Is the Government changing its mind?
Senior ministers are backing away from HS2 according to The Spectator, with George Osborne and Transport Secretary Justine Greening beginning to cool. One minister told the magazine that “The project is effectively dead. The only thing keeping it on life support is David Cameron’s backing.”, with ‘a senior Treasury insider’ saying “We do need improvements to Britain’s transport infrastructure, but whether HS2 is the best way to resolve this problem is not clear. Momentum is certainly draining.”
This follows on from similar claims on the influential Conservative Home blog and revelations over the weekend that confidential DfT research has confirmed that the HS2 business case has always been completely fabricated.
Even when a faced with a predictable ‘question’ from a back-bench HS2 supporter at PMQs yesterday, David Cameron was hardly emphatic and proved he is still poorly informed about the project, stating; “I believe that we should go ahead with HS2. It is important for the country’s economy, and it is important that we get on board this high-speed rail revolution….. Many flights could be avoided if we had a network of high-speed rail in our country, and I am keen to press ahead.” The reality in countries which have embarked on high speed rail projects is one of cancellation or heavy losses, and only 3% of HS2 passengers are expected to transfer from planes, with the rest coming from alternatives (including a quarter of predicted passengers making entirely new journeys) which will pollute less than HS2 would.
At the weekend the Sunday Telegraph reported that research, which confirms that building HS2 will reap no overall benefits whatsoever, has been deliberately suppressed by Government, even before the original announcement of the HS2 plans in March 2010. A Freedom of information request from Colin Allen, near Brackley, has revealed, as campaigners have maintained since the outset, that official research has labelled to economic benefits of HS2 is ‘illusionary’ and the claims it has been making to support HS2 are, and more importantly have always know to have been ‘unsupportable’.
Campaigners against HS2 are absolutely livid following these revelations, as they show quite clearly that the business case for HS2 -which was already in tatters following official downgrading which did not take this research into account – has always been based on false assumptions.
Stop HS2 Campaign Coordinator Joe Rukin said;
“It may be a bit early to start hanging up the bunting just yet, but it is becoming increasingly clear that HS2 is running out of supporters because the case for it has simply been made up around the idea that those three words ‘high speed rail’ sound like they must be a good idea. It is getting clearer and clearer that we have always been right and there is no business case, not environmental case and clearly no money to pay for HS2. All there is now are a handful of petulant children stamping their feet saying ‘I want’, but there are becoming less and less of them.
“The Prime Minister talks about wanting to join the high speed revolution and if he wants to do that, he has two choices, either go down the line of bankruptcy like The Netherlands and Spain, or follow the example of Belgium, Poland and Portugal and cancel this white elephant before it is too late.
“We have been saying for over two years that the entire business case for HS2 is based on false assumptions. We have been naive in thinking that the DfT and Government were simply being stupid in ignoring the obvious up to now, as now we realise not only that they were lying all along, but they knew they were lying and despite the massive amounts of money involved and the supposed need for cuts everywhere else, they simply did not care.”
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2, said
“When Justine Greening was first made Secretary of State for Transport, she said she was going to make a “rational” decision about HS2. However, she found herself surrounded by narrow minded transport planners in the Department for Transport and selected a Parliamentary Private Secretary who was already publicly supportive of HS2. She’d already given the public go-ahead to HS2 before she even met any campaigners against HS2.
“We hope the Spectator is correct, and that Greening is listening to the reservations of people outside the DfT and paying attention to the wider issues surrounding the HS2 proposal. Given that HS2 is on a red/amber alert from the Major Projects Authority so early in the process, and we hope this will lead her more careful scrutiny of the whole project.
“It’s clear that more and more people within Government are realising that HS2 is a white elephant of a project. David Cameron should do the right thing, switch off the life support for HS2 and scrap the project as soon as possible.”