HS2: Good case for high-speed rail link, say MPs
Published: 8th Nov 2011 00:44:17
There is a "good case" for the government's HS2 high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham and beyond, a committee of MPs has said.
The £32bn scheme offers "a new era of inter-urban travel in Britain", the Commons Transport Committee says.
But its report says the route must be extended to Leeds and Manchester.
Opponents said the report left HS2 "in tatters" because MPs said they could not be sure it would bring the economic benefits ministers predict.
The committee's support for the rail link, which aims to cut the London to Birmingham journey time to 49 minutes, came with a number of provisos.
The committee demanded that ministers "firmly commit" to extending the high speed link to both Leeds and Manchester before seeking Parliamentary approval for the London to Birmingham route.
The MPs also said what should have been a serious and factually-based debate had "too often been reduced to name-calling and caricature", and they demanded the government "desist from disparaging opponents of HS2 as nimbys".
See maps of the route at the DfT website
They warned the government it would be "unacceptable and counterproductive" if investment in high speed rail led to cutbacks in rail investment elsewhere.
The Labour chair of the committee, Louise Ellman, said the scheme was affordable and would provide a "step change" in the quality and frequency of rail services between major cities.
"A high-speed line offers potential economic and strategic benefits which a conventional line does not," she said.
There is something for all sides of the HS2 debate in this report.
The government welcomes the committee's support for the high speed rail concept, while critics suggest the report's many criticisms of the way the project has been presented thus far completely undermine the arguments for it.
Certainly, the committee concludes that there is a "good case" for going ahead with it, but goes on to suggest at some length that successive governments haven't quite made it yet; the economic benefits aren't completely clear, the carbon reduction benefits "don't stand up to scrutiny" while the impact on communities along the route is "substantial".
The committee does not quite demand that the government goes back to the drawing board, but it comes close at times, suggesting perhaps a slower service along existing transport corridors and a re-assessment of the route, the impact and the benefits of HS2.
"[It would mean] a dramatic improvement in connectivity between our major cities, Heathrow and other airports, and the rest of Europe.
"High-speed rail may be a catalyst for economic growth, helping to rebalance the economy and bridge the north-south divide.
"But the government must do more to promote local and regional growth strategies to ensure we get maximum economic benefit from high-speed rail."
The plans have strongly divided opinion along the 120-mile route between London and Birmingham, with supporters launching a "Their Lawns or Our Jobs" poster campaign, and opponents touring the country with a 10ft inflatable white elephant.
The MPs accept that the proposed route is likely to have "substantial impacts" on those living along it, adding that it is "unfortunate" that it crosses the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty.
They suggest that noise impact "may be less than feared" but urge ministers to try to build the new line close to other existing transport routes if possible.
Claims by ministers that HS2 will reduce CO2 omissions "do not stand up to scrutiny" - but the route will produce less carbon than an expanded motorway network or greater domestic aviation in the event of increased demand for inter-urban travel.
The MPs also say that a case for routing HS2 via Heathrow had not been set out clearly.
Jerry Marshall, chair of Action Groups Against High Speed Two (Aghast), said: "Given the partisan composition of the committee, we welcome the significant number of issues that its report has raised around the fatal flaws in HS2's business case.
Every time he leaves his official country retreat of Chequers, the prime minister is met by an anti-HS2 poster campaign directed personally at him.
Along the road between the Chiltern villages of Great Missenden and Amersham, big billboards urge him to drop plans to build a high-speed railway line through this designated area of outstanding natural beauty.
"Pssst Dave," one matey message reads. "Are you sure you're on the right track?" Another asks: "Could it derail you?" In nearby Tory-blue villages, houses along quaint and quiet country lanes are lined with posters opposing the rail link.
Many locals feel so strongly about what they see as a major threat to their tranquil way of life that they are quite prepared to withhold their Conservative votes in future elections.
"These are that viable alternatives to HS2 have not been investigated thoroughly, that the value of potential productivity gains delivered by HS2 have been greatly inflated and, lastly, the technical feasibility of being able to run 18 trains per hour is a risk. This simply leaves the case for HS2 in tatters."
The Association of Train Operating Companies and the Campaign for Better Transport said the high-speed rail link was vital, but it should not come at the expense of investment in the rest of the rail network.
The Countryside Alliance welcomed the committee's emphasis on the environmental impact of HS2.
"We hope that this recommendation extinguishes, once and for all, any charges of nimbyism directed at people who wish to see our most-cherished landscape preserved for future generations," said Alice Barnard, chief executive of the group.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England said the government needed to ensure HS2 was accompanied by wider planning to maximise the long-term benefits for the environment and economy.
At 05:47:55 in HeadlinesThe Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have paid their respects to Australia's war dead on the final day of their tour.
At 05:42:09 in HeadlinesIn the past 10 years, 80 people aged 21 and under have killed themselves in prison - the government has set up a review to find out why so many young people die in custody. One mother explains what it is like to have a child die behind bars.
At 05:06:03 in HeadlinesA US judge has ordered a hearing to consider new evidence relating to the 1987 double-murder conviction of a British businessman in Miami.
At 04:53:55 in HeadlinesIran has cut state subsidies on petrol in a move that saw prices rise at midnight by up to 75%.
At 04:41:10 in HeadlinesUS President Barack Obama is in Seoul for a visit that comes amid concern that North Korea may be planning a fourth nuclear test.
At 04:36:51 in BusinessConsumer prices in Tokyo rose at their fastest pace in 22 years in April, surging 2.7% from a year earlier, according to preliminary data.
At 04:10:36 in BusinessEd Miliband will unveil plans to tackle the "epidemic" of zero-hours contracts in a speech in Scotland later.
At 03:47:29 in HeadlinesBolivia's military chiefs have ordered the dismissal of more than 700 troops who have been protesting to demand better working conditions.
At 03:35:43 in WorldWith the World Cup just six weeks away and the Olympics on the horizon, social dysfunction in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro is subject to increasing international scrutiny.
At 03:28:21 in HeadlinesUK science is to get one of the biggest, most capable polar research vessels in the world.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2011. HS2: Good case for high-speed rail link, say MPs [Online] (Updated 8th Nov 2011)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/200371/HS2-Good-case-for-high-speed-rail-link-say-MPs [Accessed 25th Apr 2014]
News In Other Categories
A new online map of England and Wales allows people to enter their postcode and find their community's risk of developing 14 conditions, such as heart disease and lung cancer.
A 15 year-old girl has been cut free after becoming trapped in a children's swing in a park in Denbighshire.
As Liverpool fans dare to dream of a first league title in 24 years the club has revealed its own lofty plans for their ground.
A village museum in East Sussex will go up against Tate Britain and the new £35m Mary Rose Museum in a contest to be named the UK's museum of the year.
Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone made his first appearance in a Munich court on Thursday, accused of giving a £27.5m ($45m, 33m euros) bribe to a German banker.