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High Speed 2 Disaster?

Against a backdrop of cuts across the board, next Monday (28th), MPs will be discussing HS2, the budget-busting north-south fast train which will destroy swathes of countryside at a cost of at least £50 billion. We say 'at least', because they are still working on 2011 prices.

Among those kicking up a fuss are the anti-road building group Combe Haven Defenders. Their latest stunt saw demonstrators dressed as Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes and other famous detectives targeting secretary of state for transport Patrick McLoughlin as he arrived in Hastings for a rail summit.

The sleuths know summit's up with an unreleased 2011 Major Projects Authority report which says: “Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to ensure these are addressed, and whether resolution is feasible.” The report was never made public: the government used the same veto which was used to block publication of cabinet discussions around the Iraq war to keep the report secret.

The veto overturned a ruling by the Information Commissioner demanding the report was made public. Its a tricky legal area which depends on 'public interest' arguments – none of which are that compelling in this case, the report being made up almost entirely of environmental information. Even the commissioner himself called the veto “unlawful”.

Campaigners such as Stop HS2 have demanded the documents are released before the bill's discussed. The HS2 Bill is in its second reading at the House of Commons. Stop HS2 told us, “If MPs vote for HS2 on 28th April, a precedent will be set, as this will be the first time the veto has been used to block publication of documents about a Bill, before the vote on that Bill has taken place”.

HS2 has attracted massive criticism on environmental grounds, not only because of the damage it will cause to habitats and biodiversity, but because of the amount of energy needed to run trains at 225mph. Before they were abolished in the cuts, the Sustainable Development Commission said: "HS2 is completely unsustainable and would mean putting in a massive ongoing subsidy to something which only benefits the richest in society", with Dr John Whitelegg of the Green Party calling it: "Socially regressive, environmentally damaging and bafflingly irrational." 

Just to show how little they care for the environment, Peter Miller of HS2 Ltd recently told MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee that after four years of surveys, their “ancient woodland directory might not have picked up all the sites”. HS2 Ltd say that Phase 1 of the project from London to Birmingham would destroy 19 ancient woodlands, but the Woodland Trust put that figure at 27, with another 22 facing 'secondary impacts'. 


Stop HS2 invite everyone to come and join them at their 'Party outside Parliament' from 12-2pm on April 28th to ask for a more sustainable future. See for more.

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