April Pre Election Update

Since the announcement of HS2 our area has been blighted, with many house prices tumbling and the property market slowing dramatically leaving many unable to move or sell. Furthermore, the exceptional hardship scheme and the compensation scheme proposed for those affected by the route are woefully inadequate and haven’t eased the situation at all. If and when HS2 is operational it is possible train movements will be 24×7, will include overnight maintenance work and may also include freight services in the future.

Since David Higgins took charge of HS2 Ltd and through the efforts or our MP and SOWHAT, we’ve seen a commitment to re-evaluate the station location and route into Leeds. We believe a more direct tunnelled route, or a route largely following the existing transport corridors would be cost neutral in comparison to the complex viaduct construction originally proposed. Sir David Higgins also favours an integrated station in Leeds.

Representations to Leeds City Council resulted in 100% support of these ideas and for residents in our area, however we feel that subsequent commitment and efforts to petition HS2 Ltd have been lukewarm, with more attention being given by the Council to the development of the South Bank area of Leeds than to the plight of our area.

LCC could significantly influence plans for the station location which in turn would cause the route to be re-evaluated. SOWHAT met with Cllr Keith Wakefield (the leader of Leeds City Council) just before Christmas. He reiterated at that meeting that the Council are supportive of our cause and want to see HS2 brought into Leeds along a route which minimises impact on residents and which best integrates with existing rail services. We hope that the Council will lobby HS2 Ltd and Sir David Higgins hard to drive home this stance whilst the final route is being considered, though to date, we have seen little direct evidence that this is taking place.

The published route incorporates a 14m (46’) deep cutting through ancient woodland near the deer park at Clump Cliffe, and four tracks on viaducts across Methley Lane and Fleet Lane elevated to 24m (80’) before the lines split, with two continuing through Swillington Farm at over 26m and onward to Garforth, and the other two continuing at a height of 14m along the canal behind the Maltings, Pottery Lane and The Locks housing estate. The heights quoted are those of the track, remember there will be another 5-8m (up to 25’) above this for the viaduct, signalling and power gantries etc. In addition to the massive disruption during years of construction including road closures and the loss of local rail services, a permanent diversion of the canal and river are also possible as part of the proposals.

With the more recent proposals for ‘HS3’, to link Leeds and Manchester, and further interest expressed by HS2 Ltd to have one integrated station in Leeds, there is increased optimism that the route will be changed away from our area. A single integrated station for HS2, HS3 and existing local services is likely to require east/west orientation, with HS3 arriving from the west. The route for HS2 as currently proposed through our areas would not allow for such an alignment.

However, such optimism must be tempered by the current political situation, with a general election looming. There is great uncertainty as to what will happen following the election. With a change in government it is possible that plans for HS2 could change completely and any progress we have made could be halted or completely reversed. (On a more positive note, we could of course see the whole thing scrapped!) If there is a change of Government, it is also possible that David Higgins could be removed which would be a considerable blow as he is instrumental to the integrated station plans.

What is the current thinking of the main parties?

  • The current situation has developed under the coalition government and is likely to continue along a similar track under the Conservatives and/or Liberal Democrats. Both parties are openly supportive of the project. We could probably expect that the plans would continue as they are at the moment, but that David Higgins will continue with his work on looking to integrate the station in Leeds so a re-route would still be on the agenda.
  • The Labour Party is in favour of HS2 but has recently reiterated its intention to reduce the overall cost of the project. They haven’t made clear how these cost savings would/could be achieved. It concerns SOWHAT that an easy target for cost savings may be compensation for affected residents or the budget devoted to mitigating the massive impact of construction on local communities. Most of the comments relating to the budget for HS2 have come from Ed Balls in the Labour Party. As MP for Morley and Outwood, his constituency would be directly affected by HS2 if an alternative route into Leeds was chosen, which leads to SOWHAT wondering how impartial he would be when considering all the options. Mr Balls has also spoken about wanting to implement HS3 before HS2. Whilst we believe HS3 to be of more benefit than HS2 to the north of England, we certainly don’t want to see plans for HS2 simply put on the back burner, resulting in a further extension to the effects of blight and uncertainty in our areas. Labour could of course look to cut costs by announcing that Phase 2 should be scrapped with the line travelling from London to Birmingham only. They could also say they want to pursue only one part of Phase 2 meaning the line travels to either Manchester or Leeds but not both. This is all conjecture and we simply don’t know what they intend to do.
  • The Green Party is opposed to HS2 and want to see the project scrapped in favour of investment in existing and local rail infrastructure and public transport. They believe that long distance travel should be discouraged because it harms the environment and believe we should focus on technology as an alternative to long distance business travel in the future.
  • UKIP is also opposed to HS2 and believe it is a vanity project driven by the EU. They believe it has no business case, will saddle the country with debt and would be harmful to environment. They have said they favour investing in the existing railway infrastructure to meet any demand for increased capacity.

This is is a very simplistic analysis of the political situation in relation to HS2. We don’t believe it is SOWHAT’s job to influence the way people cast their votes. There are of course many other issues to consider at election time and we don’t want to start campaigning for a particular political party.

Last week a report by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee said that there was no convincing case for spending £50bn on HS2. Lord Hollick the chairman of the Lords Committee said that “The Government have not carried out a proper assessment of whether alternative ways of increasing capacity are more cost effective than HS2” and that “In terms of rebalancing (the economy) London is likely to be the main beneficiary from HS2. Investment in improving rail links in the north of England might deliver much greater economic benefit at a fraction of the cost”.

This report was the latest in a whole series of damning conclusions about HS2 from within Westminster itself. It was significant however because the Lords had taken evidence from The Department for Transport, HS2 Ltd, STOPHS2 and the HS2 Action Alliance. The report they published was an almost perfect vindication of the perspective of the HS2 protest movement. The Lords agreed (after careful analysis of both perspectives and the evidence presented) that the arguments against HS2 are much more plausible that the (largely invented) reasons for its construction. They openly disputed the governments argument that there is a capacity crisis on long distance rail services and were critical of the government’s attempts to hide their own statistics on current passenger numbers on existing long distance services.

After reading the report and listening to news articles and interviews on the day of its release, we were expecting the government would feel compelled to counter the arguments from the Lords. Their response was simply to state that “the case for HS2 is crystal clear”. There was NO counter argument, NO evidence and NO reasoning. Just that simple statement. With such a staggering level of crassness in the face of overwhelming reasoned argument, is there any wonder that we have no idea what the future might hold for our community?