Project runway yet 2B decided
You could tell it was a big moment because the prime minister had actually brushed his hair and smartened himself up. And when Boris Johnson told the House of Commons that his cabinet had finally approved the HS2 rail project (or at least the first stage of it), he wore his broadest smile since he won the 2019 election with a landslide.
Despite all the talk of 60 or more Tory rebels opposed to the hugely expensive new London to Birmingham link, in the end there was a mere smattering of criticism from his own benches. And the PM looked as unruffled as those famous blond locks. His line about ‘2B or not 2B’ (the second phase of the plans) not being the question was funny precisely because it was a play on the Hamlet-style dithering and self-doubt that Johnson says afflicted the UK for too long.
I counted around half a dozen backbenchers who expressed unease at the decision, but most of them spoke more in sorrow than anger. Bill Cash spoke of his constituents’ ‘bitter disappointment’, others talked of worries of ‘blight’, but all were focused on how to ameliorate the impact of the HS2 decision rather than halt it. After a decade of campaigning, Victoria Prentis caught the mood by talking about the need to recognise ‘gracious defeat’.
“I didn’t hear a peep of dissent…there were random remarks over how to make it better,” Johnson told broadcasters later. He was in fact referring to the Cabinet meeting that endorsed the rail project, rather than his own backbenches, but it was a handy description of both.
In the chamber itself, Johnson seemed to relish the one real flash of opposition as Andrew Bridgen said HS2 was “unloved and unwanted, and has been grossly mismanaged”. The PM hit back that “every great infrastructure project” faced early opposition by naysayers, citing the Treasury’s unhappiness over everything from the 2012 Olympics to Crossrail. “We have got to have the guts and the foresight to drive it through,” he said. That was a flash of steel that won’t have gone unnoticed by the new intake of MPs.
There was plenty of spin to go with the substance. His new phrase “High Speed North”, an attempt to rebrand the second phase of the project while lumping it together with east-west links in the north, will fool few sceptics. His refusal to say when the second phase would be completed, or whether a parliamentary bill for it will be passed before the next election, was less than reassuring. Issues like the ballooning £106bn cost were waved away with almost airy disdain. [The cost is to be paid for entirely by taxpayers. See link ]
A claim that the extra HS2 capacity will “drive down prices for the consumer” looked like a hostage to fortune. The money for buses was indeed welcome, but as Jeremy Corbyn rightly pointed out, this comes after a decade of Tory bus cuts that slashed routes and led to higher fares. For cyclists, the worst was kept till last: just £350m would be spent on 250 miles of cycle lanes (compared to Andy Burnham building 1,800 miles in Greater Manchester alone).
And yet as the serried ranks of ‘Red Wall’ Tories (it’s still quite something to hear so many northern accents on the government benches) welcomed his announcement, the PM’s grin grew wider. Here was a man as much in control of parliament as he was of his party, the “Brexity Hezza” finally having his own grand projet to rival Michael Heseltine’s Docklands or the M40 motorway extension.
But to my mind the most revealing comments in the entire Commons session today came when Johnson riffed about the merits of not just extra capacity but faster journey times. It’s worth quoting in full this section: “Passengers arriving at Birmingham Airport will be able to get to central London by train in 38 minutes, which compares favourably with the time it takes to get from Heathrow by taxi, a point I just draw to the attention of the House…”
Yes, Birmingham Airport will be as easy to reach from central London as Heathrow. He added that HS2 was “also considerably faster than the Piccadilly line”, a knowing reference to the fact that the Tube journey to the capital’s western airport takes nearly 50 minutes. For good measure, the PM said of a third runway at Heathrow: “I see no bulldozers at present, nor any immediate prospect of them arriving”.
Former infrastructure minister Jim O’Neill let slip earlier today that he used to joke to Mayor Johnson that if HS2 went ahead, he could “forget Heathrow and Gatwick…you could do the airport expansion at Birmingham International” instead. Judging from the PM’s remarks today, that’s not a joke any more, it’s a deadly serious proposition.
It would be a typically Johnsonian solution, to dig himself out of one political hole by digging up the ground somewhere else entirely – and using one long-delayed infrastructure plan to kill off another. If I were the City backers of Heathrow expansion, I’d be extremely worried tonight.
Quote Of The Day
“The 21st century this United Kingdom still has the vision to dream big dreams and the courage to bring those dreams about.”
Boris Johnson on why HS2 is going ahead
IS HS2 ANNOUNCEMENT HINT ON HEATHROW FUTURE?
11th February 2020
Press release from No 3rd Runway Coalition
In announcing that the government is giving the green light to HS2, the Prime Minister spoke
of the importance of delivering prosperity to every part of the country. Mr Johnson also stated
that HS2 would mean that it will be quicker to get from London to Birmingham, than from
London to Heathrow by taxi.
Was this a subtle alert to the negative impacts on every part of the country (save the South
East) of expanding Heathrow?
For, even when the Parliament approved the government’s Airports National Policy
Statement (ANPS) in 2018, the Department for Transport’s Aviation Forecasts showed that
regional airports would lose significant volumes of flights if Heathrow were to be expanded
The Prime Minister also said that he sees “no bulldozers at present, nor any immediate
prospect of them arriving” at Heathrow, in reply to a question during the HS2 statement to
Parliament on Tuesday (2).
Further, in September 2019, in a letter to the Chair of the Committee on Climate Change
(Conservative Peer, Lord Deben wrote: “Current planned additional airport capacity in
London, including the third runway at Heathrow, is likely to leave at most very limited room
for growth at non-London airports” (3).
Paul McGuinness (Chair, No 3rd Runway Coalition) said:
“Back in 2018, even the DfT’s own figures showed that at 17 million of the 43 million extra
passengers projected to pass through an expanded Heathrow’s shopping malls would be at
the expense of regional airports.
“And in 2019, the Committee on Climate Change declared that any additional aviation
capacity in London will all but kill off any prospect of growth at regional airports. By all
accounts the expansion of Heathrow will be an assault on the regions, locking in South East
advantage, at the expense of every other part of the country.”
1. Department for Transport’s Aviation Forecasts 2018 said that Manchester Airport is set to
lose 20,258 ATMs per year by 2030 with that figure increasing to 27,063 lost movements by
2050. The Yorkshire & Humberside region, which includes Leeds/Bradford, Doncaster and
Humberside airports, are set to lose 5,862 ATMs per year by 2030 and the South West region, including Newquay, Bournemouth, Exeter and Bristol airports set to lose a total of 33,726 movements by 2050.
Scotland also loses out, with 20,705 fewer ATMs by the year 2030 if Heathrow is expanded.
That figure rises to 23,785 per year by 2050. Scottish airports include Aberdeen, Edinburgh,
Glasgow, Inverness and Prestwick.
2. Reply from Prime Minister Boris Johnson to a question put by Munira Wilson, MP for
Twickenham, House of Commons, 11 February 2020.
3. Letter from Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate
Heathrow runway thrown into doubt but roads will be upgraded
By Graeme Paton (The Times)
February 12th 2020
Boris Johnson cast doubt over Heathrow’s proposed third runway yesterday as he warned that there was “no immediate prospect” of construction.
The prime minister, a long-time opponent of the scheme, is believed to be mulling ways to cancel expansion of Europe’s biggest airport due to environmental and noise impacts. He famously pledged in 2015 to “lie down . . . in front of those bulldozers” to stop construction of the two-mile runway.
Heathrow has already been given outline approval from MPs, with the Commons voting overwhelmingly in favour of a third runway in June 2018.
The airport is now in the process of applying for a development consent order — full planning permission for major infrastructure schemes — which it expects to deliver next year. The planning inspector will assess the application and make a recommendation to the transport secretary, who will make a final ruling, probably in late 2021 or early 2022.
In December it was announced that the runway was expected to open by 2029, subject to planning consent, up to three years after the original 2026 target date.
Under the extension plan, a new runway will be constructed northwest of the airport, with 950 acres of land being claimed and 761 homes demolished. It will eventually allow the airport to handle 756,000 flights a year and 142 million passengers.
Government sources have said that Mr Johnson has not ruled out attempting to block the scheme even though it has already been approved by MPs.
During the debate on HS2, Munira Wilson, Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, branded the runway “an act of environmental vandalism” and urged the prime minister to “make good his promise of lying down in front of the bulldozers, or far more simply, just cancel the third runway”.
Speaking in the Commons, he suggested he was unlikely to be required to fulfil his promise in the near future. “I see no bulldozers at present and no immediate prospect of them arriving.”
Billions to upgrade roads in regions
Major roads outside the southeast of England will be upgraded under plans to cut crippling levels of congestion.
Boris Johnson said yesterday that the government would make “transformative investments” in road improvements throughout England as part of next month’s budget.
It is believed that the Conservatives will commit to funding the next “road investment strategy”, a five-year package of upgrades to motorways and A-roads expected to cost £25 billion.
An expected upgrade to the A1 north of Newcastle would provide better links to the Scottish border.
Smaller local road schemes to be funded include improvements around Hartlepool, Liverpool, South Ribble in Lancashire, Cheadle in Greater Manchester, and Melksham and Salisbury in Wiltshire.
On Monday the government said that £5 billion would be spent over five years to upgrade bus fleets and build segregated cycle lanes.
The road announcements counter criticism that HS2 — with its predicted cost of up to £106 billion — will suck transport investment away from the regions. The Conservatives have insisted that “levelling up” the economy will be a significant feature of the current parliament.
“Our vision for increasing opportunity and prosperity across every part of our country doesn’t stop with HS2,” Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said. “We achieve that not only through investing in critical national projects to transform journeys in the future, but delivering on the vital connections people rely on today to ensure no community is left behind.”
The investments in roads come amid concerns over a sharp rise in traffic levels during the past 20 years. According to figures from the Department for Transport, there were a record 38.9 million licensed vehicles on British roads by September last year. In all, vehicles covered 330.1 billion miles on the network in the year to the end of September, a rise of 14.3 per cent in two decades.
According to recent study by TomTom, the traffic data company, the UK accounts for ten of the 100 most congested large towns and cities in the world.
UK motorists who drive during peak hours will spend an extra six days in congested traffic each year on average, the study said.