak ticket prices further would make it harder for poorer people to travel by rail.

(iv)  The strategic route

15.  The primary purpose of phase 1 of HS2 - the London to Birmingham/Lichfield route - should be viewed as a bypass line to separate out high frequency non-stopping long distance services other trains on congested lines. It is this separation that means HS2 would offer much more capacity than similar expenditure on upgrading existing lines.

16.  Additional stations would require significant lengths of four tracks to enable stopping trains to decelerate without holding others up. This would significantly increase land take and impact on the countryside. It would therefore be much better to plan for make better use of capacity freed up on existing lines, including reopening rural rail stations.

17.  The Old Oak Common Interchange would transform local and intercity rail connectivity while a direct link to HS1 would be essential to improve connectivity between regional cities and the continent: CPRE supports both as being crucial for delivering modal shift.

18.  On the other hand, the proposals for a direct link into Heathrow we believe are fundamentally wrong: the Mawhinney Review did not find a positive case for such a link, only that there could only be a case after phase 1. Demand is unlikely to justify frequent HSR services to Heathrow, while the paths needed for these would reduce the number of cities that served by HS2 trains to and from London. A Heathrow spur or loop line could have a devastating impact on West London and the green spaces within it and close to its edge. It could cause significant blight.

19.  CPRE has very serious concerns about out of town parkway stations, and the proposals for a Birmingham Interchange station in the Green Belt illustrate them well.[114] International evidence shows such stations do not assist regional regeneration, meaning that their environment and financial costs cannot be justified.

20.  No study has been produced as to what the best options are for improving rail connectivity and capacity north of Birmingham. New HSLs are not necessarily the best option here and CPRE believes it is seriously inappropriate that detailed design of very high speed routes is being carried out by HS2 Ltd at this stage. There needs to be a wide-ranging public debate informed by evidence to decide how best to improve the north's transport and prioritise between long distance and local services. Further north, line speed improvements and passing loops on existing lines may be a better priority for investment, particularly as they could be delivered in the shorter rather than longer term.

(v)  Economic rebalancing and equity

21.  It is very easy to travel abroad and be impressed by a trip on a shiny new high speed train train. It is much harder to learn about and understand the wider public consultation, transport and spatial planning as well as economic development strategies that other countries have used to try to ensure that HSLs are successful in achieving their strategic objectives.

22.  It is the location of the stations that will dictate where the regeneration benefits of HS2 are felt. The evidence shows that stations need to be located in densely developed areas with excellent public transport connections, if benefits are to be spread across a region. In addition, there needs to be joined up spatial planning and development policies. This means the location of stations being influenced by land use and regeneration issues - a two-way process - rather than just expecting local authorities to plan around stations imposed in the wrong place.

23.  Out of town parkway and airport stations should be avoided as these do not support regeneration. If there are to be any such stations, then their cost should be paid for by local business interests rather than the public. In terms of planning, the danger at the moment is that with the abolition of the regional tier of planning there are only Local Enterprise Partnerships to fill the gap. These are only just starting up and being made up of business interests are unrepresentative of local communities and do not include wider social or environmental concerns within their responsibilities.

(vi)  Impact

24.  The carbon impact of HS2 depends significantly on the price of oil and other transport policies: even if it does result in substantial modal shift from road or air, the capacity freed up on roads or runways could be simply reused by new trips. For aviation these could be long haul rather than short haul and so would increase the rate of climate change. A further complication is that the capacity freed up on the existing rail network could be used to reduce carbon emissions from transport significantly by increasing rail freight and local passenger services. Given the enormous amount of uncertainty, the claims made by some about HS2's precise carbon impact should be given little weight.

25.  Many of the environmental costs of HS2 are not monetisable, for example to the impacts to landscape, tranquillity, biodiversity and heritage. Furthermore it will be impossible to quantify many of the impacts until detailed design of HS2 and associated mitigation has been carried out. It is very disappointing that the DfT has failed to give the public accurate and simple information at this stage of the consultation about the likely impacts of HS2, given how little flexibility over the route it seems prepared to consider. This needs to be urgently rectified.

26.  The emphasis in the business case and DfT press releases has been on the monetised impacts as these can be expressed easily in figures of billions of pounds worth of benefits. It is of great concern to CPRE that this has meant that the wider environmental costs have been marginalised in the decision making process. Decisions on schemes of this magnitude will require detailed trade-offs between factors that are incommensurable, something the DfT seems to accept in its April 2011 guidance on business cases. How it proposes to explain this in its communications to the public remains to be seen.

May 2011

110   Contained in CPRE, Getting Back on Track, which was updated in February 2011, available at: www.cpre.org.uk/resources/transport/item/download/379  Back

111   Available at: www.cpre.org.uk/what-we-do/transport/rail/update/item/1683-a-charter-for-high-speed-rail  Back

112   European Commission, Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area - Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system, 2011 available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2011:0144:FIN:EN:PDF  Back

113   Railway Gazette, National plan to put cities 90 min apart, April 2011 Back

114   See CPRE West Midlands leaflet on HSR impacts on the region, 2011:

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Prepared 8 November 2011