Wednesday 9 January 2013

Lack of planning

It's interesting to contrast the attitude of those living in the cities designated as destinations for the UK's high-speed rail network with that of the areas closer to London through which the lines will need to travel. Destination cities are, by and large, competing vigorously to demand that they be served; whilst those closer to London are rubbishing the whole concept.

I've never been entirely convinced that high-speed rail will be quite the panacea as which some seem to see it; I suspect that the benefits in terms of economic growth have been somewhat exaggerated. I am convinced though that once a network starts to come into being, not being on it is not a good place to be – the disbenefits of not being served are likely to be greater than the benefits of having the service. What I am also convinced about, however, is that faced with an ever-increasing demand for transport, a reliable high-speed surface system is going to be much less damaging than continued expansion of air transport.

The problem with the UK Government's approach is that, even after the routes to Leeds and Manchester (High Speed 2A) have been made public, it's still a piecemeal approach. There is no overall plan for a comprehensive UK network. The result of that is that it positively encourages those not included to oppose the whole scheme rather than to look at how they elevate themselves up the list.

Here in Wales, specifically, it's led to some arguing that Wales sees no benefit, so the scheme should either be scrapped or else a Barnett consequential paid over to us. But if what is being proposed now were truly to be seen as just one step in a process – and having laid that foundation, Wales would in due course benefit - the whole picture would look very different. It's a short-sighted approach by the UK Government.


Pete said...

John; The point not touched upon, and I would appreciate your thoughts, is the impact this and similar projects have on the environment. I understand that the first phase of HS2 will devastate some of the Island's oldest woodland. South Cubbington wood has been mentioned as being a woodland that extends back to the last ice age. South of the wood is the island's largest wild pear tree said to date back some 250 years.
Can urbanization with a disregard for the environment be sustainable? How far should we go in destroying natural habitats?
Closer to home, how much fertile land should be surrendered to urban development?
Not easy questions I know but I fear that the Cefn Gwlad stands to suffer an irrecoverable loss.

John Dixon said...


Certainly, all transport projects have an impact on the environment. The best way to avoid that would be to travel less; but with a rising population and increasing affluence (over the long term, even if it doesn't feel that way currently), demand for travel is going up not down. If we are to increase provision to meet demand, rail is just about the least damaging, and air probably the most damaging. The evidence seems to suggest that high-speed rail in Europe has displaced air for 'short' distances - i.e. those where the reduced hassle, delays and advance waiting required in the case of trains make them more or less competitive in time terms. That's a net gain in the big picture.