HS2: a response

Time to change the subject, I hope.  I am going to post my article from this month’s Countryman, but before I do so I thought I should respond briefly to some of the comments on HS2.

I would like to thank everyone for their postings.  I will have another go at explaining that CPRE’s concern is increasing rail capacity, not shortening inter-city journey times, but I will not labour the points I have already made about HS2 and carbon, or how CPRE has never seen ‘protection’ as necessitating opposition to any development in the countryside.  Nor will I respond to all the comments on the blog.  There are certainly reasons to oppose HS2, and not only if you live on the route, and some good points have been made.

But there have also been a few irritating ones, and I’ll start with those.  First, let me repeat that CPRE does not receive government funding.  Nor are we seeking any.  I would not turn it down for the right sort of project, but the idea that we have ‘been bought by government money’ is preposterous.  ‘Follow the money’ and you will find thousands of individuals who want to support an effective campaigning organisation that bases its defence of the countryside on evidence, as well as passion, and which is prepared to support some changes while opposing others.

An equally absurd suggestion is that I have ‘failed to move on from my nu-labour past’ and have ‘too much political baggage to head up CPRE’.  It is true that I was a Labour MEP as recently as a little over 14 years ago, but since then I have worked for non-party organisations and have not been politically active.  When I was involved in party politics, I was never new Labour: if I had been, my political career might have lasted longer.  Third, high speed rail is at least as much a Conservative and Lib Dem policy as a Labour one.  The Labour government’s support for high speed rail followed that of the Conservative opposition, who backed it partly as an alternative to expanding Heathrow.

Above all, this is not about me: CPRE’s policy position on HS2 is, er, CPRE’s.  I do not disown the position or deny that I have influenced it, but CPRE has a lively internal democracy and no individual has the ability, even they wished, to dictate policy.

Some other points.  Several contributors mention speed.  CPRE has consistently called for lower speeds where this could reduce damage to the landscape.  HS2 Ltd. has listened some of the concerns of individuals and groups (including CPRE branches) who have engaged with the consultation process.  But we will keep making this case where appropriate.

Wat Tyler asks rhetorically, ‘the Wildlife trusts, Woodland Trust and Green Party know nothing then’?  No, it’s a debate; people can disagree without doubting each other’s motives or intelligence.  But it is also worth questioning how much we disagree.  CPRE’s recent press releases say pretty much the same thing as other charities about the need to improve HS2 in relation to nature and the landscape.

Jo Mason says the line ‘would go 14m in the air right down the side of our village within 150m of 116 homes.  Please come to Church Fenton and tell my neighbours that it “will fit in well with the countryside”.’  What I actually said is that it ‘can fit in well with the countryside, where it is done well’.  The consultation on the route of phase 2 provides an opportunity for people in Church Fenton to propose changes to the alignment.

Joe Rukin from Stop HS2 says: ‘So you’re against Manchester Airport Station, what about Birmingham Airport and Toton?’  The answer is that we are against the station near Birmingham Airport but in favour of Toton as it is a brownfield site that could have good rail access and connections to Nottingham’s tram system.

Cllr. Seb Berry of Great Missenden says that CPRE nationally has turned its back on the Chilterns and that our senior transport campaigner, Ralph Smyth, refused to visit the area to discuss AONB mitigation with the Chilterns Conservation Board and others.  In fact Ralph has made plenty of visits to the Chilterns, but he is the only person in CPRE working full-time on transport issues, of which HS2 is only one, and he cannot accept every invitation.  We have raised the impact of the Wendover Dean viaduct on the AONB many times, and continue to do so.  It was, for example, one of three places highlighted in the press release which launched our HS2 maps.

In response to my saying that CPRE wants to maximise the potential benefits of HS2 for rural England, Clive Brewer asks me to highlight them.  The countryside faces the threat of major road building to provide more transport capacity for Britain’s growing population.  This would take much more land than HS2.  Besides being an alternative to major road building on the north-south corridor, HS2 will enable main lines that are increasingly given over to services that do not stop between cities to be returned to local communities.  Unlike proposals to lengthen existing trains, this could enable rural stations to be re-opened and new local rail services to be introduced.

Arthur Franks says that HS2 has failed to win public support.  The project has certainly had a bad few weeks.  I suppose it is predictable that a blog on the CPRE website will attract mostly anti-development postings, but I am surprised that, with a couple of welcome exceptions, the comments on this blog have been universally hostile to HS2 and CPRE’s refusal to take up bell, book and candle against it.

More broadly, HS2’s supporters have failed to rebut comprehensively the IEA’s well-timed but ideology-driven report on its possible costs, a highly effective exercise in policy-based evidence-making.  Two of the figures condemned in responses to my blog have made good cases for HS2, Andrew Adonis in the New Statesman and Pete Waterman in the Daily Telegraph, but many of its supporters appear to be on holiday.  The case for high speed rail is also undermined by the Government’s failure to set it in the context of a long-term transport strategy, one of the key principles of the Right Lines Charter.

If HS2’s supporters cannot make a convincing enough case to win over sceptical MPs, newspapers and, above all, voters, the project will sink.  CPRE has given it conditional support because it is clear that for the main north-south corridors, a new line is the only credible way to free up space to run more inter-regional, local and freight trains.  But HS2 Ltd. and the Government must listen to our concerns and those of the communities along the route.  They must convince us that they want to build an exemplary railway that sets new standards for design and mitigation, so it can leave a similar legacy in 100 years to that left by Victorian railway pioneers.  It must not just connect with the wider rail network but be part of a bigger programme to upgrade our railways across the country.

As I started by saying, CPRE is not a cheerleader for HS2.  We have reservations and want the project to be improved.  But the reality is that if HS2 is axed the £43 billion allocated for it will not be spent on rail improvements and cycle routes.  There will be huge pressure to invest in far more damaging transport schemes.  I hope those currently campaigning against HS2 will be just as vigorous in opposing a new roads programme, which would be far more destructive of the countryside.

25 Responses to “HS2: a response”

  1. 1 antvren August 30, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts, Shaun.
    There must be a limit somewhere on how much people want to travel, after all it takes time, money, stress and environmental penalty points. I think a lot of future travel will be ‘virtual’, using the internet; and more people realising that ‘the best way to get where you’re going is to be there already’ – appreciating what’s local.
    People weighing up the options of car versus rail will factor in the journey to the station and the changes and the overall time spent. HS2 might be faster, but with fewer stations you can get on it, that becomes irrelevant.
    Speed, I agree, is another thing, and anyone wanting a relaxing trip looking at the scenery will not want to see snippets flitting by between tunnels. Slow it down and the noise is cut, meaning fewer tunnels are needed and the cost comes down. Along with the energy (and consequent emissions from fossil fuel or number of wind turbines) needed to drive it.

  2. 2 Wat Tyler August 30, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    I think there is an issue here about sustainibility. There is a compleling argument for building strong local infrastucture and linking up the cities of the North. There are areas of the North with generations of unemployment these will not be addressed by building this line. Those with low skills will not simply migrate to London, they don’t have the skills to offer, Many of these blighted communities will not even be connected to HS2.
    Investment is not simply a function of connectivity to London, it could infact have a detrimental effect, sucking investment out of the regions.

    But there is a much bigger missed opportunity here:

    How many workers in this country commute to sit at a computer terminal spending most of their day working with customers and colleagues in a different geographical location? This also applies to the myraid of call centres. If more of these begin to work form home, the the technology is there, this will reduce congestion from the roads and railway network. Many forward thinking companies have gone this way with great success, but there is still a long way to go. This could be encouraged by government with no steep costs, after all no CO2 will always be trumped by no CO2. This then leaves lots of freed up capacity for those who absolutely have to travel.

    We really need to start thinking 21st century style!

  3. 4 apolden August 31, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    How on earth are lower speeds supposed to “reduce damage to the landscape”? If rail tracks are laid across pristine countryside, plus associated access roads, tunnel shafts, viaducts, berms, etc, the damage is done, irrespective of what speed the train ultimately reaches.

    • 5 Alan Jones June 3, 2014 at 5:31 pm

      Lower speeds mean more options for changing alignment, both in the vertical and horizontal. The faster the train, the straighter the line has to be.

      • 6 Anthony Powell June 8, 2014 at 2:06 am

        Slower trains should also be more energy efficient (so less CO2 or renewable electricity needed) and be quieter.
        With luck, someone will realise that as they can cope with bends, then in reality they can run on the existing tracks and we don’t need a new line!

      • 7 Alan Jones June 8, 2014 at 11:11 am

        The UK does need a new line because of capacity issues on the existing tracks. For me the main issue is what is planned north of Birmingham and the time it will take to construct it. The SE is already receiving a huge amount of infrastructure investment. However, in the context of this debate, it would be worth finding out what difference 300kph, as opposed to 400 kph, would make to the environmental impact and route considerations.

  4. 8 Elaine Hancock August 31, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    If hs2 is built there will be no money left to enable rural stations to be reopened or new local rail introduced.It has been said that existing timetables will be reduced to places on route not stopped at by hs2.This will cause problems for those who commute from say Coventry.They are hardly likely to travel north to Birmingham to travel back to London.
    New roads will still be built because all along the route the narrow lanes will have to take heavy lorries with spoil and construction parts.In my small market town we will have 4 of the six exits affected.This will be happening all along the length of the track.For anything to arrive in the area it will have to go through the larger towns.How will this help the country recover nobody will be able to get anywhere quickly for years.
    It will be of no use to the majority of the population but we will be paying a heavy price not only in taxes but loss of countryside and communities.
    I find it hard to see that you in your position can justify It.
    I have been to the consultations and It has been a tick box excercise.One minute hs2 say yes we can make that so when locals point out problems the next they come back making it worse.They have got plces completely wrong and dont seem to understand where they are.I have no faith in any of it being done to save the countryside.Ancient woods will be torn apart but its ok they will dig out the old soil and something that has been there since the doomsday book was written will be as though they have not touched it Ha Ha.

  5. 9 Shirley Judges September 1, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Still no mention of the travel reduction policy nor an unequivcal statement that the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty should be fully protected. And misses the point that if HS2 is built, as in France it will suck spending away from the rest of the rail network; and that it will mean existing services being cut.

  6. 10 Andrew Bodman September 5, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    As a former CPRE member, I was contacted in March 2013 to see if I would contribute a donation towards the £300,000 target the CPRE was aiming to raise. Apparently the CPRE was facing a significant drop in income. Within a few days I read of the healthy state of the National Trust and how its membership was increasing.

    Individual members of CPRE, local and regional officers have in many cases expressed their disapproval for HS2 due to its impact on the countryside which the CPRE is supposedly trying to protect.

    Shaun Spiers’ recent blog “HS2: the case for spending more” had 74 responses nearly all of which were opposed to HS2.

    Those in head office can continue to ignore their membership if they so choose, but soon there will be few members remaining as they will have abandoned ship. The CPRE is no longer representing its core values.

    • 11 Mick Jeffs September 11, 2013 at 6:18 pm

      High speed has always been a huge issue with this rail project because it dictates the radius of curves and therefore the ability to bend the route to avoid more precious sites. If government (or KPMG (or HS2 Ltd )) now say that capacity is what HS2 will provide then let us reduce the speed and the impact on the countryside (and the name of the project).

  7. 12 n sullivan January 27, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    who is going to benifit , the ordinary tax payer or are the rich going to get richer as per usual’

  8. 13 Jane Cartney August 24, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    You say, ‘the reality is that if HS2 is axed the £43 billion allocated for it will not be spent on rail improvements and cycle routes.’

    This is somewhat defeatist. There is absolutely no reason to suppose that HS2 could not be axed and replaced with a policy to invest in and promote a modern, integrated, nationwide public transport system.

    I do not favour the vast investment in HS2, and I strongly believe that the scope of this project will be of very limited, if any, benefit to us nationally.

    It would be so much better to sensitively develop, modernise, improve and integrate our existing public transport network across the entire country, whilst positively encouraging it’s use and discouraging our blinkered reliance on conventional road transport.

  9. 15 geoff lambert October 17, 2014 at 10:43 am


    what a refreshing read. Glad to see someone can think clearly. I eagerly await HS2 and HS3,4 and 5 so we can effectively spread the economic activity away from the south east. Spain celebrates 50 years of HS trains this year and have a wealth of evidence of whey they work. The really worrying thing is how we, in CPRE, now only appear to attract supporters who say no to everything. What is the end result of that ?

    • 16 Elaine Hancock October 17, 2014 at 10:45 pm

      Spain has had problems with lack of usage of the some HS trains and so have other EU countries .I suggest you go to the Stop HS2 website and read the details.

      • 17 geoff lambert October 22, 2014 at 12:45 pm

        I have read the stop HS2 website in detail it is very selective in what it reports. No balanced reporting there. look at the long term Spanish economic development data by region, or if you prefer look at Germany, or France or Japan. The clear evidence is that HS trains are an important contribution to economic development away from the capital, even Denmark has now decided to build one. There is now strong logic that HS2 could be the saviour of the Green Belt in the Chilterns, but it needs organisations like CPRE to embrace it, and pressure local authorities to stop, or severely hinder, business development so businesses finds it easier (and cheaper) to move towards Birmingham. Some of us are already on the case, if we all focused our efforts we could achieve so much more.

      • 18 Elaine Hancock October 22, 2014 at 10:33 pm

        It will destroy large areas of Warwickshire .The amount of traffic created will cause chaos and the amount of environmental damage will not be repaired .
        The leafy lanes will be gone forever.Enough concrete to cover the area of Manchester.Traffic disruptions up the spine of England for 6 years .For what a saving of a few minutes.The whole country needs better connections not just London to Birmingham.People cant get buses regularly to their nearest towns.With fares as they are few will be able to use it and by the time its built many more than now will work from home.This if built will be the width of a football pitch.What of the amount of farmland taken ?what of the ancient wood and wildlife?What of the fact it is a government land grab?Few will be within the area to get compensation and those that are will not get what they should.All the areas affected with the building of the actual line and the areas that the materials needed will have to be transported through will have 6 years of hell and no compensation.These are are rural areas and the surrounding towns.It is not as though we could use it like a normal line as no stations,no benefits ,
        even the nearest cities will have a reduced services if it is built.It is totally mad and I am sorry that you cannot seem to see it.

      • 19 geoff lambert October 24, 2014 at 8:15 am

        3 years ago I could have written your comments, indeed I did write several critical articles about HS2, full of fear and emotion. But I wanted to see what the truth was. My original note had tried to focus on FACTS, real evidence about what had happened elsewhere. I recall similar outpourings about HS1and now its built you can see just how unfounded those fears were. if you wont look overseas for real evidence look at Kent. the countryside has not been destroyed, HS1 is a success and the benefits are real and visible every day.

        However you do make an important point. I was caught in the massive overcrowding on the west coast line yesterday, huge delays just because a single train failed. HS2 will provide much needed extra capacity, but we have lost the knowledge of how to run a railway for the benefit of passengers and there is no simple answer to getting that knowledge back.

      • 20 Elaine Hancock October 24, 2014 at 10:34 pm

        Hs1 was built mainly along existing transport corridors.I have read many letters about the fact that many have been forced to pay the higher fares as other trains have been cut.I wonder how the people affected would reply if you asked them about it.The prime minister states things that are the opposite of what he is told by so many knowledgable people that it will not help to connect the north .It would not help with the extra capacity because it is accessed by so few stations.Many countries abroad have run into money problems and it has been proved to benefit the larger city connected.How do you know that the countryside is ok in Kent as it is takes 20 years for grassland to begin to improve but in many cases it will take hundreds, if ever, for it to be the same.We have a diminishing amount of arable land in this country what would you rather have ,food or a few minutes faster train journey for the rich?.We need better short city connections for the general population.

      • 21 Elaine Hancock October 27, 2014 at 12:11 am

        Just for your information it seems Sir Higgins who is supposed to be bringing HS2 in within budget is on a salary of £650,000 and has recently employed 100 with pay higher than D.Cameron +another 3 non exec.directors last week.To build something that a large percentage of the population dont want(see latest polls)that affects1 AONB,130 wildlife sites,
        10 SSSI ‘s ,50 ancient woodlands,thousands of acres of arable farmland,greenbelt,and many CPRE designated tranquil zones and areas of low light pollution,and pass within a mile of 540,000 homes,thousands of bussiness destroying a large nomber and blighting all with little or no compensation.
        Furthermore last week in FRANCE auditors of the TVG stated that it cost too much and passenger numbers were overestimated.
        I rest my case at the moment.

      • 22 geoff lambert October 27, 2014 at 6:55 am

        It was precisely these exaggerated, over inflated claims that led me to challenge my initial objection to HS2. No facts will get you to change your mind so its best to just ignore you. Thankfully others have also seen through the spin and HS2 will now be built. Common sense has prevailed. Off to an HS3 meeting as this project is now gaining real momentum.

      • 23 Elaine Hancock October 27, 2014 at 11:23 pm

        It is you that have sadly believed the spin and we are the ones to suffer.

  10. 24 John Burns November 21, 2017 at 9:11 am


    Lord Adonis made it abundantly clear. They denied HS2’s true intention for years, now Adonis has come clean. HS2 is a glorified commuter line for London. All cities have good rail connections to London (they can be even better with upgrades of signals, fast electric trains and track). The northern and midland cities need a mesh of high-speed rail connecting them. That will boost the UK economy, not a sluice for the country’s wealth into London.

    • 25 Shaun Spiers November 21, 2017 at 3:23 pm

      Thank you for your comment. I’ve posted it, but I should say this blog is no longer being promoted as I’ve left CPRE. The new(ish) CPRE chief executive is Crispin Truman, and the Senior Infrastructure Campaigner, leading on HS2 among many other issues, is Daniel Carey-Dawes.

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