Coffee House

HS2 announcement ignores airport problem

28 January 2013

George Osborne, Patrick McLoughlin and Simon Burns have been flying the flag for the second phase of High Speed Rail 2 this morning. Politically, Osborne and Co see rewards in a project aimed at closing the North/South divide, rewards clearly so great that the Chancellor doesn’t mind the second half of the route zipping through his own constituency and irritating local councillors and campaigners. Osborne was careful to underline this when he appeared on breakfast television this morning, saying:

‘Our country has become so unbalanced and for the last 15 years as a country we gambled on the City of London and its prosperity and look where that got us. This new government is determined to change that and make sure the economic geography is changed and businesses are connected and able to benefit from that.’

Other MPs whose constituencies are also affected such as former cabinet minister Cheryl Gillan are not so impressed. But Gillan isn’t just annoyed about the route zipping through the beautiful Chiltern countryside of her Amersham constituency: she also has a very strong point to make about the timing of the HS2 announcements when the government has kicked its aviation strategy into the long grass. Writing for Coffee House in November, she argued that HS2 ‘lacks vital connectivity with other facets of our transport infrastructure, namely a proper link with a major UK airport or with HS1. It simply does not make sense to continue with a project of this size and expense when we do not yet know if it will complement the recommendations of the Davies Commission.’

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The current plan is to consider extending HS2 to Heathrow directly later on, pending the recommendations of the Davies Commission. The phase two document, published this morning, says:

‘We have therefore taken the decision to pause work on the spur to Heathrow until after 2015 when we expect the Airports Commission to publish its final report… there would still be the opportunity to consult separately at a later point and include the Heathrow spur in legislation for Phase Two without any impact on the delivery time if that fits with the recommendations of the Commission.’

This assumes that Heathrow will continue to be the major airport serving the South East: what if Stansted (now Boris’ preferred option) gets the expansion green light instead? Either way, failing to coordinate plans for the two different transport modes, one bringing businesses and tourists into the country, and the other taking them northwards, isn’t the smoothest way of closing the North/South divide, especially if high speed rail and London’s biggest airport for the future don’t even join up.

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  • Tom Tom

    There was an idiot on Wprld at One today – Jason Macartney – seems he is now a Tory MP having been a LibDem and he was off the wall. Who needs a train cutting journey time from Leeds by 50 minutes in 20 years time ? This is getting barmy. This is the EU TENS Project and is totally irrelevant to needs for the cost outlay. We need trains from Liverpool to Hull and better links to Belfast and to Rotterdam

  • David Lindsay

    Our countryside was criss-crossed by the world’s original and best rail network for well over a century, to the point of being largely defined by it. People who have priced everyone else out of rural areas and who now find that their houses are going to be right next to one of the busiest railways on earth deserve nothing but pointing and laughing from the rest of us.

    It is motorways that are an incongruous import from the United States, from Germany, and from the simple concreting over of immemorial straight Roman roads elsewhere on the Continent. Railways are British. They both a product and an expression both of our landscape and of our sensibility.

    We led the world in everything to do with them. We could, should and must do so again. They can be run on electricity, which can be generated from our own vast reserves of coal and from nuclear power. Cars run on oil, which has to be imported from the most dangerous places on earth, in the affairs of which we are thus obliged to embroil ourselves.

    But we do not need to give some private, already or soon-to-be foreign company a license to print public money for whizzing our supposedly high fliers from one city centre to another. Still less from miles away from one city centre to miles away from another.

    We need to renationalise the railways, uniquely without compensation in view of the manner of their privatisation, as the basis for a national network of public transport free at the point of use, including the reversal of bus route and rail line closures going back to the 1950s. And we need to be able to get on a train (or the tram, or the bus) in the centre of one village, town or city, in order to be able to get off it in the centre of another.

    Only public ownership can deliver this. Public ownership is of course British ownership, and thus a safeguard of national sovereignty. It is also a safeguard of the Union in that it creates communities of interest across the several parts of the United Kingdom. Publicly owned concerns often even had, and should have again, the word “British” in their names.

    What I pity that it was only ever “British Rail”, rather than “Royal British Rail”. One for the Platinum Jubilee in 2022. In Thatcher’s own words about the Royal Mail, “We can’t privatise that, it’s Royal.” Let the same apply here, linking every city and town, with the hinterland served by its central amenities, not only to each other, but also directly to the monarchy.

    If there were a Tory, conservative, One Nation party, then it would be saying this. Perhaps there is?

    • HJ777

      “…the basis for a national network of public transport free at the point of use…”

      This would be unutterably foolish. Why should everybody who doesn’t want to move around subsidise those who do? Why should the poor pensioner subsidise wealthy people to go on a weekend break at the other end of the country?

      Demand for a ‘free’ service would undoubtedly be far greater than it would if people had to pay the cost, so more capacity would be needed. Therefore, the taxpayer would end up spending far more on the railways than anyone would be prepared to pay. So we would, through higher taxes, be deprived of the right to spend our money on things that we would prefer to buy, in order to pay for something that people wouldn’t be prepared to pay for.

      The economics of the madhouse.

  • Robert Taggart

    NO2 HS2 – and this from a northern anorak !

  • HFC

    How does moving people to and fro a little faster generate such great commercial benefits as we are asked to believe? Will raw materials, finished goods and services be moved from place to place any faster?
    As for telling us that in 20 or so years people in Leeds will be able to get to Brussels in three and a half hours is a benefit – does nobody believe that the communications industries will likely by then have provided such excellent personal links – video conferencing, for example – that far less business travel will be required?

  • Daniel Maris

    I’d say “The HS2 announcement ignores the electoral problem.” This – together with Heathrow expansion – is going to lose the Tories I would guess about 20 seats. In other words, given all their other electoral problems ,it will finish them off as a party of government.

    This is the sort of policy to be pursued with a 100 seat majority not when you can hardly scrabble together a coalition.

    In truth the economic arguments in favour are very doubtful, far more so even than with Heathrow expansion I would say.

    And does anyone seriously believe it can be done for £35 billion? Probably need to double that.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      So apparently, your vast expertise includes conceptual cost estimating of mass public works projects?

      How do you do it all?

  • an ex-tory voter

    It will waste a huge sum of money that does not even exist! There is insufficient commercial demand for it. If there were sufficient demand the private sector would be pleased to fund it, in it’s entirety.

    It is a purely political project and it is driven by Brussels, Cameron and Co are involved only to the extent of providing a “figleaf” and ensuring the British taxpayer coughs up. Even if it is eventually completed it will be uncompetitive and unaffordable by the very people who are going to be forced to fund it. It will be the preserve of politicians and their favourite charity, the corporate sector. All of whom will “ride in splendour”, all the while congratulating themselves on their farsightedness in ensuring it was completed for the “benefit of all”.

  • wrinkledweasel

    I would no more commend this than I would support the purchase of some ill-fitting but very expensive hand-made shoes to compliment an outfit made of rotting, sick-stained sack cloth.

    • Daniel Maris

      Yes, a rather good analogy. You might add – for an alocoholic with terminal cancer.

      • high speed you

        Yes, an obviously relevant one.

  • Sebastien

    Sounds like sour grapes from a magazine that thought it had predicted the project’s demise…

    • Daniel Maris

      Yes, I had been misled by the Spectator on that. But I can’t really see this going ahead.

  • Chris lancashire

    Good steps in the right direction if not quickly enough; an improved North-South link is one of the best ways to boost growth. Whether or not is connects to Heathrow can easily wait until 2016 and is no big deal.
    To the nimbys, I doubt whether it will cause anywhere near the disturbance sometimes claimed – after all existing lines seem to cause little problem. And to those that bleat that it will be too expensive; how do they know, have fares been announced already?

    • Dan

      I think this is a speculative punt from the Government, rather that balanced, well thought out, plan to boost the economy in the North of England. Also, considering that officials are still dithering over which airport to expand/build, I would have thought it would be prudent to get thew answer before committing £30bn of taxpayers money. And when complete, I can’t imagine for a moment that a return from London to Manchester will be as competitive as Easy Jet/Virgin Rail etc, I think we all know that it’s going to be expensive

      • Chris lancashire

        Why should this be a “speculative punt”? HS1 wasn’t and the plans are fairly different.
        Easyjet doesn’t fly Manchester-London – only BA and, soon, Virgin. As for Virgin Rail don’t imagine it is currently particularly cheap but the existing line will provide competition for HS2. Lastly, the existing WCML will run out of capacity in the mid 2020s – perhaps we should wait until it’s full (like Heathrow) then start planning?

        • Dan

          As I said, we should start planning when we know what is going to happen with the airports. If “Boris Island” goes ahead, how is this going to be linked with HS2?

          • DK

            If Boris Island goes ahead it will link with HS1. (which in turn will link to HS2 through North London)

  • Noa

    We are a small island densely populated, with an aging infrastructure and huge public debts. The cost of change is enormous, both socially and financially. And getting it wrong
    will cause deep and lasting damage.
    It is unfair to compare the cost of developing Dubai’s infrastructure with the UK’s, but it is reasonable to expect that infrastructure planning will be conducted in a coherent and efficient manner.
    Cheryl Gillan is right to draw our attention to the Coalition’s sad lack current lack of competence on this.

  • HJ777

    I’m sure that for over £30bn there will be some economic benefits.

    However, these will be a long time in the future and there will be years of cost first, so there would need to be huge returns to justify the expenditure especially as there are already pretty good rail links to the places on the HS2 route. What does not seem to me to have been considered is whether, given the many problems with our transport infrastructure, this is the best use of the money. It almost certainly is not.

    Local congestion is surely a bigger problem as this is where most people waste far more time. Yet we prioritise cars (and buses), creating greater congestion and making transport difficult and expensive for the low paid (and thus reducing the attraction of travelling to find work for them). In the Netherlands, 28% of journeys are by bicycle vs 2% here – this is because they have safe provision. We could go a long way to matching their provision with £30bn – reducing congestion (yes, cycle provision reduces congestion for cars), reducing cost of local transport and getting people healthy through greater physical activity. The benefits would be far greater.

  • jazz6o6

    Osborne & Co are only following their masters’ orders.

  • Jebediah

    What a bunch of whiners we are. Modern transport systems? NO! “We must wait until the ice caps melt before we decide.” A small country (in area) with a large population needs grade A infrastructure to give it any sort of competitive advantage. We need more motorways, airports and railways (see Germany and France). What’s monstrous is how long it appears to take to build a 200 mile railway these days.

    • Dan

      I don’t think the amount of time to build the thing is really an issue here, HS1 went fine, but as with any major infrastructure project in the UK, it’s the incompetence and dithering from hopelessly inept politicians that cause delays. By the time someone actually signs this project off, the bill for bureaucracy and lawyers will probably be higher than the build costs for HS2. And I have to agree with the author of this article, how on earth can anyone even consider starting this project, without a decision being made on the south’s airport problem?

      • HooksLaw

        Its the planning system which causes delays – and the frenzy whipped up by newspapers anxious to peddle a story.

      • telemaque

        This is a good reason to put in government not in thrall to the Shire county merchants

    • SmithersJones2013


      You make this sweeping assertion but you do not say how this infrastructure is going to give us an advantage. Will building a eight lane motorway between Aberdeen and John O Groats give us competitive advantage?

      Now if it means that business will begin to expand outside the London area and start rejuvenating the north then thats fine but if all it does is allow the likes of Osborne and Corporate executives to commute from further out than previously feasible then all it is doing is expanding the London commuter belt and ensuring the prawn sandwich brigade can get to midweek United games without having to leave the office early.

      Without the necessary follow up from Government and Business to encourage business to create jobs, and I’m not hearing how that is supposed to happen outside the South East all this does is further centralise our society around London and that is completely the opposite result that we should be looking for

      Incidentally has the Government provided any projections of exactly how much extra growth HS1 has provided against original projections or is it just cool for people to take their kids to Disney in Paris by train?

      • Jebediah

        Being deliberately obtuse does you few favours: “Will building a eight lane motorway between Aberdeen and John O Groats give us competitive advantage?” Try an eight lane (or more) between Manchester and Birmingham, or between Leeds and Manchester. A full on motorway between Newcastle, Edinburgh and Leeds. A motorway to Norwich. The list is a long one. Compared to other similarly advanced countries our transport networks are woeful.

        • SmithersJones2013

          Its not me who is making sweeping generic statements of the need for “modern transport systems” without any specific justification.

          The reality is that this country is damn near broke and we should not be investing in anything that hasn’t got a clear and significant business advantage. So what exactly is the cost benefit of HS2?

          Now stop prevaricating and state your justification rather than trotting out a wish list because we can all do that!

        • dalai guevara

          Yes, how about a motorway that actually runs full length between Manchester and Birmingham to start with?

  • itdoesntaddup

    Conservatives are following in Labour’s footsteps with value destroying major capital projects. That’s not a good recipe when you’re struggling with a massive deficit and a moribund economy.

  • UlyssesReturns

    Remember those heady days in 1997 when labour were going to have an integrated transport policy in the hands of that great intellectual and statesman John Prescott? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Not only are we governed by political pygmies, we are infested with namby pamby political commentators, nimbys and an ‘elfandsafety culture of deferred decisions. Dubai was able to conceive, design and build the world’s tallest building in the time it has taken to decide on this vital rail link. A critical new airport is not going to be built because it might lose a few votes in the south, or upset Zac Goldsmith FFS. The middle and far east are forging ahead while we discuss fine detail and pander to lobby groups with our heads firmly implanted up our rears.

    • telemaque

      And who are they afraid of?
      Right wing commentators of the home counties and leafy Cheshire
      God preserve us from chattering Tories

    • HooksLaw

      Whats a tall building got to do with a rail line? Nothing. if you want to see a pygmy, look in the mirror. This govt are trying to sort out the mess of 13 years of labour procrastination.

    • UlyssesReturns

      Ms Hardman, I really must protest. Mr Nelson promised us that trolls would be exiled yet I find the nasty creatures still infesting this blog. One, obviously having been recently barred, has quickly returned with a change of name, and another, who irritatingly follows me like some urchin in the street begging for a few coppers, though of a Cameroonian bent, is still, for all that, a troll. There is also the return, I see, of a fat bloke and a couple of other lefty numbskulls who inflict us like that nasty piece of ordure one inadvertently stepped in that remains obdurately embedded in the soles of one’s shoes. I address myself to you and the editor (by proxy) as I would never engage with the vile creatures myself having long followed my sainted mother’s advice to never converse with perves and loonies.

      • telemachus

        Which one was that.
        While I earn a good rest in the US my friends carry the torch of reason

        • Tom Tom

          a good rest….don’t rock your headstone

    • HJ777

      Remember some of the biggest lobby groups involved here are the people who will benefit financially directly from the decision to build HS2 – contractors, long distance commuters, etc..

      Public choice economics tells us that a relatively small group of people or organisations which will benefit most (without having to pay the costs themselves) from any such project are likely to be vociferous in their support. On the other hand, the costs are widely dispersed, so those who will pay (the taxpayer) do not individually have such an incentive to oppose.

      The question we should be asking is whether there are better uses for the money.

  • John_Page

    Typical slapdash shambles from this coalition. As you point out, the transport planning makes no sense. And let’s wait till Andrew Gilligan goes through any figures for the extension, to see if they’re as dishonest as the first lot.

  • Adrian Drummond

    I can see the basic logic in HS2 attempting to link the south with the north but who will be able to afford a ticket to travel on it? Even current train ticket prices are exorbitantly high for those earning average wages.

    • HooksLaw

      In fact train tickets are not that high if you book in advance and more people are using the trains than ever.
      HS2 will also reduce pressure on the existing mainline and allow more trains to run there as well.

      • SmithersJones2013

        In 2032………

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