Inconvenient Truths of HS2

So after a busy year of campaigning, the government decision is due any day now. And what can we expect?
Well the signs are not good – amidst all of the rumours currently flying around, the government does look set to ignore the popular majority, ignore the consultation responses, ignore the hard academic and economic evidence, and stick to the plan with probably just a few tweaks here and there.

The greedy fat cat selfish elite will be delighted. Meanwhile the 90%+ of the population who’ll never use the railway will pay for it – and in fact already are. Every penny saved by tuition fees, slashed pensions, higher fares, public sector pay freezes and so on, will all help adjust the public finances to pay for it.  And for London residents, remember, the proposals could include higher council taxes to help pay for it too.

As usual, the national corporate media will focus on the effect on the Chilterns, without a moment’s pause for thought about the effects on hard working families in affected parts of London, particularly Hillingdon.  Let’s not forget that 200 homes in Camden could be lost, many in Hillingdon, and many more badly affected by construction and noise.

In the next few days we can also expect some prominent historians recruited by the government PR machine to prostitute their talents and wax lyrical about the return of a mythical Victorian golden age of railways. Of course they won’t mention anything about Victorian child labour, rampant imperialism, the disgraceful handling of the Irish and Indian famines, and so on. Or the inconvenient truth that most Victorian railways went bankrupt.

Hillingdon residents will of course be familiar with the great Victorian engineer Brunel, with the local university named in honour. For poor comparison, we now have the genius of Professor McNaughton. Who is overseeing a 155 mile per hour train route 5 metres from children’s play areas and 20 metres from bedrooms; heading 10 miles west before heading to Birmingham which is north-west, and eventually joining a derelict west London industrial estate to the edge of Birmingham.

So what did we learn this past year? The government’s economic case was a fantasy; their environmental case was derided by every environmental group as being sustainabull; and the claimed benefit of saving a few minutes journey time was trashed by their own commissioned market research (which confirmed common sense, that people would just get up and set off later if they could get to home and work quicker). But none of it really seemed to matter to the government. Their arguments subtly shifted to being about jobs and future capacity.

We can’t really argue with the extra capacity point – there certainly will be spare capacity because there won’t be enough passengers when the working age population levels off or falls, particularly if the government’s own migration targets are met! And the current lack of capacity in schools, prisons, and regional transport doesn’t seem to have filtered through to the bureaucrats.

Jobs? Of course some jobs will be created and no opponent has said otherwise. But the current claim is of one million jobs! No surprise that this figure comes from an economist who, just coincidentally, happens to be on the board of Network Rail. Let’s remember that HS2 Ltd’s own documents said 40,000 jobs and that few people living around the areas to be “regenerated” would benefit from new jobs because they are underqualified and unskilled. Er, hello, doesn’t that mean more money should be targeted at education and training then????

Perhaps there’ll be tunnels through Hillingdon and we’ll be expected to go away and shut up. Nope – we’ve lifted the stone and don’t like what we’ve found crawling underneath. We will not go away now, because HS2 must be stopped in the national interest.

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