High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill

Written evidence from David Richards (HSR 20)

I am shocked by the revalations in Parliament last week during the debate on the HS2 Paving Bill, that once effective, the DfT and HS2 Ltd will have unlimited spending facility without further recourse to parliamentary sanction for up to 40 years.

This is wholly inappropriate, given the nature of the project.

HS2 has been shown to be a very expensive project which has a very poor return on investment, there is no demonstrable need for the new line and it's construction and operation will be extremely environmentally damaging. the opportunity cost of the project is huge and really unacceptable.

To provide some background to my concerns:

1. At least 3 specialist committees have expressed concerns that the project is not viable and that the budget is too large, inappropriate expenditure and uncontrolled, viz. the National Audit Office, the Major Projects Authority and the Public Accounts Committee.

2. The original business case for HS2 was predicated on 44% of the projected return on investment being because people could not work on trains.  This is patently wrong and has been recently acknowledged as such by the DfT at the recent PAC hearings. Once this spurious £21BN of return is stripped out of the plan, the BCR becomes less than 1.0.  Other comparable projects - such as a road improvement, generally have BCRs of >5.

3.  Once the BCR is brought back to reality, we need to look at the project's green credentials:
The line is designed for ultra-high speed and this in turn will use 3x more energy than conventional rail travel - which by most International standards is already high speed at 125mph. It is also important to consider where the source of this substantial additional power requirement will be sourced from, at a time of concern over the sustainability of the country's generating capacity.  Additionally and most importantly, the line, by it's straight line design cuts through some 60 areas of important wildlife areas and a nationally important Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Yet as .2. above is no longer relevant, the ultra-highspeed remit and therefore straightline route, is no longer relevant either.

4.  Lack of capacity on existing lines (specifically the WCML) has been used as a reason to build a new line but in fact when the loading data for the WCML was finally released by the DfT, the maximum load at peak times is <60%, leaving 40% spare capacity. Thus removing another major argument in favour of building HS2.

5.  It has been stated that HS2 will bring prosperity to the North of England and growth in our major Northern Cities. In fact this has shown not to be the case with 80% of jobs being projected to be created in London and that growth will be directed Southwards and not Northwards.  This has also been shown to be the case in France, where the arrival of the TGV to Lille caused unemployment to rise and the provision of local rail services to fall precipitously.  In fact in the whole of Europe there is NO evidence that the arrival of High Speed Rail in provincial areas has had any beneficial economic effect.
The issue of improving prosperity and growth in many regions of the UK (not just those to where HS2 might go) is both important and URGENT. Even if HS2 were to provide growth, it would not do so until a minimum of 13 years from now.  The regions need employment in 2013, school leavers this month will be hugely disappointed to be told that the only prospect for their future will come when they are nearly 30 or even 40 for the line north of Birmingham.

6.  Alternatives which have a greater BCR and are MUCH cheaper and quicker to implement to include the proposal from 51M which aims to sequentially upgrade the WCML in a way which would be least disruptive and would progressively eliminate the 'pinch points', thus further increasing capacity.  This alternative to HS2, along with many others would be massively cheaper than HS2 and have a lower opportunity cost, leaving funds allocated to HS2 to be available for other projects, or more importantly being available to the exchequer to offset the need for further cuts to welfare, the Police, local government and so on.

In conclusion, the construction of HS2 has been shown by all serious attempts at scrutiny, to be a wholly unnecessary project and the massive funds allocated to it via this 'Paving Bill' are inappropriate and should be used for the many more essential projects elsewhere.

July 2013

Prepared 16th July 2013