Future of HS2 in Doubt?
“Those in favour of HS2 need to stand up and be counted” – that’s the view of Transport Secretary Philip Hammond. But is it too little, too late for HS2?
HS2 (High Speed Two) is a business case for the proposal of a new high-speed rail route between London and Scotland, which plans to introduce new links for the West Midlands among other locations. If it comes to fruition, the new line will reportedly cut journey times between Birmingham and the capital to just 47 minutes.
The business case for such a proposal is strong – as is the feeling against it – but following a rallying cry by Mr Hammond to Birmingham’s business community, it seems as though support for the scheme is falling short.
Is HS2 history?
At a conference organised by Birmingham Forward at One Snowhill in the city centre, the 100-strong audience heard Mr Hammond’s case for the new ┬ú17bn line, and why he thinks it is at risk.
“It’s essential to get the support of the business community in Birmingham and the wider West Midlands,” he said, speaking at the event, “because it is they who understand the power of a piece of transport infrastructure to transform the business environment of an area, and the value of improving connectivity to improve productivity.”
He said that it is the business community that “get it” and urged the audience to sell it to others, especially those who are worried about economic uncertainty and the future of employment.
“It’s the business community that needs to explain this,” he said.
Mr Hammond explained that HS2 still has a fair way to go before it emerges from the consultation phase. “It’s not a done deal. The antis are very effective, very vocal, very well financed and very determined, and those in favour of HS2 need to stand up and be counted.”
Strength of feeling
Those against the new line have launched many separate campaigns, utilising a variety of channels ranging from social networking sites and posters, to government lobbying via email, surveys and petitions.
One such influence comes from the Chiltern Voice, a voluntary-powered website that covers news and events in and around Chesham. As a designated ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ (AONB), residents and visitors have expressed concern over the development of the new route, which would run through the middle of the Chilterns.
A Facebook group – ‘Save the Chilterns – Say No to a High Speed Rail Link’ – has been set up to air the group’s concerns. These include safeguarding the natural beauty of the area, saving public money, and finding out the “real environmental and economic consequences” of the scheme.
This group alone has so far accumulated almost 12,000 members, and it is this strength of feeling that appears to be ruffling some feathers.
Mr Hammond urged his recipients to consider the long-term benefits of the line, and the future economic prosperity that has been promised as a result.
“I understand the position some of the county councils are in when they are under pressure from elected councillors, often based on a misunderstanding of what the impact of the proposed line will be,” he said. “I think over time we will see more of the leaders accepting the benefits that will come.
“Hopefully, once the consultation is over and the decision made then people will concentrate on how we can maximise the benefit for their region and how they can secure the investment that will be vital for their children.”
The public consultation of HS2 runs until 29th July. Find out more and register your comments online at www.highspeedrail.dft.gov.uk.
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