HS2: Severe delays expected, we apologise for any inconvenience

By Alister Scott on Jan 10, 12 02:25 PM in Business

The HS2 decision today has generated a huge amount of controversy with passionate arguments for and against the development over the last few months.

Such is the stuff of planning. It is about making difficult decisions which will impact on people and the environment, but crucially should benefit us as a society.

Inevitably, not all people will be happy with the decision reached.

However within our decision making processes there should be sufficient clarity and transparency so that people can understand the decision set within a managed process of dialogue, consultation and listening.

In particular there should be a clear linkage with other policy approaches that allows people to see the big picture even if they disagree with the final decision.

So let's examine this in more detail.

  1. There is massive concern about the process by which the route was selected and presented. As such this may present clear opportunities for judicial review. There are concerns that the government did not follow all the set out rules for planning processes as legally required by Environmental Assessment procedures and the Aarhus convention. The issue of initial consultations on the route(s) and assessment of alternatives are key here.
  2. HS2 will require huge funds for investment involving significant sums of EU money matched by government and private investment. At a time when the UK government is using a veto to isolate itself from the EU with some backbenchers even talking about possible EU withdrawal, there needs to be a clear message about where we stand in the EU for the long term. There patently is not.
  3. The HS2 case is based on a bigger picture to improve Britain's transport infrastructure. However, the current proposal only includes the London to Birmingham section and not the whole route. This piecemeal approach is unhelpful as surely it is better to see the whole plan and assess the spatial impact on the country in one go. The lack of any spatial plan in the draft National Planning Policy framework represents another missed opportunity to join up the required strands of transport, energy and environmental policy.
  4. HS2 raises wider issues of social justice and access to rail transport with a premier league approach inherent in HS2. This will leave some areas further disadvantaged in regional growth. The lack of a joined up rail plan for wider network problems within local rail infrastructure and pricing is of concern.
  5. The case for development uses the need to keep up with the Smits and the Dubois (rest of Europe) as a key argument and it strikes me that we perhaps first should ask what England (and the UK) needs most set within assessments of our own geography, as we are not Germany or France and playing catch up is not always the best strategy.

As HS2 clearly shows planning matters to people and it is vital that in making our policy and plans we pay more attention to the processes we use, particularly the rules of engagement.

Otherwise that Big Society that we hear so much about might derail the end product.


John Morris said:

A well-written and academic passage. Which sows the seeds of doubt at precisely the time that Greater Birmingham should be talking itself up.

I appreciate that HS2 will affect lives and the environment - but so has the slow decline of this region over the last few years.

For once let's stop knocking things and let's fight through the red tape, rather than letting it be yet another reason to procrastinate.

It is time to get our pride back.

eggshell said:

Pride in a train that only stop's in two places, where is the pride in that ?

Andrew Gibbs said:

It's never wrong to ask if the country is making the right investment - pride usually comes before a fall.
HS2 will be good for Birmingham airport, it will be good for the eastside developers. The claim that HS2 will be good for the country, or the wider west midlands region, or even for the rest of Birmingham is not supported by any evidence (not even the numbers in the optimistic reports from HS2 Ltd)

Offa said:

The key issue in this decision, from a planning perspective, is whether a gain in one area is achieved at a direct loss to another area. In that case it is perfectly justifiable to say - hang on a minute, let's look at the WHOLE picture, not just one side of it. Remember that truth is WHOLE truth not half truth, and so far we have not had that other half - 'who and where and how' will lose out and does the scheme stand up against that loss??

Additionally, when spending particularly public money, and particularly very large amounts of it on one project, it is absolutely legitimate to ask - is this scheme the BEST way to achieve the aims? That process has not been undertaken for HS2. If what we want is maximum impact on jobs, HS2 is a very poor way of achieving this. £17 billion for 40,000 jobs is about £425,000 per job! Wake up unions! If what we want is to balance the north south divide, HS2 is a positively threatening way to address this, judging by about 40 years of research. If what we want is maximum impact on capacity problems on the rail then HS2 will do nothing for the vast majority of the country that has severe capacity problems; and it will do nothing until 2026!

That's why many of us oppose HS2 - it will not deliver what it promises. It is not in the national interest!

John Holt said:

Its difficult to see how best to discuss HS2. You have to strike a balance between the "Big picture", which is beyond some, and addressing each challenge a point at a time.

Perhaps 5 points is too many.

1)There is "concern" amongst those who don't like the answer. Its smoke and mirrors to justify opposition.

2)I have not heard EU money being mentioned before. This seems very doubtful.

3)Looking at Stage 1 only is sensible. If it is justified on this alone then lets go forward. Stage 1 captures some of the capacity benefits for london commuters(West Coast Main Line and possibly Midland mainline)and cuts time to Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. The danger of looking at an ever bigger project is that it becomes diluted and too big to execute. One way of blocking something is too expand it and link in, join up, network etc etc etc. Its an old tactic that works well where the public sector is involved.

4) Some valid points. I particularly worry about Wolverhampton, the Black Country and in due course the same "favouring the southside" issues in Manchester. However, remember the Premier League allows the Championship to take over the vacated grounds - ie more london commuter trains, more locals on New Street - Coventry etc etc

5) The need to keep up with the world is not about having fancy flash trains its about being competetive. What is worrying is that a lot of this is about London being competetive.

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Jonathan Walker

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Alister Scott - Professor of Spatial Planning and Governance, Birmingham City University
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