The independent London newspaper

Tell the political parties to listen to the experts who oppose HS2

09 March, 2017

• EVEN though the bill authorising the first stage of HS2 has now become an act, that does not mean HS2 is inevitable.

The act is only permissive. The government could still decide not to go ahead.

Martin Sheppard is quite right to say that on HS2 assertion has replaced rational examination (In truth HS2 is just a bad decision, March 2). The reasons given for HS2 are wrong at every level: the failure to consider less expensive and damaging ways of tackling the problems to which HS2 is supposedly addressed, implausible predictions, errors and omissions in the appraisal.

Perhaps the most important fault of all in the appraisal is that it takes no account of the huge social and environmental damage that HS2 would do, except, and even then only partially, when the people affected have to be paid compensation. So the destruction of St James Gardens, the 17 years of misery that Camden would suffer during the construction, the other damage that HS2 would do in London, the Chilterns, Warwickshire and elsewhere, simply don’t count.

The government’s reply to this criticism is that everything that reasonably could be done to mitigate these impacts by careful design has been done.

This is a highly contentious claim, and, even if it were correct, it completely misses the point. However good the design the damage would still be huge and must be taken into account in deciding whether, not only how, HS2 should go ahead.

Some of this damage is of a sort to which money values cannot be assigned and which therefore cannot be included in a cost-benefit calculation. But that does not make it any less important, as both Philip Hammond, when he was transport secretary, and Atkins, HS2 Ltd’s principal consultant, have pointed out. Other kinds of damage, including many of the impacts on Camden, could have been included but were not. Did the Treasury’s and the transport department’s economists draw these omissions to the attention of their political masters and point out that they invalidated the claims (unsound in any case) that HS2 provides good value for money?

If not, they were guilty of gross neglect of duty. If they did but were ignored, then the head of the civil service should make this issue public.

On October 31 a group of 54 people with extensive experience in transport planning and regional economics wrote to Chris Grayling asking for a meeting to express their concerns about HS2 and to propose a review. This request was rejected. Some of the signatories of that letter are still trying to approach people in a position to stop this scheme, but it is now time to widen these efforts.

To their shame, the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties have always supported HS2. Any readers who are members of these parties should now get in touch with their party leaders to insist they listen to the experts the government has refused to listen to.

If they do not, then not only are they complicit in a gross waste of money and an environmental disaster, they will also bring lasting discredit on themselves. They may also be provoking a campaign of civil disobedience.

Albert Street, NW1


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