|The High Speed Railway Proposal|
Since our last meeting several members have questioned the stance the Society has taken in giving qualified support to HS2. It would therefore be helpful to clarify the position. In principle the Executive has agreed that there is a case for the development of increased rail capacity for the period beyond 2020. We are, however, not convinced that the current proposals for HS2 in relation to the route, the design specification, value for money, impact upon the environment and local economy make them capable of support. Set out below is an explanation of the factors we have considered in giving qualified support to high speed rail.
There are at least two very separate aspects to the proposals on which the Government has invited comments:-
a. Do we agree that there is a need for an enhanced rail network in the UK to sustain economic growth when capacity of the existing main lines runs out around 2020?
b. Do we think that the present Governments proposed 'Y' network, and the detailed route described south of Lichfield in particular, is the correct choice?
Our answer to point 'a' is unambiguous. We will need more capacity, for both freight and passenger services as there are already constraints to running additional trains on both the East and West Coast main lines. The historic West Coast route is unsuitable for sustained high speed running and arguably the Government should have started building a separate high speed network over 10 years ago.
Crucially, however, we are not convinced that the Government's proposed design criteria, or chosen route for HS2 is the best that could be delivered. The design speed of 250 mph is far too high and this results in an unnecessarily straight alignment. It is worth noting that even China has just reduced the permitted speed on their high speed line to 186 mph.
There is also the issue whether the route from London to Birmingham should be approved without giving the public the opportunity to compare an alternative route - perhaps following the M1 corridor - which would avoid the Chilterns. Worse still we are being asked to approve half a scheme with only a fraction of the route in Lichfield District and Staffordshire so far defined.
It is no accident that CPRE, the Civic Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and many other organisations have joined together to oppose the selected route.
We believe that the Society's response strikes broadly the right balance as it is the scheme presented by HS2 Ltd that is wrong rather than the principle of providing better communications between regional cities, London and the continent. Not the least because since HS1 was opened London has reaped the lion's share of the economic benefit and far too many visiting tourists never set foot outside the capital.
The consultation is open until Friday 29th July 2011 and details are available at http://highspeedrail.dft.gov.uk