Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Will HS2 be redundant?

I suppose I can't resist saying something about HS2. At least it shows that, if the government wishes, it can find funds for infrastructure investment.  A plan B is possible. The public consultation about the proposed route was a farce. No environmental impact assessment had been carried out. So answering the questions was a stab in the dark.

HS2, we are told, will 'transform journeys'. HS2 is forecast to carry up to 5.4 million passengers every year who might otherwise have travelled by air, as well as potentially seeing up to 9.8 million passengers transfer from the national road network. Those are big numbers. It might help cut the carbon footprint.

I am not at all sure where they get these estimates from. Well I do really. They use an econometric model to project the numbers of air passengers, The Unrestricted Error Correction Model is one of them.  It has an equation that has a lot of Qs and Zs in it and a few bits of Greek alphabet. And it has been quite an accurate model. So I'll accept their projection, although with some doubts about whether it sufficiently accounts for changes in work and lifestyle; the way we live, where we live and work.

More freight trains using the space freed up on the existing rail network will reduce lorry traffic on the motorways and help improve air quality. And it will provide opportunities for development on under-used brownfield sites. It will provide jobs in its construction and maintenance. That is the argument. But do we need it? And is it the best way to generate growth?

I don't know the answers, but what I do think is that it will probably suck the economic life out of the Midlands and the North. Cutting journey times will extend the London commuter belt. Northern towns will become domiciliary for London workers. It will push up house prices just as it did in the South Eastern commuter belt. And it probably won't generate or regenerate the areas of greatest deprivation.

The fact that they anticipate it will 'free up space' on existing lines is worrying. It suggests they anticipate reduced service for passengers on the existing commuter routes. So I would expect reduced and poorer services; more crowded trains not less. Many towns will not be served by HS2 and the existing services are likely to be starved of funds for  essential upgrade.

And what of technology and changing work practices. Will it really be necessary for people to continue working in offices in London? Will more work and meetings be 'virtual'?

Much is made of the fact that it will be the first major infrastructural project since the Victorians built the railways. The railways made the canals redundant. By the time HS2 is finished, will it really be needed?

And meanwhile HS2 will carve through the countryside destroying precious woodland. I don't know. What do you think?

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