High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Campaign for Better Transport (HSR 161)


1.1  Campaign for Better Transport has been involved in the debates on the merits of the proposals for the HS2 route from London to Birmingham and beyond since they were initially developed by the last government. Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph is a member of the HS2 challenge group and we have also worked with a range of other environmental organisations to coordinate responses to the proposals and to arrange meetings with officials and ministers.

1.2  There is a tendency for much of the debate on HS2 to be dominated by those backing the idea of high speed rail on the one hand (who can be less concerned with discussion of alternatives in the desire to see the scheme through) and those opposed at all costs to the proposals (often because they are directly affected but using wider arguments to try to oppose the plans). With other organisations, we have focussed on the details of what is being proposed and are backing the Right Lines Charter Group's work to ensure that if high speed rail proposals do go ahead, then they are done well.

1.3  Campaign for Better Transport's focus generally is more on people's everyday transport and, in the context of rail, that services are accessible, affordable and convenient. There is a danger that too much focus on the new proposals for high speed rail will deflect attention away from the improvements we need on the existing "classic" railway.

1.4  Our initial work on high speed rail was informed by five priorities for any proposals for high speed rail. These were that the Government should:

—  Prioritise investment in existing public and local transport and ensure that high speed rail does not abstract funding from these.

—  Use high speed rail to shift existing trips from planes and cars, not generate new ones.

—  Use pricing to encourage people to choose rail—lower train fares and increased taxes on short distance flights are needed.

—  Include a moratorium on airport expansion and major road development.

—  Integrate the high speed line with wider planning and regeneration.

—  Avoid or if absolutely necessary mitigate impacts on environmentally sensitive sites and protect tranquil areas.


2.1  Campaign for Better Transport is a member of the Right Lines Charter Group, which is a grouping of environmental NGOs seeking to ensure that if high speed rail proposals are to go ahead, they are done well. We have worked closely with the Campaign to Protect Rural England in the development of the Charter, including organising a recent meeting with Secretary of State Philip Hammond. The Charter[259] sets out four priorities for high speed rail:

—  Principle 1. National Strategy: High Speed Rail proposals need to be set in the context of a long-term transport strategy stating clear objectives.

—  Principle 2. Testing the Options: Major infrastructure proposals, such as High Speed Rail, need to be "future-proofed" by comprehensive testing against different scenarios. This will help identify the best solutions for genuinely furthering sustainable development.

—  Principle 3. Public Participation: Early public involvement in the development of major infrastructure proposals, including High Speed Rail, is essential. People need to be involved when all options are open for discussion and effective participation can take place.

—  Principle 4. Minimising Adverse Impacts: High Speed Rail proposals need to be designed from the start to avoid significant adverse impacts on the natural environment, cultural heritage and local communities (including biodiversity, landscape, tranquillity and access) during construction and operation.


3.1  Campaign for Better Transport has called for a clearer national transport strategy for a number of years. Decisions about transport investments, particularly when the sums involved are of the scale of tends of billions of pounds over a number of decades, must be clearly part of a coherent national strategy rather than merely justified on the basis of a benefit cost ratio (BCR).

3.2  Both proponents and critics of HS2 have focused on the published business case and its assessment of time savings, demand forecasts and carbon savings. The reality of HS2 is that the numbers are inherently unreliable. They are based on business as usual forecasts extrapolating past trends, which for a long term business case will inevitably not prove accurate.

3.3  For example, higher oil prices will drive up rail demand beyond the level assumed in the business plan, while extra rail capacity, if used for railfreight or local passenger trains, will help reduce carbon beyond the HS2 forecasts, especially if allied with supportive planning policies and less rather than more roads and runways. The time savings values are also spurious and we have criticised reliance on them in transport appraisal more generally.

3.4  The real question for HS2 is how it fits with a wider package of policies in a coherent transport strategy. It is difficult to make assumptions about HS2 without clarity on what will happen to roads, airports, planning, local public transport, lorry charging, aviation taxes and other Government policies. The business case does address this to some extent with a short discussion on scenarios based on changes in relative pricing and this should be subject to wider discussion than it has been.


4.1  The plans for HS2 still need to do more to demonstrate that the line will result in a real shift to rail from driving and flying and, as a result, cut carbon emissions from transport. Transport produces a fifth of our domestic emissions and is still the sector where little fundamental progress on carbon has been made. The Department for Transport's model for the first phase of the high speed network suggests that there will be just a one per cent drop in motorway traffic as a result with most trips on the new line being from those who would otherwise have travelled on the old west coast mainline. Not surprisingly, the best that this scenario can do is to be "broadly carbon neutral".

4.2  But the scale of the climate change challenge requires us to do much more - particularly with HS2's price tag running into the tens of billions. To do this, the government has to do three things. Firstly, it must continue to invest in the existing (or "classic") rail network. Secondly, it needs to enable investment in local sustainable transport access to stations. And thirdly, it must introduce complimentary measures to make rail more attractive than driving or flying.

4.3  Philip Hammond has recognised in public statements that spending on HS2 needs to be additional to continued investment in the classic network. The confirmation of electrification to Cardiff is a good sign. Spending on rail has been maintained in this CP4 spending period (if at the expense of massive rises in most ticket prices). But the real challenge will be after 2015 when the main costs of HS2 will come in and when it will compete with other schemes that have been "moved to the right" in the next CP5 investment period. To cut carbon, the government must continue with further electrification of lines in this period and in growing the railways.

4.4  Continued investment in rail is also essential if the benefits of the "liberated capacity" on the West Coast Mainline are to be fully realised. Released capacity could deliver benefits for passengers,[260] for instance through new timetabling to enable more services and investment in improved links and lines like the proposed East West rail link, and could help deliver increased freight usage. This requires continued support for rail freight, for instance by ensuring that the new National Planning Policy Framework for spatial planning supports the development of rail freight depots.

4.5  Using the planning system to foster growth and locate new development (such as warehousing and housing) to take advantage of these extra services would increase the benefits from HS2, which are not currently taken account of in DfT's business case.

4.6  New stations on the high speed route must be accessible by public transport if they are not to add to congestion and carbon. Local transport investment has been significantly scaled back to 2015 but new stations need to be linked to existing and improved local transport networks, as well as being easily accessible for those coming on foot or by bike. Providing investment for local transport improvements will be key and will help avoid overloading already stretched local transport services. The new stations for the second phase of HS2 should be located close to existing city centres rather than in stand-alone parkway stations.

4.7  Both high speed rail and classic rail must be attractive in terms of pricing relative to flying and driving. Since 1997 the cost of motoring has fallen by seven per cent in real terms and the cost of flights within the UK fell by a third. Rail fares rose by 17% over the same period, and will now rise even faster with the Government's decision for most fares to rise by 3% above the RPI inflation rate.

4.8  The detailed business case published with the HS2 consultation shows that if rail fares continue to rise, its benefits will be much less - so much less that they will be outweighed by the costs of the project. Campaign for Better Transport's Fair Fares Now campaign shows the strength of feeling from those facing fare rises.


5.1  On public participation, we are aware that the Government's view is that there are limits to the changes that can be made now for this phase, given the need to avoid further blight and stay within the current timetable for delivery. We remain seriously concerned, however, about the limitations of the current approach to public consultation on the route. Campaign for Better Transport will continue to raise concerns about the preferred route, but we would also be keen to explore what options are available in practice to changes in design and alignment on this section to avoid the valuable and sensitive sites and places that are currently likely to be affected.

5.2  On the second phase, we believe that in looking north of Birmingham, it would be worth considering ways of planning and public engagement that are different and more inclusive than the way in which phase one has been done. There is a tension between being open and inclusive in planning the route and the need to avoid casting blight over a wide area but the Government should explore the options for early engagement, with reference to good practice in other countries and on other major infrastructure projects in this country including HS1.


6.1  Campaign for Better Transport agrees with Lord Mawhinney's conclusion in his report[261] for the Department for Transport that a Heathrow link is not necessary at this stage and that the existing rail network is used to link Heathrow with high-speed rail connecting London with other British cities and the rest of Europe.

6.2  We also believe that the question of HSR connections to Heathrow is linked to whether there is a full link and through trains between HS2 and HS1. This will enlarge the market where rail can substitute for air to include journeys between the UK regions and near-Europe destinations.


7.1  HS2 could deliver the step-change in travel that we need to cut carbon and support the future needs of the economy, but it must be part of an overall strategy to shift to rail for many journeys. A decision to go-ahead with this level of spending needs wider support. Failure to demonstrate how HS2 fits into an overall strategy for transport will risk losing green groups as a key element of that wider support.

7.2  However, critics of the proposals need to address how the increase in demand for travel for the Birmingham—London route will be met. Even if there is little change in the split of modes for travel on the Birmingham—London route, demand for rail travel on this route will outstrip the capacity of the existing network. If there are policies to restrain demand for car and air travel (and even with policies to reduce the need to travel overall), there will still be a need to address the capacity issue and this would be likely to lead to an overall rise in the demand for rail travel.

May 2011

259   See http://www.cpre.org.uk/resources/transport/item/download/531 for details of the Charter Back

260   See Capturing the benefits of HS2 on existing lines, Greengauge, February 2011 Back

261   High speed rail access to Heathrow: a report by Lord Mawhinney, Department for Transport, July 2010 Back

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Prepared 8 November 2011