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High speed railway on wrong track?

Tuesday 8 November 2011

High speed railway on wrong track?

The House of Commons Transport Select Committee has today published its report into the strategic case for high speed rail for which it believes there is a case, but throws doubt on whether the right route has been chosen. 

Mike Fox, Chairman of the Chilterns Conservation Board, said: “It is no surprise that the Committee has supported the principle of a new high speed railway, but it is clear that it has severe reservations about its route and environmental impacts and the lack of a national transport strategy. This echoes what the Conservation Board has been saying all along.” 

In its report the Committee repeatedly makes the point that the Government has failed to prepare a national strategy to provide the justification for investment in all forms of transport and not just the railways. The Committee, the majority of whose members represent constituencies inManchester, Liverpool, Lancashire andScotland, was also worried that the Government might pay for High Speed 2 by diverting investment from the existing network. 

Steve Rodrick, Chief Officer of the Conservation Board, welcomed the Committee’s recognition that the proposal for HS2 fails to properly value its impact on the environment. He said: “We have always said that the so called business plan failed to give full weight to the impact on the environment and local economy. Although we don’t agree with the main finding of the Committee’s report it is reassuring that they agree this oversight must be rectified in a new business plan for HS2. The Committee is also being very realistic by insisting that high speed rail must not be called a carbon reduction scheme as it clearly isn’t.”

The Committee has called for a full assessment of the proposed route north ofBirminghamto be published before any commitment is made to the first leg fromLondon. Mike Fox welcomed this: “Once communities in theMidlandsand North of England realise exactly what High Speed 2 really means and its true cost they will add their voices to the widespread and growing criticism of this damaging and staggeringly expensive project.”

He added: “In addition to the tens of thousands of objections sent in earlier this year, the hard hitting criticisms of the Select Committee give Justine Greening, our new Secretary of State for Transport, plenty to think about before she announces her decision on whether to go ahead to the next stage. What is interesting is the near universal criticism of the Government’s preferred route.  It is hard to imagine that the Government could have chosen a more damaging route across the Chilterns.”

Read the full report from the Transport Select Committee.

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