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HS2 must not be derailed

So HS2 is another step closer to fruition — 50,000 pages of detail closer no less. I have no trouble admitting I am delighted this project is moving along relatively swiftly, despite bumps in the road so far.

Like anyone with an interest, I have listened to and considered the arguments against HS2. I have concluded that most are too short-termist in their views, although not all are without merit.

We would all do well to remember that many of the great projects that have been delivered in the UK have been opposed and debated and yet ultimately delivered value way beyond what was predicted.

Even with the sophisticated benefit cost analytics and forecasting tools we have at our disposal, it’s extremely difficult to foresee the wider impact of a project of this scale. Michael Heseltine so aptly made this point in a recent speech, using the example of the Docklands regeneration to which he faced widespread opposition. Of course, Canary Wharf is now one of the world’s leading financial centres and the area also hosts an airport and a major exhibition centre.

There are so many factors to HS2 that need to be considered — such as the wider development opportunities and regional regeneration — that are far more long term and harder to define than the transport benefits that are most often touted.

Think of our Victorian railways, which are more than 150 years old. They still cost UK plc more than £5bn per annum, but there is no suggestion that we rip them up because the benefits cost ratio hasn’t stacked up as they deliver value over and beyond the cost.

However, to fully realise the benefits of HS2 the government needs to put funding plans in place now to secure local access for all. This would require a change in the way investment in regional infrastructure is allocated, from a piecemeal approach to one that allows local authorities to align investment decisions to the long-term social and economic needs of the region.

A recent Core Cities Report found that innovation is fostered through local government having more discretion over local public sector spending. Services can be streamlined and targeted more effectively to address local needs, while also reducing duplication and joining up services for the benefit of the public.

So we would like to see some explanation of how the ‘plans behind the plan’ for HS2 are going to be progressed and funded (see our Autumn Statement wishlist). Business investors need certainty when making long-term business investment decisions and this detail would certainly help.

At WSP we have regional offices, so HS2 would help us in the long term and our strategy would look to reflect on it. But I still fear that political footballing will delay and at worst derail what could be a real credit to the UK construction industry when delivered. The challenge is for the government, HS2 and the supply chain to use the best minds to make sure the best, most affordable solution is delivered. We most definitely have some of those great minds in our industry and this is a great opportunity to showcase them.

Readers' comments (15)

  • Lets see now, assuming HS2 goes ahead we will therefore be able to get to Birmingham international airport in an hour or so. Do we therefore need a further runway at Heathrow?? Why not extend Brimingham and spread the load over London??

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  • Victorian railways replaced the horse and cart and criss-crossed the entire length and breadth of the country, they changed the country in every way imaginable.

    We already have some of the fastest trains in Europe despite being a small island. This is one railway that stops in very few places.

    Aeroplanes replaced travel by trains and ships, yet hugely expensive Concorde linked very few places at enormous cost to the taxpayer. Common sense therefore suggests that HS2 has much more in common with Concorde than it has with the Victorian railways example, widely quoted as a reason for building it.

    While I fully understand engineers wanting to build this folly and would be staggered if big construction didn't give it wholehearted support, why has government not learnt from the costly failures of its predecessors?

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  • HS2 is a folly. It was conceived by a faliing Labour government as a distraction from the financial collapse. The route decimates the countryside and the proposed mitigations are completely unproven. No environmentalists or wildlife experts believe that the mitigation plans will actually work. The route is dictated by speed, but then we're told that it's about capacity rather than speed. So surely the route is wrong. By all means build a new railway, and knock down my house to do it if you like, but build a railway that the UK actually needs, not HS2.

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  • Mark Naysmith makes a comment on all the infrastructure projects that have been opposed and yet have proven worthwhile, apart from Canary Wharf he does not cite many...Concorde, Channel Tunnel, HS1, Millennium Dome..How many of these have made money way above their costs? I often hear that Higgins brought the Olympics in on time and on budget but there is no reference to the fact that the original budget was 2.4 billion which miraculously rose to 9.35 billion, easy to come in on budget if you move the goal posts. Also he goes on to say that there will be regeneration around the line, not through the Chilterns though only destruction of ancient woodlands, and rare habitat and 150, 000 homes affected, I hardly think the loss of 1000 year old woodlands is short termist. The government is now saying it does not need to be high speed but we have a capacity problem, so therefore QED it does not have to be in a straight line Hmmm! I still cannot fathom out how 18 trains an hour with a capacity of 1000 passengers per train is going to solve the overcrowding when it is not between London and Birmingham we have a problem, (Virgin takes an hour and twenty mins out of Euston and Chiltern line an hour and a half) but elsewhere in the country. Look at Cornwall. So if Mr. Naysmith as an engineer wants his projects I suggest he looks to the South West first. Yes we have the best minds don't waste them on HS2 use them to shore up our flood defenses, sort out the Victorian sewers, repair our ailing road structure, repairing our dilapidated schools that are in urgent need of repair, not on a White Elephant scheme that will ultimately be used by the elite.

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  • The way it will supposedly increase capacity is by taking intercity trains off the existing mainlines thereby freeing up space for more commuter services.

    Read our interview with the HS2 technical director for more:

  • Governments never learn the lessons of history, if it contradicts their ideology.

    The expansion of competing railways in the 19th century only happened because there was no other mass transportation and canals couldn't handle freight distribution. Competition was detrimental to network development, not cost-effective, and profit trumped safety every time. Engineers could have made better brakes, better signalling systems and durable (think Tay Bridge) infrastructure, given the money.

    While UK governments abdicate their responsibilities as their ideology dictates, this country will continue to languish in the economic doldrums. HS2 is a dumb way to spend £40bn (that we can't afford to borrow). £40bn of tax receipts, spent on building innovative electricity infrastructure (manufactured in Britain), would deliver a handsome ROI and stable, sustainable economic prosperity.

    When (steam powered) electricity superseded gaslight, the world was a very different place from today. The disparate competing electricity companies would never have voluntarily joined together to build a national distribution network. It had to be done by (shock, horror) central planning. Now we have a mess of competing technologies and the incumbent industries are the worst options.

    Competition in innovative financial engineering nearly brought the world economy to its knees. Will governments regulate the deviants to stop the next fraudulent boom. No, of course not - their dumb ideology believes that any growth is a 'good' thing, even house price inflation!! And energy price inflation is their chosen method of 'directing' market forces!

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  • Liverpool really needs to be included as well this will free up chunks of the WCML north of Crewe for use by Liverpool2 and the PostPanamax port.

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  • In response to the editor's comment above about commuter services replacing intercity, this is one of many intrinsic flaws in the thinking. If the economic benefits are in fast rail connectivity between cities it must follow that there are at least equal economic disbenefits to the many towns and cities on the West and East Coast mainlines that will lose fast services. Arguably the disbenefit is greater in that whereas Manchester or Leeds can probably stand to lose one or two peak services, Stoke or Doncaster for example will feel it far more.
    I agree with much of Mr Naysmith says about more strategically planned investment but HS2 is divisive. We now have Liverpool launching a campaign to bring HS2 all the way to the city but its message presents *not* getting HS2 as a huge risk. This debunks the oft-made claim that HS2 will rebalance the economy. If HS2 "lifted all the boats" in the North, Liverpool wouldn't regard it coming to Manchester but not them as a threat. Very revealing and I don't think have worked out quite a gaff this is.
    The fact that we are now about to have re-launch No6 tells you all you need to know about whether there has ever been a single over-arching purpose to this plan and I'm sure readers of this magazine will know that projects without purpose are almost certain to drift on delivery and cost.

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  • The reason Liverpool has launched the HS2 bit is primarily to free up space on the west coast mainline for freight. It has very little to do with Manchester.
    The highspeed network is a work in progress, that it will not be finished in one go is a reflection of reality, it is also a reality that will affect any scheme.
    Those the oppose HS2 will grasp at any straw and will tell you so and so will benefit more than you, you should oppose it. This is very negative. That they will then go to so and so and say the befots will be the opposite way around is appaling. StopHS2 admitted in Liverpool that Manchester will benefiit, then went to Manchester and claimed it would not benefit. Unaware that the evening local news is common to both. Desperate and ill informed.

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  • No single scheme on this scale could ever please everyone, everywhere. It is disingenuous to claim that just because this scheme does not serve your locality directly it is therefore necessarily a bad idea.

    To use a very topical issue of the day to demonstrate this point; improving flood defences in X,Y or Z locations will make precious little difference to me (I reside in Alderley Edge) but I can readily perceive the merits of such communal (public) spending priorities.

    The beggar thy neighbour sentiments pervading many of the comments below the line here illustrate just how successful anti-HS2 campaigners (the vast majority of them concealing a hidden self interest agenda, ie. the planned pathway of HS2 comes near them!) have been in sewing seeds of discontent - simple divide and conquer in all its ugly brutality!

    For the umpteenth time, HS2 is not about now, it's not even about the next ten years either - HS2 is a long term project lying at the core of a strategy aimed at rejuvenating rail as a primary means of mass passenger transport.

    Proven long term trends in travel demand show that private car and domestic air is either flatlining or declining whilst surface rail journeys doubled during the last decade - in that wider context building new high capacity trackway makes eminent good sense to me!

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  • Apropos HS2, its route, reasons for and against....I do not wish to appear frivolous, but do recall a lecturer (speaking about the controversy as to whether a Channel Tunnel or Channel Bridge was the best option to link us and France in the early 60s)...suggesting that if the two camps could not decide which was best surely the answer was to build a Channel Dam! This particular lecturer, one of my favourites, told us that towards the end of his WWII army service, he had spent the last few weeks firing off thousands of so-called proximity anti-aircraft shells (they were too dangerous to move apparently) which then cost £6,000 each. Presumably for the price of yet another incorrect war, based on incorrect information improperly obtained? and next time conducted from the sea (now that we will have not one but two large floating aircraft carriers).. we could have several HS2 lines. Come to think of it, why not make the canal systems (also built by our sensible Victorian ancestors and their outstanding Engineers) large enough and suitable to carry the new ACCs and act as flood defenses as well!
    Simple? far too sensible for the conflict groupings who presently run everything?

    Mike B

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