Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


New HS2 boss takes on naysayers and nimbys

Rebalancing our economy: How a HS2 train is expected to look

Rebalancing our economy: How a HS2 train is expected to look

Sir David Higgins, who was formerly chief executive of the London 2012 Olympic Delivery Authority, today took up his new role as Chairman of HS2, the embattled high-speed railway project.

Sir David was straight off the blocks pointing out what I believe to be the biggest benefit of HS2 of them all: removing the crush of people and jobs from London and distributing them into the Midlands and North of England, which in turn could make housing in London and the South East affordable to ordinary workers. Are the majority of business and jobs centred around Washington in the US, in Berlin in Germany or even in Paris, France, for that matter?

HS2 opponents seethed again. But it was the usual suspects: very well-off babyboomers living in country piles along the proposed high-speed rail route or those sitting on very overvalued property in suburban London. Vested interests and all that…

As I said two years ago, the modern-day luddites disguise their selfishness by playing the green card and harping on about the environmental benefits. It always make me laugh when people say this country is already concreted over with housing and roads: it is not. The vast majority of England is still fields and forests (just look out the window when you fly into any London airport). A new, relatively narrow, infrastructure corridor really is not going to make much difference to the landscape in the grand scheme of things.

The French embassy lost their rag today after City AM reporter Allister Heath penned a piece about France’s “failed socialist experiment”  – but they did have a point when the embassy criticised our poor rail infrastructure. This is extremely noticeable as soon as you exit the Channel Tunnel into France on the Eurostar where high-speed railway is commonplace there and elsewhere on the Continent. The UK only has one stretch of high-speed line (HS1) used by the Eurostar to get you out of the UK from St Pancras to the Channel Tunnel entrance in Folkestone.

The UK has a clapped out railway with trains full to bursting point with every gangway filled with bodies as they arrive and leave London each morning and evening to take the masses to and from the majority of well-paid jobs. For a country who invented the railway, it is a sorry state of affairs.

HS2 has the potential to change this: it could help to rebalance the economy away from London out to the provinces. It could free up capacity on the West Coast mainline, allowing people to be treated as the high fare customers they are rather than cattle. (Incidentally, it is illegal to carry cattle the way humans are on our commuter routes.)

Whilst the project is being designed and implemented, it will create 10,000 jobs, developing skills in engineering and project management which will serve the country well for decades more after the line is completed.

Yes, there are a lot of ifs. No one can fully predict the future. But did the Victorians say we don’t need railway lines, the canals will do just fine? Did us Brits say in the 1950s we don’t need these new fangled motorways, we don’t mind it taking two days to get from A to B through the country lanes? Well, I am sure a lot did. But wiser heads and leadership thankfully prevailed.

Leadership: Sir David Higgins

Leadership: Sir David Higgins

Sir David isn’t a man to take “no” for an answer and his perseverance helped delivered the best Olympic Games in history. Let’s hope his leadership and energy now helps Britain out of its lopsided economy. I predict HS2 will deliver the benefits it predicts and more. Let’s show some more bottle as our ancestors did and get behind HS2 to fire up the former industrial revolution powerhouses in the Midlands and the North of England once again.



Do you nimbys use the motorways and railways?

A map of the full network of the proposed HS2 high-speed rail project

A map of the full network of the proposed HS2 high-speed rail project

Today the Coalition Government has announced the second phase of HS2 – the new high-speed railway network connecting London to the North of England. As regular readers of this blog know, it takes a lot for me to congratulate the Coalition Government but when they are doing something which actually makes sense and is worthwhile, I won’t shy from congratulating them.

Unlike the OAP nimbys who are complaining about HS2 shuddering over their graves when it is finally completed in 2033 I am wholly in favour of this infrastructure project.

The new rail network will be Y-shaped and once the first phase (as I reported a year ago) from London to Birmingham is completed it will split into two high speed mainlines, one to Manchester and the other to Leeds.

This will be an excellent piece of engineering which will enable an economic boost during its design and construction, with 100,000 jobs expected to be created, and when it is finished it will increase trade between the capital and our great northern cities. It will do this by cutting journey times between Manchester and London from two hours, eight minutes today to 1 hour, 8 minutes. This will be a real step towards narrowing the North-South divide.

It makes me angry that men and women in the twilights of their lives, in particular those whiling away their days on local councils and who have been popping up on our 24 hour news channels today, are mounting campaigns against HS2. Have they been on a train? Have they used a motorway? Perhaps they shouldn’t if they are so set against development and faster communications?

These nimbys are only concerned with their pretty little affluent villages, where no person under 40 can dream of affording a house, being too close to the new line. But what about the benefits in bringing the economic powerhouse of Britain closer to the rest of the population, increasing trade and jobs? They haven’t given it a second thought.

Compare this to a small town called Toton which will be the site of the East Midland HS2 railway station serving Derby and Nottingham where local residents are on the whole delighted their town has been chosen to site one of five new high-speed railway stations. They did the maths and realised the benefits.

As much as I am very positive about HS2, the announcement today highlights again how the East of England is severely neglected by Whitehall when it comes to infrastructure improvements. There isn’t even one motorway in the whole of East Anglia. We have a railway line from Norfolk to London but it is in an appalling condition, with ubiquitous signalling faults, only one line north of Chelmsford, and by the time HS2 is built it will be faster to get from Birmingham to London (49 minutes) than it is from Ipswich to London (one hour, fifteen minutes).

Three weeks ago (as reported by Ipswich Spy) Network Rail published their proposals for investment on the Great Eastern Mainline but the £1.4bn required to mainly renew signalling and overhead power lines still must be approved by the Department for Transport for the money to be released. Even if the investment is green-lit by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin it is merely tweaking around the edges as no plans are in place to lay additional tracks north of Chelmsford. With only one line north and one line south, all it takes is a broken down freight train on its way to Felixstowe to cause chaos for commuters trying to limp home late at night from their jobs in London.

Why is it that successive Conservative and Labour MPs in Norfolk and Suffolk neglected the East of England for so long when it came to urging ministers to invest in our roads and railways? It showed a complete lack of foresight. It is great to see Ipswich’s MP Ben Gummer working hard to turn things around with his constant lobbying for the town in the corridors of Whitehall but if his father – now Lord Deben – had been just as forthright when he was MP for Suffolk Coastal for thirty years we could have had a journey time of less than one hour between Ipswich and London today in 2013. Instead, we have the prospect of our Brummy friends getting to London, over 120 miles, quicker than it takes an Ipswich commuter over 80 miles.

Now, where’s nice to live in Birmingham I wonder?