As is the case with HS1 in Kent and similar projects in the Netherlands, faster rail services come at a premium price and most people will be unwilling to pay exorbitant ticket prices just to shave a few minutes off the journey from London to Birmingham – argues Paul Nuttall MEP
The blocking of a potentially damning report – HS2 Red/Amber – that would have brought the controversial High Speed 2 rail link between London, Birmingham in the United KIngdom and beyond under the intense scrutiny it deserves – by Francis Maude and Patrick McLoughlin – smacks of shoddy politics that has no place in any democratic society. Vetoing a report of this kind is traditionally reserved to matters of national security, as may be the case with publications relating to the Iraq war.
However, the building of a £40bn-plus link is certain to have profound effects on large sections of our environment and cause untold misery for those who lie in its proposed path. The projected cost of this line has already increased by £10bn this summer alone with at least four years still to go before the first sections of track are laid. We should also note that a recent study by the Institute of Economic Affairs suggested that the final bill could tot up to as much as £80bn.
Add on the cost of procuring rolling stock and the bill could be much higher indeed. The human cost could be much higher still. Homeowners along the projected route have already started to feel the misery as they have seen their property values slashed, leaving many with little choice but to accept the terms of government compensation offers.
Entire communities will be uprooted from their homes and be forced to live elsewhere while those unable to move will find their once quiet towns and villages blighted by the sound of trains passing by at 250 miles per hour. This high-speed rail project is littered with pitfalls. Who on earth plans on using the services come 2026 – and 2033 beyond Birmingham.
As is the case with HS1 in Kent and similar projects in the Netherlands, faster services come at a premium price. Existing fares are considered too expensive as it is and many passengers will not see the point in paying extra to get to London that little bit quicker. Besides, look on any peak train service today; everyone seems to be working on their laptops and tablets. Would it not make far more sense to install fast, reliable and affordable Wi-Fi on our existing services and improve existing rail lines? That would eliminate the need for HS2 entirely.
Perhaps one way the government plans get more people onto expensive HS2 services is by reducing the number of services operating on the West Coast mainline. This could cut towns out of the affordable train network entirely. We would like an open, honest and frank debate on HS2 and so too would the residents of the towns and villages affected. Instead they have been quite literally railroaded with toothless public consultations that have been nothing more than public relations tour by the Department of Transport.
Sadly, it looks as though ministers have resorted to a cloak and dagger approach meaning that a much-needed debate on the viability of HS2 simply will not be happening. If ever there was a reason to give local residents the power to call binding referendums on matters of profound interest, this block by government ministers on the HS2 Red/Amber report is it.
Paul Nuttall MEP is deputy leader of UKIP