HS2 is a battle of perceptions rather than facts

AS soon as the Queen’s Speech confirmed the Government’s intention to proceed with a ‘paving Bill’ for HS2, ahead of the detailed hybrid Bill to authorize phase one, the opponents all chorused this was necessary because the HS2 project was “over budget” and “behind schedule.”

The HS2 Action Alliance (which is appealing to raise £100,000 to pay for an appeal against a recent Judicial Review that gave clearance for the scheme) claimed: “The paving Bill will not enable a single mile of track to be constructed or a new train to be ordered – just provide even more money to be spent on consultants.”

And Stop HS2 campaign manager, Joe Rukin, said: “HS2 Ltd has lost all budgetary control of the project and all the Government want to do is give them a blank cheque to carry on with complete disregard to both due process as soon as possible.”

How interesting, then, that the first draft legislation to be published following the Queen’s Speech is the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill – and that its primary purpose is to commit future governments and parliaments to continue with developing a national high speed rail network, so addressing the concerns of many, including the Labour Opposition, that the Hybrid Bill, due to come before MPs in December, will only deal with phase one from London to Birmingham and a re-connection to the West Coast Main Line near Lichfield.

The paving bill is only a very short one, and the details cover less than two pages.  But the contents are highly significant.

The Bill says the Secretary of State for Transport, with Treasury approval, may incur expenditure “in preparation for a high speed railway transport network” (note the word ‘network’) involving the construction of lines connecting “at least” London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Sheffield, Leeds, and Manchester (in other words the full HS2 ‘Y’ system), and connecting “with the existing railway transport network.”

The Bill also allows for the Transport Secretary to incur expenditure on “preparation for the construction of any railway line and any other infrastructure proposed to be included at any time in the (HSR) network,” and “preparation for the provision of services as part of that network.”

The expenditure permitted includes “pre-construction activity (such as surveying and design), in acquiring property, and in providing compensation in respect of property likely to be affected.”

That is pretty clear then – the Government is keen to crack on with building HS2 as soon as possible and to ensure it doesn’t just stop with phase one.

“The Bill will have its Second Reading in the House of Commons in June and we expect that the debate will be key for the Government in getting cross-party support and a show of Parliament’s will to deliver a national high speed rail network,” said Alex Burrows – a former senior planner at Centro, the West Midlands transport authority, and now Head of Transport and Infrastructure at Insight Public Affairs. “We expect the Hybrid Bill for Phase 1 to come before Parliament at the end of 2013 and for it to deliver authority to commence construction by 2017.”

Paul Chapman from HS2 Ltd has also given a very clear statement of HS2 Ltd’s plans to work with the cities and regions to deliver economic growth and local transport improvements to ensure HS2 is integrated into long-term local growth plans.

A Growth Task Force will be established later this year to ensure cities are “HS2 ready,” he explained, adding that HS2 Ltd is bringing forward work with Network Rail to plan for how the released capacity on the existing network can be best used for new passenger and freight services.

Alex Burrows said that proceeding with HS2 will now create several tangible benefits:

– The opportunity for a large number of jobs during construction of HS2, especially in engaging with a significant supply chain that will reach across the country;

– The chance to provide a large workforce with a range of valuable skills and to create a huge number of apprenticeships – current and previous infrastructure projects have created a skilled British workforce who have become a valuable UK export;

– The certainty and confidence, with a developing national High Speed Rail network, that can enable businesses to plan for the long term to secure a crucial pipeline of infrastructure work.

Alex Burrows added: “The real issue at stake on high speed rail comes down to being able to clearly communicate what the project is and the benefits it will bring. The rest of the world is building (or has already built) High Speed Rail networks because their role and value is agreed and proven.

“But in Britain we are seeing a battle being waged over perceptions rather than facts.”

12 thoughts on “HS2 is a battle of perceptions rather than facts

  1. I think the description of a battle of perception rather than facts hits the nail on the head. One of the most persistent arguments made by many antis is that it’s travel for the fat cats. One look at the inside of a TGV in service will show you how wrong this claim is, but as only a minority of people from the UK have been on a TGV they know they can carry on peddling this line without being exposed. Then there’s the endless insinuation that HS2 must be wrong because the Government supports it and you can’t trust the government, can you?

    Crucially, there’s one group of people who StopHS2 have stopped trying to reach out to, and that’s rail passengers, especially rail passengers on London Midland services into Euston. They are quite happy to lecture rail passengers on what’s best for them, but they make no attempt to suggest how else you might relieve crowding on the services that suffer the worst. On the contrary, they are trying very hard to treat this problem like it doesn’t exist.

    • To Chris Neville-Smith: Firstly, as we recently passed the third anniversary of the announcement of HS2 by the previous Labour Government, does it not seem strange to you or other readers that after 36 months people’s “perception” of HS2 after all the government spin is that they remain unconvinced that it is necessary. Arguments about the N-South divide are comprehensively disputed by reputable economists and institutions (see HS2 Action Alliance comments today on the NAO for details; arguments stressing capacity issues were destroyed by the facts revealed under duress at the instruction of the Judge during the JR’s – only 52% full at PEAK time in/out of Euston; also yu say no attempt to suggest alternatives – see the 51m group comprehensive alternative which offers 120% increase in capacity to meet forecast of 102% at a cost of Just £3 B, not £33 B. Finally, instead of just being biased in favour, why don’t you read the last Transport review conducted for Govt, The Eddington Transport Review 2006, freely available on the web. Eddington set out his recommendations to invest in EXISTING rail infrastructure because this is precisely where the need is – ask ANY commuter. The ONLY reason HS2 ever got off the ground is through clever, expensive, consistent lobbying by the vested interests. The real customer here is the commuter – ask them and time and time again they will tell you precisely where investment is needed for their services and its very rarely HS2!

      • “does it not seem strange to you or other readers that after 36 months people’s “perception” of HS2 after all the government spin is that they remain unconvinced that it is necessary. ”

        So, after three years of debate, anti groups carry on opposing the line regardless of the direction fo the debate? That doesn’t seem odd at all.

        “only 52% full at PEAK time in/out of Euston”

        Ah well, at least someone on the anti side has finally responded with a sort-of fact. I say “sort-of” fact because it has been pointed out repeatedly that the 52% figure you quite is only for Virgin Trains. London Midland trains are a completely different story. Their average afternoon peak loading is 94%, with the 18:13 fro Eustom having a peak loading of 162%. Anti groups are fully aware of this and choose to behave like it doesn’t exist. So, straight back to perceptions rather than facts.

        “see the 51m group comprehensive alternative which offers 120% increase in capacity to meet forecast of 102% at a cost of Just £3 B, not £33 B.”

        And that 120% figure was arrived at by double-counting improvements that have already been made (the train lengthening has already happened). Whilst the £3bn comes from scrapping services to North Wales and Wolverhampton hoping no-one notices, going cheap on rolling-stock, delivering little or no growth to the services that need it most (the LM services into Euston), and no regard whatsover for the fate of local services into Birmingham and Manchester.

        All of these flaws have been raised with HS2AA repeatedly, and they have persistently refused to answer, preferring instead to pretend these problems do not exist. The fact they do not want to engage in debate on the viability of their own plans is strong evidence of fighting over perception, not facts.

        ” The Eddington Transport Review 2006, freely available on the web. Eddington set out his recommendations to invest in EXISTING rail infrastructure because this is precisely where the need is”

        Tell me exactly which paragraph you think says that and I’ll discuss it further. I did, however, notice that Eddinton says that delays are damaging to the economy, and the passneger journeys are set to grow, both of which HS2AA steadfastly claim are wrong.

        And, in any case, even if you somehow do manage to demostrate that Eddington says HS2 is not needed, Network Rail (who only have to, err, actually run the railways) state the opposite. HS2AA simply cherry-picks bits of reports that suits its arugment, and dismissed out of hand anything that doesn’t, including other bits of the same report they like to quote. Perception, not facts.

        “The ONLY reason HS2 ever got off the ground is through clever, expensive, consistent lobbying by the vested interests.”

        Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. You sort of made an effort to duote facts, but now you’re on to the totally unprovable and borderline libelloues claims about vested interested. Unequivovally perception, not facts, here.

        “The real customer here is the commuter – ask them and time and time again they will tell you precisely where investment is needed for their services and its very rarely HS2!”

        Go on them. Board the 18:13 from Euston, and ask any commuter if they’d rather have HS2, which allows the southern WCML to be free up for more commuter services, or 51m, which delivers no growth at all for any stations south of Rugby (no extra trains, no train lengthening, nothing). I’ll bring the bandages.

  2. You are absolutely right HS2 is currently about perceptions and not facts. The facts demonstrate that the business is so full of holes as to be worthless and the much vaunted wider economic benefits remain a pipe dream for politicians looking for votes in the North.

    • Dear God, someone attempts to call for a debate based on facts, and what we get in response is a sweeping statement that the facts prove StopHS2 is right and HS2 is wrong, without a single argument to back this claim up. And, to top it off, an insinuation that you can’t trust those politicians.

      Thank you for proving my point far better than I could have done on my own.

  3. Perceptions can only be based on facts when schemes like this are considered, and so far the facts don’t stack up too favourably. Anyone in favour of meaningful rail investment must surely question the spongy rhetoric that this project is being driven on when there are more pressing needs around more local rail delivery (North and South) which really affect regular travellers. The country need an easily accessible and slick network of veins, not a spare artery at an unjustifiable cost.

    • Go on then. What’s your solution to the overcrowding on commuter services into Euston?

      (And if you don’t know the facts on the situation with the London Midland services, that reflects very poorly on your ability to judge how facts stack up.)

    • Facts

      Your (varicose) veins would be very quickly blocked up

      Hs2 provides
      real extra capacity leading to lower fares,faster more reliable improved services

      Room for growth in rail freight

      Less land take than alternatives

      Lower CO2.

      What is your vested interest

  4. High Speed 2 is needed to bring Britain’s infrastructure into the 21st century http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse

    NAO conceded ‘faster and more reliable journeys’ would be an inevitable outcome of the project, http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/

    Even most ardent ANTIs say HS2 WILL be built. One remarked ‘all we can do now is maximise compensation’. http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse

    Deloitte On NAO – ‘In addition to the better transport links and jobs HS2 will create,

  5. Anyone who reads the NAO statement will quickly detect the similarity between ANTIs presentation and NAO.
    Straight from the pen of Gaines, Tett, Rukin, and Marshall

  6. The truth of the matter is that by the 2030’s our current rail infrastructure simply won’t be able to keep up if demand continues to increase as it’s doing. We need billions of pounds worth of investment, so HS2 seems like a worthwile option to me.

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