The latest figures issued by the HS2 high-speed rail scheme have revised down the economic benefits for the fourth time – suggesting the scheme will barely, if ever, break even. Originally the scheme was forecast to bring £2.40 of benefit for every pound invested. The revised benefit-cost ratio (BCR) is 1.2-1 .
The economic case for the new £33bn high-speed rail network linking London with Birmingham and cities in the north of Britain has long been challenged by protesters.
Martin Tett, leader of the 51m group of councils ( http://www.51m.co.uk/ ) challenging the high-speed network, which was given the go-ahead in January, said: “It proves fundamentally that we were right all along. We’ve argued all along that this is not a nimby objection but an economic argument for the entire country, This is a catastrophically poor return at a time of austerity and this project needs to be reconsidered urgently by the government.”
The Department for Transport (DfT) insisted the measurements did not reflect the wider economic benefits. A spokesman said: “HS2 is a project that will deliver jobs and prosperity across the entire country. Network Rail predicts that the current west coast main line will be full by the mid 2020s, and has concluded that building a new line is the best option – with HS2 delivering four pounds of benefit for every additional pound spent compared to a new conventional-speed line.
“We have always been clear that the benefit-cost ratio (BCR) can only form one part of the decision-making process for a project of this scale, as its benefits reach well beyond narrow transport economics.”
A government paper in March 2010 projected the economic benefits at 2.4-1 for the London-Birmingham route. This was adjusted downwards by February 2011 at the beginning of the consultation, and again this January when transport secretary Justine Greening gave the green light to HS2, which is planned to be operational in 2026 and completed by 2033.
The full route, going north to Leeds and Manchester, now has an estimated BCR of between 1.5-1 and 1.9-1. The DfT insisted the downgrading of the economic case would not have affected Greening’s choice.
The DfT has also released statistics from its public consultation last year showing that people living in the most affluent areas along the route were 10 times more likely than the poorest to oppose the scheme. Almost 12,000 of the 55,000 responses came from the Hemel Hempstead area, with a tiny minority supporting the scheme. The Dft said 63% of respondents lived less than nine miles of the proposed route from London to the West Midlands, while 96% of responses received from Leeds and Manchester, 94% of responses from Glasgow and 85% from Birmingham agree with HS2. Overall, one in three respondents was in favour.
Tett said the analysis was unsurprising, adding: “People who live near a route will be more concerned than those that don’t. But that doesn’t make their objections any less valid.”
He said he believed campaigners’ legal moves, including freedom of information requests, were “flushing out all this stuff”.
The 51m group and the HS2 Action Alliance have launched judicial reviews of the decision to proceed, and expect their cases to be heard in the autumn.
Anti-HS2 campaigners seek judicial review on environmental grounds
High-speed rail supporters criticise alliance of groups for spending taxpayers’ money on second legal challenge to project
The HS2 Action Alliance http://www.hs2actionalliance.org/ is seeking separate judicial reviews of the £33bn scheme on environmental grounds and querying the compensation proposed for those affected. The alliance said its appeals for funds for legal action had met with a “brilliant response”.
It said: “In a matter of a few weeks, thousands of ordinary people in communities from London to Staffordshire and beyond have responded to the appeals, giving most generously, and raising the six-figure sum that was needed. We have two strong legal teams who are specialists in their fields and believe we have two powerful cases that the government must now answer.”
The government said it was pressing ahead with work and was confident of defeating any legal challenge. Supporters of the project warned the legal objections were a “colossal waste” of time and money – in some cases, taxpayers’ money.
One of the signatories to the 51m opposition group, http://www.51m.co.uk/ an alliance of 18 mainly Conservative councils, is Camden, which contains the vast majority of homes that will be affected or destroyed by the new high-speed route.
Camden councillor Sarah Hayward said: “We hope to get the government to reconsider lock stock the whole plan. If not, we need them to consider how they will replace lost housing, how we’ll relocate businesses, and how to ensure construction work doesn’t close down Camden Town’s economy for many years.”
She said that joining other councils reduced their exposure to legal costs. “But we’re talking about homes for hundreds of families and untold negative impacts. With tens of thousands of pounds’ potential legal costs against hundreds of millions we could offset in detrimental impacts on our communities, we think it’s entirely justifiable.”
The government has 21 days to lodge its response to the various claims submitted this week.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We believe we have struck the right balance between the reasonable concerns of people living on or near the line (who will be offered a package of compensation measures), the environment and the need to keep Britain moving.
“The secretary of state’s decisions on high-speed rail remain as set out in January and work on HS2 is continuing as planned. We are confident that the process by which she reached those decisions was lawful, appropriate and fair, and we will be vigorously defending any legal challenge.”
Lucy James, director of the Campaign for High Speed Rail, said: “Going down the route of a judicial review is a colossal waste of time and money. And if local councils along the route foot some of the bill, then in some instances this money could be coming directly from the taxpayer.
“The Department for Transport received and considered nearly 60,000 submissions during the course of their public consultation, and as a result they implemented changes to their original plans which are clearly visible in the alterations they made to the final route. Something has to be done or we risk the rapid deterioration of the backbone of our railway network.
“Instead of a long drawn-out process through the courts, people from both sides should be working together to minimise the impacts and ensure that we build the best high-speed railway possible.”
The first phase of HS2, the line from London to Birmingham, is expected to be completed in 2026. A second phase, incorporating a Y-shaped fork further north to Manchester and Leeds, is scheduled for completion by 2032-33.
HS2 sparks a jobs boom – for a quango
Ministers always said their controversial HS2 rail project would trigger a jobs boom and it certainly has for the Whitehall quango overseeing the £32bn scheme.
7 Apr 2012
HS2 Limited has more than doubled its headcount in just three months, with an array of positions offerings “exceptional benefits packages” at the taxpayer’s expense. It plans to hire 100 more staff by the end of the summer.
As well as a burgeoning team of “stakeholder advisors” and “community managers” with annual salaries of up to £60,000, there is to be a seven-strong team of spin doctors.
The publicity team will include a “proactive press officer” and “digital social media advisor”, responsible for managing the rail route’s reputation on Twitter, Facebook and other websites.
Even though the first leg of the line is not set to open until 2026, there are already 215 people working at HS2 limited’s London headquarters – up from just 100 in mid January. However, the recruitment is set continue over the coming months with the quangos headcount expected to hit 300 this summer – including some 20 community engagement officials.
Campaigners trying to block the new rail route, which will initially run between London and Birmingham, described many of the new positions as a “gross” waste of taxpayers’ money.
Seb Berry, an independent councillor from Great Missenden, in Buckinghamshire: “Taxpayers will be rightly disgusted that they have to pay for a government spin operation to convince them that HS2 is a good idea when it patently isn’t.”
However, opponents of the project also criticised a range of different official designed to engage with communities up and down the 100-mile new line.
HS2 limited is currently recruiting for “stakeholder and consultation managers” in London and Birmingham, paid up to £50,000.
The job advert for this role says the successful applicant will have to “manage delegates and maintain records of commitments, participation and community benefits” and “establish strong and close relationships with contact within HS2”.
HS2 Limited has also recently advertised for an undisclosed number of “community forums managers”, each paid up to £60,000.
Other similar roles include also up for grabs include community liason and stakeholders managers and advisors.
Hilary Wharf, a director of HS2 Action Alliance, one of the groups opposing the next work, said: “The government has also ready held a consultation into HS2 and it was a farce. People were excluded from meetings. People were tightly controlled so they could not speak freely about this terrible plan.
“All these jobs are very premature – it is possible that impending Judicial Reviews will see off HS2.
“And even if it doesn’t many of these stakeholder engagement jobs are largely about ticking boxes – the Government has already decided what it wants to do.”
A spokesman for HS2 limited said that the Government had given a clear signal to it commitment to HS2 and the headcount is rising at the company to reflect that.
“To help design the best high speed railway we can and to minimise its environmental impact it is vitally important that we get the local knowledge of all the affected communities along the 140 miles of the planed route,” the spokesman said.
“To do this we have developed a comprehensive engagement programme of community, environmental and planning forums.”