Sir David Higgins, the man tasked with the delivery of High Speed 2, released his first report into the vital yet sadly controversial project last week (HS2 plus, DofT, 2014). We have been ruminating on this, with an eye on the reportage in the media.
While much of the associated headlines have lauded his proposals to extend Phase 1 up to Crewe as offering proof of the government’s commitment to the North (HS2 benefits to north could be delivered six years earlier, says Sir David Higgins, Guardian 17th March), the decision to scrap the proposed link between the new line and the existing High speed 1, was met with some murmurings in the media, but no real upset. It was endorsed immediately by the Transport Secretary Patrick McLaughlin.
As MP for the Derbyshire Dales, one would hope that he would be more alive to the positive economic implications of the link for his constituents.– Another decision by an increasingly London-centric government affirming its ambivalence towards anything outside the M25 – an ambivalence shared by the national media.
|Patrick Mcloughlin MP|
Why is this connection so Important?
A link between High Speed 2 and High Speed 1 connecting Euston and St Pancras Stations would provide (conditional tense, we won’t write it off…yet) the potential to run direct trains from the Northern Cities to Mainland Europe directly, giving these cities and their city regions better access to a huge market. To scrap the link ensures that all trains from Mainland Europe will go direct into London, re-enforcing the capital’s dominance over the regions and effectively relegating High Speed 2 into a branch line.
So why is it to be scrapped?
Camden Council has waged war against the HS2 / HS1 link since the proposals were first announced. The route itself, as is shown in the maps below, would have involved widening the existing railway link between St Pancras and Euston. Camden Council believes the process of construction would have resulted in ‘a decade of disruption’, threatening the viability of the legendary market and making the area unattractive to tourists. A single look at plans (alongside a Google Earth image for comparison) corrects the misinformation - with the new track running atop the existing viaduct alongside track used for London Overground services.
Plan illustrating a section of the proposed route through Camden
It has also been argued by Sir David, the Transport Secretary and others that there isn’t enough demand for direct services between the likes of Manchester and Leeds and Paris and Berlin to justify the cost of the link, yet without the link in place it is difficult to assess the demand. Plenty of people fly from our northern cities to mainland European cities and it is mad folly to deny them a more sustainable alternative.
It has to be remembered that Manchester and Leeds will not be connected to the network until 2030 at the earliest, so we are talking many years into the future. To write off these cities now shows a worrying lack of foresight especially as London overheats. Just to re-cap, we have been persuaded to spare Camden ‘a decade of disruption’ so that our great northern cities NEVER have direct train links to their continental counterparts. Sounds like a great deal!
How much would this Link have cost?
The link would have cost an estimated £700 million, from George Osborne’s overall budget of £42.6 billion a paltry saving of 1.6%, especially when one considers the potential economic boost such a link would have provided to the North of England.
How much will it cost to rebuild Euston Station?
Sir David also recommended that Euston Station be redeveloped (estimated at £1.2 billion (er, only twice the ‘saving’). Jumping onto another bandwagon, the Transport Secretary effused;
‘It is a significant opportunity to maximise the economic potential of the line and regenerate a site that has been neglected. It is also a significant opportunity to generate private sector investment that can reduce the overall burden on the taxpayer’
If Mr McLoughlin feels the area around Euston is in urgent need of regeneration, he quite obviously has never left Zones 1 and 2.
The ironic and sad fact of this is that the £700 million invested into the link would have had a much greater long-term economic return than the £1.2 billion to spruce up Euston Station, while based upon evidence elsewhere in both the UK and on Mainland Europe the presence of the High speed rail station in itself would have attracted substantial private investment into the area anyway.
So what can we conclude from all this?
Camden already has High Speed 1 on its doorstep, this enables it to attract new investment and substantial numbers of tourists as well as enabling its well-heeled and -connected residents (amongst whose number includes Stanley; Dad of Boris and prominent anti High Speed 2 campaigner recently quoted as saying all HS2 will do is enable Young female jihadists to get down from Birmingham 20 minutes quicker, London Evening Standard, 5th February 2014) to get a train to Paris or Brussels quickly and efficiently.
London already gets 1 and a half times the annual spend from foreign tourists than the Rest of England as a whole – we should be spreading wealth and investment around the country, not stimulating a Primary City of a scale and importance associated with the third world.
That the Transport Secretary is prepared to let the economic future of Camden Lock Market trump the likes of Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham and in turn effectively isolate the rest of the country from other European cities for the benefit of a few well-influenced North London luvvies says all that needs to be said about the stranglehold London has upon the rest of the country.