Deja vu, another London mayoral candidate says High Speed Rail doesn’t deliver benefits

Next year Londoners will have a sense of déjà vu when they go out to vote in the Mayoral elections: among a range of candidates, Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone will be fighting each other again. And Ken has kicked off his mayoral campaign by opposing the current plans for HS2. On this we agree with him, as our past research indicates (on the business case, on jobs and on capacity). Having said that, he’s also hedged his bets if it the project does go ahead. He wants the trains to go to Waterloo instead of Euston. Livingstone said:

“The obvious thing to do is that HS2 should follow the existing line into Euston and then just before it reaches Euston it should go into a tunnel and come out at Waterloo. You’d save all the houses from demolition, you’d have 25 trains an hour going through central London, and all for the cost of building two and a half miles of tunnels between Euston and Waterloo and opening an interchange at Tottenham Court Road. Crossrail opens in 2013 – people will get off at Heathrow and in 20 minutes they will be at Tottenham Court Road. There could be an interchange with HS2 taking people north.”

Understandably, he’s based his objections on what will impact residents in London, and is hoping to position himself as a defender of those in social housing in North London who may have their homes bulldozed and those who are concerned about the noise. But Ken’s idea of a dramatic re-route to Waterloo sounds like it was made up on a whim just in case the project goes ahead, without any idea of how it could work or how much it would cost. The line between London and Birmingham will cost at least £17 billion so such a dramatic would undoubtedly be expensive and after checking with a rail expert the concept doesn’t seem viable either.

That said, he makes some interesting points about the pressure faced by commuters, which is where spending on infrastructure should be focused. Livingstone understands that HS2, for all the money it will cost, doesn’t actually address the current demand in London, he mentions the need for better lines and capacity between North London and South London. Many lines are already overcrowded and should have their capacity increased, rather than lose out to government pet projects. This doesn’t only apply to London though; the priority should be better transport links (soon not delayed until after 2026) for commuters on already overcrowded and expensive routes across the country, particularly on suburban commuter routes. HS2 doesn’t address this need, in fact it will diminish services for many towns and is little more than a vanity project.

Ken is right to be concerned about the line running to Euston. He shouldn’t only be concerned about those living on the route though. The concern for Londoners should extend to the impact the new funnelling into Euston will have on the tube lines there that won’t be adaptable to the change. Anyone that takes the Victoria Line at rush hour should be horrified at the thought of even more passengers flooding into to this station thanks to HS2. Any future London Mayor might want to suggest the knock on costs to be factored into HS2 proposals rather than hidden.

High Speed Rail is supposed to be a project that closes the North-South divide, according to the Government. But analysis shows that 70 per cent of the new jobs created would be in London. The train would simply make it easier for well off people living in Northern city centres to get to London. Those still trying to make their way to work in Birmingham, Manchester and the rest will still be constrained by poor services. This somewhat obliterates the claim that the line is about regenerating northern cities.

A mayoral candidate with considered concerns about the flaws in the project is Jenny Jones of the Green Party, who was a speaker at our conference against the HS2 proposals last week. Her concerns were not only about Londoners, or taxpayers.  She believes that the project, will not be carbon neutral, as HS2 Ltd sums say it will be – she believes it will have a negative impact on the environment. Jenny Jones said:

“This HS2 scheme fails the two green tests, environmental and social justice. It will be environmentally damaging in its construction, its operation and its ongoing maintenance. It will be fuel and carbon hungry and also regressive: with the many paying for the few. HS2 would be billions of taxpayers’ money badly spent.”

Originally the train was pitched as an eco-train but we don’t hear that claim now, as even those lobbying for it to go ahead have only managed to come up with figures that show the different in emissions between HS2 and existing lines as negligible. So there we have it. The TPA object on the grounds it is bad for taxpayers. The Green Party have environmental concerns. Other speakers at our event objected too, for a variety of other reasons, click here to watch the speeches. The RAC foundation explained that transport projects don’t normally go ahead with such a poor return on investment. The Countryside Alliance made an interesting point about the line destroying more public woodland (474 hectares) than any proposed transfer of ownership from the Forestry Commission.
Ken is objecting to the current proposals on the grounds it isn’t a good deal for Londoners, but adds a vote-grabbing get-out clause. He needn’t bother with the caveat though. A quick look at our research on the business case, on jobs and on capacity should broaden the scope of his objections.

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