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Growing opposition to HS2 has gone beyond Home Counties ‘nimbyism’ – should YDM join those opposing?

July 24, 2013

Stewart Arnold writes:

There is news this morning that the latest legal challenge to the HS2 high-speed rail project has been rejected by the Court of Appeal. The objectors – mainly residents’ groups and councils along the route –  claimed that HS2 would cause an unacceptable level of environmental damage, loss of homes and disruption to many communities. It would appear that the objectors will pursue this further, probably up to the Supreme Court. That there should be such a level of objection from those who feel their lives and communities would be disrupted unreasonably is understandable. What is more remarkable is the growing opposition or circumspection from those not affected by the environmental consequences of HS2. In the last few weeks we have had several examples of criticism and outright opposition

  • In a report published in May, the National Audit Office (NAO) said it had “reservations” about how the planned high-speed rail link would deliver growth and jobs. It added that the project had an estimated £3.3bn funding gap.


  • Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, said the business case for HS2 was “clearly not up to scratch”. She said there was “virtually no evidence” to support the claims that HS2 would deliver regional economic growth, describing some of the DfT’s assumptions as “just ludicrous”. “We have been told that it will deliver around 100,000 new jobs, but there is no evidence that all these jobs would not have been created anyway. The department has also set an extremely ambitious timetable for the project, with no room for mistakes.”


  • A report from the New Economics Foundation (NEF) said demand for the HS2 high-speed rail project has “likely been overestimated”, adding the £33bn cost does not offer value for money. The NEF suggest several ways of using the money, for example, £10bn could transform rail infrastructure in northern England and the Midlands, creating new and faster east-west rail links, redeveloping stations and electrifying regional rail lines.


  • Anthony Hilton in The Independent wrote a compelling article in early July making some good points about the lack of interconnectivity of the proposed route of HS2 with the existing Channel tunnel line and also city centres. He went on to say “if the Government wants a high-speed railway because all the other European countries have one then it would make far more sense to build a triangular link between Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield and weld those into one conurbation that would have the size and clout to be a real counterweight to London”. At YDM we believe the counterweight should be Yorkshire as a whole, without the inclusion of our friends over the Pennines, but I certainly get the point he is making.


  • And, finally, Peter Mandelson – once a great supporter of HS2 – publicly pulled his support for the project. Calling HS2 an ‘expensive mistake’, Mandelson challenged the case for HS2 stating: “Ambitious claims for HS2 … were based on the central assumption that if you could cut the travelling time between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, HS2 would transmit business and economic growth across the country, justifying the tens of billions of expenditure involved. This assumption was neither quantified nor proved. We are still waiting for independent analysis to support it. Meanwhile, alternatives – upgrading the east and west coast mainlines, major regional rail enhancements and mass transit projects in regions and provincial cities –were not actively considered.”


So just a summary of the generally reasoned guardedness of the benefits HS2 would bring. I, for one, was reasonably excited by the Government’s commitment to have this built. Having travelled all over France and Germany by high speed train I was sure HS2 would both reflect a step change in the quality of our rail network and at the same time provide an economic stimulus to the regions of England.  I am wondering, however, that I wasn’t attracted (especially as we have complained bitterly about the comparative underspend in Yorkshire on transport infrastructure) by the pot of gold that was on offer. And that pot of gold is substantial. The project started off at a proposed cost of £9bn but even the NEF figures for the cost of HS2 of £33bn are already out of date. The proposed bill, as it stands at the moment to complete phases 1 and 2, is an eye-watering £42bn. Of course, there are those local authorities in Yorkshire, who offered a proportion of that original £9bn to invest in a transport infrastructure which had been starved of funding for so long, could hardly oppose the project. Yet if those same communities had been asked (by a Yorkshire regional parliament for example) ‘we have a substantial pot of money here for investment in transport infrastructure, what do you consider your priorities?’, I doubt many would have said ‘well above all in 13 years time we need to get to London from Leeds about an hour faster’. I know there are several amongst YDM supporters who are convinced that HS2 will not bring the benefits to Yorkshire that have been trumpeted over the years or indeed do anything to lessen the North-South divide and I wonder now if YDM should join with those voicing opposition to this scheme?






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  1. Richard Carter permalink

    Excellent article. I think you capture pretty well where most of the support for this came from. I think opposition to this has to be thought through. Straight opposition would not benefit Yorkshire or the North. Commitment to use that money according to identified needs in Yorkshire and over there should perhaps be the starting point. Its interesting that not ten minutes before reading this an article in the YP suggests the most overcrowded route in the UK is from Manchester through Leeds. This combined with an M62 at capacity suggests we need to perhaps concentrate on how it could be used creatively in Y to boost the economy here.

  2. Richard Carter permalink

    Its also interesting how there is an increasing focus on the North as a region. I support a Yorkshire Parliament that is there for the benefit of the people and environment of Yorkshire. This would necessitate working closely with other regions. Yorkshire has an identity. The North doesn’t. It would be great if they also had their own regional assembly too, if they desire it.

  3. Thanks Richard. You make a very good point about trans-Pennine transport connections. This is one of the projects the NEF report identifies along with upgrading existing north-south routes, introducing a sort of Northern Oyster card equivalent, improving the walking and cycling infrastructure in Yorkshire and super fast broadband rollout. And all for the same money as HS2!

  4. I see East Coast trains have been ‘named and shamed’ because only 84.6% of their journeys ran on time in the four week to July 20. Hardly their fault when, as stated in the article, that its poor punctuality was mainly due to overhead line problems. More evidence perhaps that the existing north-south routes are in need of investment rather than new high speed lines.

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