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February 2015
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newlsetters HS2 update
By Simon Morris, Chairman of CRAG

Talk at local parties and in the pubs over the Christmas break often touched on HS2. The question I was frequently asked about it was: “Is it going to happen? Will HS2 get built?” Unfortunately I have no crystal ball to predict the future but my view is that if HS2 is going to veer into the long grass or be consigned to the knackers’ sidings for defunct railway white elephants then we are fast approaching the most likely time for that to happen.

So far only UKIP and the Green Party have stated their opposition to HS2. UKIP sensibly claimed it as their source of funds for restoring the NHS to financial health. Nigel Farage just has a slight problem with UKIP’s Tory defector, Mark Reckless, who continues to back it. Natalie Bennett, the Green Party leader, views it as the “rich man’s railway” and believes investment should be going into local train and bus services instead. The three main Parties continue to support it.

However, it is interesting that in November last year, The Fabian Society, a Labour Party think tank, published a research report titled ‘More than Passengers’. Its main message is that decisions on transport infrastructure investment, such as HS2, are taken ‘top down’ rather than ‘bottom up’. Projects and the decisions to invest in them come from Whitehall rather than from regional and local government. The result is that the infrastructure we get tends not to meet the bulk of the demand which is for improvement of local transport systems.

It argues that Whitehall’s mantra - ‘central government knows best’- is deeply out of synch with today’s citizen empowerment, the devolution of power and achieving long term value for money. It goes on to argue that there should be a “devolution of power and money that would be conditional on regions consulting their citizens in a truly meaningful fashion on the long-term transport needs of their areas.” Indeed this is music to the ears of many of us who sat through hours of being lectured to by HS2 Ltd at the Community Forums. Far from consulting us, it was revealed in our last Forum that HS2 Ltd’s task had only been to promote its own route.

Too little too late you might say. That may not be true. The Labour Party are not opposing HS2 but neither are they wholly supporting it, with Ed Balls’ condition still on the table that it must not cost “a penny more than £50 billion”. The big issue so far for Labour is the NHS and how it is financed. HS2 has virtually dropped out of the national news, partly, rumour has it, because the Tory Party PR team marginalised it. It would be so much easier for Labour to pluck that £50 billion by cancelling HS2, than rely wholly on a mansion tax. Without Labour support HS2 would become yesterday’s nightmare.

This could of course all be idle day dreaming so please keep working on your presentations to support a fully bored tunnel at the Select Committee Hearings. A tunnel is a far more likely way we are going to save the Chiltern AONB.

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