12 March 2013

HS2 - still a mistake three years on

Dear Secretary of State, Minister of State and Parliamentary Under Secretaries at the Department of Transport,

Three years on and I’m still asking you to please reconsider your plans to build HS2.


HS2 will be an environmental catastrophe

Ultra high speed is not "green". Carbon emissions will increase with more than twice as many new travellers as will shift from car or air, and any freed-up landing slots used by more polluting long haul flights. Irreplaceable landscapes and ecosystems will be lost forever if HS2 is built. According to the Woodland Trust, 34 ancient woodlands sit directly in the path of the proposed Y route from London to Leeds and Manchester.

HS2 is a waste of money and the wrong priority

At £35bn plus and rising the costs are staggering, over £1,500 for every family, or equivalent to our entire annual defence budget. With so many claims on public funds, savage cuts to crucial services and surveys proving passengers aren’t dissatisfied with existing journey times, HS2 is the wrong priority. It will be a railway for the rich, but paid for by everyone including our children. Even as an infrastructure short-term boost it doesn't work, since its £34.5bn expenditure wouldn't start being spent until 2017.

The business case is flawed.

The benefits are exaggerated (relying on journey time savings that assume people don't work on trains), and the forecast demand for long distance travel is over optimistic (according to the Public Accounts Committee) A realistic payback is more like 50p for every £1 of public money spent on this project.

HS2 will mean changing trains to travel North

Under the current proposals, until at least the year 2033, all trains from what's termed "the near continent" would actually start or terminate at the new Old Oak Common HS2 station. That would oblige all passengers from the north to change trains there and allow at least 30 minutes for a connection.

HS2 can't solve the North/South divide

The evidence from experts and your own department shows HS2 is a London centric scheme –even the regeneration around new HS2 stations will likely be just jobs relocated from the surrounding areas.

HS2 is not needed for capacity reasons

Virgin intercity trains are only half full even at peak times. Improving the existing line is a more cost effective risk-free way to meet our future capacity needs which can be rolled out faster, benefit more people, and cost less than 10% of HS2. Even Network Rail accept the 51m alternative (of lengthening trains, reducing first class and resolving three pinch points on the West Coast Mainline Line) is feasible.

HS2 blights homes and lives

Hundreds of thousands of residents have had their lives ruined overnight by the blight on their homes and communities. Promises of ‘generous’ compensation are pure spin. Current proposals would help some 2% of those affected and only 100 property owners have been helped since 2010. People should not be forced to contribute huge sums from their own personal assets for a project said to be in the national interest.

Camden will be particularly badly hit

The current proposal is to run up to six HS2 trains an hour on the same section of North London Line that carries 21,000 passengers a day through Camden Road station on the hugely successful London Overground service. It would mean replacing and widening eight bridges over Camden's roads, causing incalculable delays, road closures and rail-replacement bus service at a devastating cost to Camden's vibrant economy.

Please do the right thing and use this third anniversary to cancel the project.

Yours faithfully,

Alexis Rowell

Former Camden councillor and Chair of Camden Council’s Sustainability Task Force