April 1, 2014 by combehavendefenders
Can you help reveal the secret HS2 documents, blocked by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin?
A team of crack detectives searched for the documents in Hastings on 31 March, during McLoughlin’s visit to Amber Rudd’s ‘rail summit’. They made a valiant effort to find them, but without success. Now we need your help to continue the search.
You can help by:
* Tweeting #HS2 #releasethesuppressedHS2report #whatareyouhiding? to @transportgovuk
* Emailing email@example.com, or phoning his parliamentary office on 020 7219 3511 and asking him to release the report
* Tweeting or emailing your MP (firstname.lastname@example.org) and asking them to press McLoughlin to release the report
‘War veto’ used to block release
The Information Commissioner recently ordered the release of the 2011 Major Projects Authority report, which is believed to show that HS2 has been assessed as ‘amber-red’, meaning that its successful completion is in doubt. According to the Information Commissioner, ‘the public interest in maintaining the exception [to the duty of disclosure] does not outweigh the public interest in disclosure’.
However, McLoughlin blocked the release of the report, using rarely exercised veto powers, and citing the need for officials to be able to make their decisions in a ‘safe space’ (the same argument that was used to justify the redaction of the Department for Transport assessment of the case for the Bexhill Hastings Link Road). The same veto powers, contained in the Freedom of Information Act, were in the past used to block the release of Cabinet discussions on the Iraq war.
Nature under threat
HS2 will destroy or put at risk over 80 ancient woodlands, as well as huge areas of open countryside along its 140 mile length. According to The Wildlife Trusts, four Wildlife Trust reserves, 10 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and numerous local wildlife sites lie on the route of HS2.
They say, ‘It will fragment populations of butterflies, bats and birds, and compromise the natural movements of large mammals such as badgers that cannot cross the concrete and steel barrier of railway infrastructure. This comes at a time when the Making Space for Nature report called for integrated, connected landscapes to link up and extend habitats for rare and endangered species. The very last thing we should be doing is creating new linear barriers to the movement of wildlife.’
Carbon emissions: going up for sixty years
In HS2 Ltd’s (the company set up by the Department for Transport to promote HS2, with the Secretary of State its sole member) factsheet on carbon emissions, we are told that ‘HS2 has the potential to play a key part of [sic] the UK’s future low-carbon transport system and to support the Government’s overall carbon objectives’.
Sounds good? Read on a little further and you come to this: ‘Over the construction and the first 60 years of operation of HS2, it is likely that carbon savings – that come about as people switch from other transport modes with higher carbon emissions, and as released capacity on existing railways is taken up by new passenger and freight services at the expense of road vehicles – will be less than the carbon emissions‘ [italics added].
In other words, HS2 will cause a net increase in carbon emissions for at least 60 years. We need to urgently reduce emissions now; it is simply insane to construct a railway which may, possibly, if it’s still in operation, start to contribute to reducing carbon emissions in sixty years time.
172,000 homes lie within 1km of the proposed route, and will suffer some degree of blight if HS2 is built. However, government proposals on compensation would only benefit around 800 households, leaving thousands in the position of suffering from the presence of the line, but being unable to sell their homes.
£50bn of public money
HS2 will cost around £50bn at 2011 prices. According to the government’s own assessment, phase 1 of HS2 (London to Birmingham) ‘lies towards the lower end of the medium value for money category’. In fact, they estimate the basic benefit cost ratio (BCR) of this section of the route to be just 1.4 – that is, firmly in the ‘low’ value for money category.
It is only (just) pushed into the ‘lower end of the medium value for money category’ by taking into account wider – and unproven – ‘benefits’. The Department for Transport’s own guidance to Local Transport Boards (LTBs) – who are making decisions about tiny sums of money in comparison to the cost of HS2 – is that ‘LTBs would only in exceptional circumstances agree to fund schemes with lower than “high” value for money.’ But it would appear that when it comes to spending £50bn of public money, the DfT feels that a project which may well constitute ‘low’ value for money is perfectly acceptable.
Benefits ‘essentially made up’
It’s not clear, however, that even this dismal value for money assessment can be believed. According to a former member of Whitehall’s high speed rail advisory panel, government calculations used to justify the scheme were “essentially made up”. Henry Overman, professor of economic geography at the London School of Economics said he had quit the panel after he felt its role had changed from providing independent advice to promoting the project.
‘Safe space’ or cover up?
It is clear that Patrick McLoughlin’s decision to block the HS2 report has little to do with ‘safe space’ for decision makers, and everything to do with not wanting the public to know what a disaster HS2 would be, both financially and environmentally. We should be investing in sustainable, affordable public transport, not in ‘an expensive, environmentally damaging, and badly thought through transport project‘. The DfT was forced, eventually, to release the report on the Link Road: with enough pressure, we can also make them come clean on HS2.