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April 2015
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newlsettersHS2: not-so-happy birthday
By Simon Morris, Chairman of CRAG

The eleventh of March this year was the 5th anniversary of the announcement of HS2 Phase 1. It was not a day to celebrate, but rather to mourn the inability of our democratic system of government to make sound decisions on transport infrastructure.

It was probably no coincidence that the following day there was a letter in the New Civil Engineer magazine headed “HS2 is not a necessity – it is misconceived and inefficient”. It deplored the low level of the national debate on this “the country’s most costly piece of infrastructure” and claimed the debate on it in the magazine itself was hardly any better.

It pointed out that there are other options that could be taken instead of HS2 which could provide an “integrated high-speed rail network, linking with city centres and airports, that will serve the many, not the few, and create greater demand at lower cost.” The writer, Peter Darley, called for engineers to expose the HS2 project’s “intellectual bankruptcy” before its costly shortcomings brought shame on the engineering profession. I sincerely wish Peter Darley success in his call for re-evaluation of HS2. His approach is a breath of fresh air.

Relevant to the gist of Mr Darley’s letter, a couple of days earlier HS2 Ltd had announced, very quietly, that it would not build the Heathrow spur linking HS2 near Denham to Heathrow. Why so quietly? Perhaps because the Conservative 2010 Election Manifesto said: “We will stop the third runway and instead link Heathrow directly to our high-speed rail network, providing an alternative to thousands of flights.” Now they are saying the expansion of Heathrow means HS2 does not need to go to Heathrow.

Take into account also the announcement in March 2014 by Sir David Higgins, the head of HS2 Limited, of the cancellation of the proposed link of HS2 to HS1 because amongst other things it was too costly. Through these cancellations the functionality of HS2 is being reduced. The cancellations will help HS2 Ltd stay within the budget of £50 billion. In my opinion this is a dishonest response to the situation. If significant reasons for a massive infrastructure spend disappear then the project should be totally re-evaluated.

Keep rooting for the tunnel
However we must be pragmatic and assume that Parliament, even after the General Election, will not see the light and scrap HS2. We therefore must keep working towards persuading the HS2 Select Committee of the need for a long bored tunnel through the Chiltern AONB. Some of you may have been following the Select Committee hearings online. I strongly recommend that if you are going to present your Petition you also go to the House of Commons and sit in a hearing of the Select Committee. We can learn a lot from others as to what works and what needs to be avoided in these presentations and it gives you insight into how the process works. I do think that in being there you get a better feel for the reactions of the Committee to Petitioner’ statements and with easy access to all the information being posted on the screens in the Select Committee room you can follow the argument more easily. I was encouraged that on the two occasions I have sat in as a visitor at the Committee I got the feeling that the MPs there were genuinely interested in hearing about the experience of people affected by HS2.

Parliament has now been dissolved and will open again after the General Election. Since it is unlikely that there will be any major developments during this period we will not be holding a CRAG Public Meeting in April. Instead we plan to hold meetings of the Petitioner Groups that have been organised. The meetings will be in the form of workshops to help Petitioners prepare their presentations. So the next CRAG Public Meeting will be on Thursday 14th May – and meanwhile have a good Election Day!

(A few months ago I covered a session of the Committee for Today in Parliament on R4 and like Simon was impressed by the MPs’ thoroughness and apparent breadth of knowledge. The main petitioner was a boy of nine, Alex Rukin (admittedly heavily coached by his Dad), which was why there was quite a lot of media attention! Do we perhaps have any similar prodigies in The Lee? Ed.)

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