In advance of a vote in the House of Commons on Thursday on the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill, the Government is due to publish a revised case for High Speed 2 (HS2). In accordance with Treasury guidance, the new business case should include:
- a ‘strategic case’, making the case for change and the rationale for investment; and
- an ‘economic case’, setting out all the costs and benefits, including those that cannot be monetised, such as impact on precious landscapes.
Ralph Smyth, Senior Transport Campaigner for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, says:
‘It’s time to ask how well HS2 fits with a wider, sustainable vision for the country. Trying to reduce all the different costs and benefits of this huge transport scheme into a single figure simply isn’t possible. We should move away from trying to value HS2 in terms of how many pounds are returned from each pound of investment.
‘The revised strategic case offers the Department for Transport a chance to show it has listened to the arguments put forward and is prepared to make changes. But the Government’s timetable for HS2 means that they are working at such a breakneck speed that we are worried that the result will only be more tinkering.’
CPRE believes the strategic case has already been made for a new north-south railway because of the lack of existing capacity to run more trains. In terms of the economic case, we believe there are problems with the current proposals for HS2, as well as with the way the Government is trying to assess it.
CPRE will be considering the revised case against the following issues in particular:
1. Will HS2 still rely on a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR)?
The Department for Transport (DfT) first tried to justify HS2, saying it would produce a return of £2.60 for every pound spent, although this figure has since reduced. Other countries simply do not think it credible to try to reduce all the economic, social and environmental costs into a single number. The DfT’s system of appraisal was originally designed to compare small road schemes and CPRE believes it cannot usefully assess the case for HS2, a whole new transport network.
2. Will forecasts still assume no change to land use?
While the Chancellor has justified HS2 saying it would change the ‘economic geography’ of the country, the current method of transport appraisal assumes no changes to land use. This seems odd. Regeneration of urban areas has been a key objective for high speed rail in other countries but it is not counted as an economic benefit here.
3. How would capacity be measured?
Perhaps the most bitter argument over HS2 is whether there are alternative ways to provide extra seats on trains. CPRE has highlighted that providing extra seats on long-distance trains is of little use if there is no capacity to run local trains that stop at your station.
4. How would impacts on existing train services be considered?
Even if the UK’s rail system was not privatised, it would be impossible to predict how timetables might turn out 15 years or more into the future. While plans for HS2 stretch to 2033, Network Rail has plans for the rest of the rail network until only 2019. CPRE believes that more confidence is needed about long-term plans for the rest of the rail network, particularly for rural areas that have seen little direct benefit in recent rail investment.
5. Will any new environmental case be made for HS2?
Until Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg suggested that HS2 would help protect London’s Green Belt, the possibility of making any environmental case for HS2 seemed to have been forgotten. CPRE believes the case for HS2 could be improved if there was greater emphasis on moving development pressure from greenfield sites in the south east to promoting the regeneration of brownfield sites in northern cities.
6. Will environmental impacts be valued?
The DfT has tried to value impacts on the landscape by adding up the cost of land that would be used. CPRE has criticised this as being like valuing paintings using the cost of paint. Environmental impacts cannot be easily monetised and better ways are needed to explain the possible environmental benefits and costs of HS2.
7. Has the impact on passenger numbers of DfT's controversial new road-building programme been taken into account?
In July, the DfT published Action for Roads, which proposed the biggest roads programme since the 1970s. Increasing road capacity would increase competition between road and rail. Although this would reduce the growth in rail travel, the DfT admitted to CPRE in August that its modelling was ‘ongoing and incomplete’.
8. Will any ways to cut the cost of HS2 be considered?
With increasing pressure on HS2’s budget, ways to reduce the cost may be considered. CPRE has called for the stations proposed in the Green Belt to be scrapped, highlighting HS2 Ltd’s prediction that the Manchester Interchange station would generate just 300 jobs but would cost £300m.