The Secretary of State for Transport made the controversial decision last week to veto the publication of a 2011 MPA report on HS2 – but why was the report blocked? KATIE THOMPSON speaks to local experts about the new developments.
A Major Projects Authority report on the High Speed 2 railway project has been censored from publication. The report is alleged to contain negative comments from interviewees employed by High Speed 2 Ltd, whose confidentiality was cited as a reason for the veto despite appeals from the Information Commissioner.
Previously, the veto has only been used in extreme cases, including a ban on publication of cabinet discussions on the Iraq War.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “The public interest in ensuring that projects of this scale are properly overseen is very high. The assurance of confidentiality is important in the conduct of the review.
“In my view, there is nothing in the nature or content of this particular report which outweighs that strong public interest against disclosure.”
The veto is not the first time the project has caused controversy. HS2 has divided opinion since January 2012 when Phase One was announced, promising to cut journey times between London and Birmingham by 32 minutes. One year later, Phase Two was passed, announcing plans to further connect Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield.
The developments came as great news for corporate travellers. Steven Small, Head of Business Tourism at Visit Manchester, said: “HS2 is an exciting project and we welcome infrastructure improvements that bring us closer to clients nationally and internationally.”
High speed rail is defined as speeds of more than 155mph. Projecting speeds of up to 250mph, HS2 will see 351 miles of track connecting 18 British cities, with potential journey time savings of up to 85 minutes.
HS2 has also promised great economic benefits, with Business Secretary Vince Cable stating in January that the project will create 2,000 apprenticeships, while the Core Cities Group say that it will underpin 400,000 new jobs.
But with current projected costs of £50 billion, rising from £32 billion in January 2013, will HS2 bring Britain to a halt? Yorkshire-based Bob Gwynne and Jo Mason gave their opinions on the environmental and economic effects of HS2, as well as their thoughts on the government veto.
Does Britain need HS2?
Bob Gwynne is Associate Curator of Rail Vehicles at the National Railway Museum in York.
Britain’s railways are currently undergoing the biggest electrification process the nation has ever seen. This is great news for local connectivity but for national connectivity you need something more. That’s where HS2 comes in.
The problem with HS2 is that it suffers from bad PR. When Phase 1 was announced, newspaper headlines were focusing on the 32-minute journey time saving from London to Birmingham, when in fact they should have mentioned the countless benefits of freeing up the West Coast Mainline, a line laid down in the 1830s which cannot sustain today’s 140mph standards. The line needs to be freed up for freight operators, and HS2 can help to achieve this.
The MPA veto is irrelevant as the report is two years out of date, but the antis want to see it published because it seems to support their belief that HS2 is a waste of money.
Every railway and road building project has attracted bad press from environmentalists. In Germany major plans were scrapped because of nesting birds, but as a smaller country we cannot afford the same luxury. The route is very clever and has been designed to make construction as problem-free as possible.
High speed rail has benefited travellers the world over and will continue to do so; France is still reaping the benefits of the TGVS, which were built in the 1980s. The Olympics could not have taken place in London without the plans for HS1.
Western societies are built on growth and we need good infrastructure to make that happen. In order for HS2 to work, we need to review our current fare structure and make sure the developments are beneficial to everyone.
Councillor Jo Mason is Chair of Church Fenton Parish Council and Co-ordinator of the local Stop HS2 action group.
HS2 is a vanity project that can only make our current railways worse. Fewer than 7 per cent of commuters travel for more than 20 miles, so rather than investing £50 billion of taxpayers’ money into intercity travel, we should focus on improving our current services. If HS2 goes ahead, the West Coast Mainline will lose 20 per cent of its essential commuter services, with reduced services in Bradford, Wakefield and Harrogate.
The government has a meagre budget of £1.2 billion to compensate those affected by HS2, including the 400 residents of Camden whose houses will be demolished and the 500,000 homeowners whose homes will be devalued nationwide.
HS2 will require four times the amount of power required for current intercity services, which would necessitate environmentally-damaging nuclear power stations countrywide. The construction phase will disrupt six motorways including the M1, with catastrophic effects on local businesses. The route passes through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and threatens thousands of acres of ancient woodland which cannot be replaced, while the predicted noise level is also higher than what is considered safe by the World Health Organisation.
Reports by KPMG state that its statistics for HS2 cannot be relied upon, including the failure to acknowledge rising energy prices or the decline in railway passenger growth. HS2 will also be too expensive to achieve its current projected passenger numbers.
The Major Projects Authority was set up to protect taxpayers’ money and provide information on how projects such as HS2 were going – by blocking it we are ignoring the Prime Minister’s commitment to greater transparency. We should listen to the public and invest in sustainable projects for a better future.
Construction for HS2 is projected to start in 2015, with Phase One completed by 2026 and Phase Two by 2033. Share your HS2 views on Twitter @HS2ltd.
As part of my NCTJ Level 3 Diploma, I had to put together a project based on the current affairs of the time. I chose the proposed HS2 high speed rail developments and interviewed two people with opposing opinions.
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