High speed views: HS2

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The HS1 train

This week I have been exposed to one of those videos you get on Facebook, and I have opinions. I’m aware that that was what the people behind the video want, and I’m slightly annoyed that they’ve provoked a reaction.

Therefore, I have decided to air those views here, instead of on Facebook, ensuring that literally nobody will read them and perpetuate the agenda of the Facebook political content farmers.

Said video was the one with the pretend news man and the beloved childhood wildlife personality, talking about trains. Yes, you see, if you’ve made it to the second paragraph, you’ll see how relevant this is to a column loosely about commuting.

It is one of the least objectionable outings for the “satirical” news reporter, as he says relatively little, but the gist is “trains bad, trees good”. They discuss how the plans for HS2 will destroy ancient woodland, which is one of the many objections to it. As I understand the plans take the initial line through historic buildings and even sites of special scientific interest. As ever with these things, it is left very simplistically at that point: “rich people want to get to Birmingham quicker and they hate trees”.

There are other objections to HS2, of course there are, and many of them focus on the amount of money it will cost. Again, it’s colossal, and it seems so far, as with the environmental impact the whole thing had been managed quite poorly. But if the past few years have taught us anything, there is a huge difference between the principle and the practicalities of political issues.

I remain convinced, being a regular user of HS1, that high-speed rail offers the solution to many of our long term economic and environmental problems. Did you know that people actually fly from London to Birmingham? Presumably they come back as well, but who knows with that sort of person?

There’s a great opportunity to reduce both car and air journeys through the extension of high-speed rail, and that will involve a lot of money and upheaval.

Although not without its own controversy, HS1 has brought huge benefits to the areas it goes through. Who would have thought, twenty years ago, that people would actually want to move to Ebbsfleet?

I’m sure there will be some lovely towns and villages outside Birmingham that will struggle with an influx of city types, driving up prices and insisting on craft beer in every pub, but there will be both jobs created locally and better access to those in the city.

This may be the rosy view of the incomer, but it’s not simply the end destinations that define a high-speed link. HS1 was built to link London to Paris and Brussels, but the benefit has been felt all along the route. I see no reason why this effect shouldn’t be the same in the midlands and the North.

Linking more towns with viable public transport is a good idea and if we are to reduce emissions from road vehicles over time, than rail has to be the answer. Perhaps we could really commit to the project, and mitigate the environmental impact, by re-foresting the M6.

1 COMMENT

  1. When HS2 was first proposed in 2010, its estimated cost was £33 billion, and without any thought or research, I guessed it would end up costing £50 billion. How wrong I was ,as the figure now, but probably not next week, is £60 billion.

    HS2 takes up 27 square miles ( 70 square kilometres) of land and property values have risen by about 30 % in that time. There is evidence to show that property owners are not getting a current value for their property, so even the £60 billion is being achieved by fiddling owners of the true land value.

    The insistence on achieving a given high speed, means that the route has to be straight and so cannot avoid buildings and landscapes of high visual amenity.

    Has HS1 really benefitted East Kent? It has certainly ensured that those of us who own property have done well but made housing costs higher for those on lower incomes. The aspiration of owning a home has disappeared for many.

    Governments seem to favour big vanity projects and yet more mundane concepts, like providing housing for those on lower incomes, which are needed and yield a good return, are forgotten.

    £60 billion could build about 450,000 homes without the land cost which of course should be diminished by not allowing huge windfall gains to landowners.

    If it was worthwhile at £33 billion can it really produce a viable yield at £60 billion?

    Alex , you give us no figures at all to help us decide.

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