I have been a vocal opponent of HS2 in Parliament since my election.
Last year, I called a Westminster Hall debate on High Speed 2, speaking against:
The railway system of Great Britain is the oldest in the world. It developed from a patchwork of private local rail links provided by entrepreneurs, and via amalgamations, temporary state control, nationalisation, highly regulated privatisation and part-renationalisation it became today’s system, which is, as one of my colleagues on the Transport Committee has said, “neither fish nor fowl”.
The evidence from many groups clearly demonstrates that there is no benefit to Buckinghamshire from accepting high-speed rail. The project would have to be bullied through against the well-grounded wishes of those affected, causing not just environmental damage to AONB but also infringing the property rights of large numbers of people. Doing so would thoroughly undermine the Government’s commitment to increasing people’s power over their own lives.
From Buckinghamshire’s perspective, the answer to whether HS2 should run across the county is, of course, a resounding no. Buckinghamshire people are bound to object to a programme that would merely blight our beautiful county and trespass on local people’s businesses and the quiet enjoyment of their homes. I find myself asking, “Should any area of the country be forced to accept high-speed rail?”
To justify such a grievous impact on the people and landscape of Buckinghamshire-and indeed along the entire length of the route, wherever it is located-the Government must place the economic and environmental case for the programme beyond all doubt. I do not believe they have yet done so.
The projected increase in demand is open to challenges that include demand saturation, a broken relationship with GDP, out-of-date data, neglect of new technology, and inadequate anticipation of competition from classic rail-a problem that blighted HS1.
The case for benefits neglects the fact that many of us work on the train, and it depends on implausible levels of crowding. The Department for Transport’s alternative, Rail Package 2, is paid too little attention; despite meeting demand with less crowding than would occur should the HS2 programme go ahead. At £2 billion, the package is much less expensive. It is better value for money and capable of incremental delivery, setting it free from the risks associated with long-range economic forecasting.
Rail companies could lengthen trains to nine, 10 or 11 cars. That would increase capacity from 294 to 444 seats-an increase of 51%. Unused first-class capacity could also be swapped for standard seats, thereby further increasing total capacity.
Philosophically, I wish to emphasise that rail, and road transport in particular, are not capitalist systems in the conventional sense but hybrid systems of heavily regulated and subsidised public and private companies. We have inherited a rail system whose franchise agreements descend into such detail as specifying a “biennial talent management programme” and even “time with your manager sessions.” That is not freedom to contract, and clearly rail operators are not free to set market fares.
To return to where I began, I applaud sincerely the Government’s noble intent, but I note that rail has not been governed by the free market for a very long time. There is no doubt that this country needs good-quality infrastructure. We should create the conditions in which unsubsidised enterprise can deliver the optimal solution. That would be the classical Liberal and Conservative approach. In my view, the solution that would emerge is not likely to be high-speed rail. I believe that this programme should be cancelled.
If you wish to see my other work on the record, please use www.theyworkforyou.com, in particular:
In addition to supporting the TaxPayers’ Alliance and the Institute of Economic Affairs against HS2, I succeeded in having myself elected to the Transport Select Committee, where I was instrumental in securing an inquiry into high-speed rail. I now serve on that inquiry and I am working hard to ensure all the necessary evidence is on the record.