On 22nd October, 2014 the RSA City Growth Commission final report, ‘Unleashing Metro Growth’, was launched. The Commission’s ‘chair’, former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill, told Sky News that while devolving powers from Westminster was long overdue, the critical issue was solving a “hopeless” infrastructure.
The report makes the case for, and explain how, cities can take a new role in our political economy, creating stronger, more inclusive and sustainable growth in the UK.
The final report considers evidence heard by the Commission in the form of written submissions and evidence hearings, and discussions hosted by the Commission at seminars, roundtables and other stakeholder engagement.
The report draws on interim reports which have focused on skills, infrastructure, fiscal devolution and the role of universities in driving metro growth.
Key recommendations outline a significant shift – from the centre to metros – in policy and finance, enabling metro leaders to:
• Coordinate resources across their city-region and make strategic policy and finance decisions via place-based budgeting and investment strategy.
• Make more informed and responsive decisions based on evaluation of local data and evidence.
• Develop effective ways of integrating public service reform and economic development.
• Have greater flexibility over their spending and borrowing arrangements, including:
– Multi-year finance settlements of between five and 10 years,
– Retention of a proportion of the tax proceeds of growth; and
– Freedom for the most devolved metros to set and fully retain a suite of taxes.
Furthermore, metros should be represented in national decision making, bringing forward measures to enhance connectivity and growth, including:
• A comprehensive review on how our current and future needs for digital infrastructure can be met; and,
• Accelerated connectivity between metros in the North, Midlands and other ‘super city-regions’.
Other measures include lifting the cap on Tier 2 (non-EU) migration, devolution of adult skills budgets, and additional support for universities to help fuel their local economy.
Drawing on how “connectivity influences productivity and competitiveness today”, KPMG’s 2013 analysis of HS2 regional impacts (commissioned by HS2 Ltd) looked at “the potential benefits in a different way to those captured in more traditional appraisals”.
But what exactly is meant by “connectivity“?
According to Steer Davies Gleave’s Jim Steer — speaking as a member of the first panel at the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee HS2 session on 21 October — connectivity “is a fancy word for faster journeys”.
[House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee]
Tuesday 21 October 2014
Committee Room 1 [...]
Economic Case for HS2
i. Bridget Rosewell, Volterra Consultants; Lewis Atter, KPMG; and Jim Steer, Steer Davis Gleave Consultants
ii. Professor Stephen Glaister
HS2 is a proposed railway linking the centres of three provincial cities with London (~80% of travel would involve London as origin or destination). So the connectivity benefits of HS2 — using Mr Steer’s description — translate to ‘the benefits of speeding up rail journeys between London and Birmingham, London and Manchester, and London and Leeds’. However, KPMG’s Lewis Atter described connectivity in terms of journey-time-plus-financial-cost-of-travel and suggested that HS2 “connectivity gain” would be reduced if it used a premium fare structure, implying some relation between connectivity and consumer surplus.
Mr Steer suggested that if the high speed line were operated with premium fares, there would still be cheap tickets, ‘like Eurostar’ (needless to say, Eurostar’s cheap tickets have come at the cost of a UK taxpayer loss running into hundreds of millions of pounds).
Mr Atter said that KPMG’s ‘£15 billion’ benefit was an estimate of the difference in size of the 2037 economy with and without HS2, and although the figure looked large, it would represent less than 0.5% of the economy at that date. However, as Professor Stephen Glaister said in the second part of the session, the present value of a stream of future £15 billion annual benefits would be astronomical, “if you believe it” (KPMG have been strangely unwilling to provide a PV figure, although it is readily calculable).
Bridget Rosewell told the committee that HS2 should be routed into city centres, not parkways (Volterra was contracted to argue for a city centre station in Sheffield, but was also contracted to argue for a parkway station in the East Midlands, instead of central Derby).
Disruptive technologies could have large and unforeseeable effects on the service economies in the HS2 station cities, before the new line was even completed. Prof Glaister pointed out the sensitivity of HS2 forecasts to future events, and even to the discount rate applied to the calculation. He was sceptical of HS2’s capacity case, including the scope for classic released capacity, and seemed to be airing the idea of buying off special interests (presumably councils in the North) as an economically superior alternative to building HS2.
In an interview published on 12 April 2013, HS2’s engineering chief Professor Andrew McNaughton told E&T Magazine that “we are not inventing high-speed rail. The rest of the world has invented it and uses it in different ways.” In other words, the HS2 system would use off-the-shelf construction processes, track, and sub-systems.
The indications are that HS2 is trying to re-invent high speed rail. For example, the University of Huddersfield’s new Centre for Innovation in Rail (CIR) has announced its research and enterprise team, led by Dr Paul Allen and Dr Adam Bevan, “will embark on an exciting [HS2] project to model the vehicle-track interaction of a number of high-speed vehicle concepts, which will run at speeds of up to 360 km/h”.
Who’s in charge of stopping HS2 project drift and mission creep? Apparently, some people the transport secretary may have bumped into on the rubber chicken circuit.
As the Beleben blog noted in January 2014, much of the bigged-up ‘capacity increase’ in Siemens Class 700 trains, ordered for Thameslink, comes simply from having more standing room. Before placing the £1.6 billion order, the Department for Transport said it wanted “comparable or better quality” rolling stock, the Evening Standard reported (20 Oct 2014).
["Only two in five passengers will get seats on new London commuter train", Matthew Beard, ES, 20 Oct]
According to Government data, on 12-carriage services there will be 666 seats out of an official capacity of 1,754 passengers. Eight-carriage trains will have 427 seats out of 1,146.
All very odd, given that the DfT has made such a hullabaloo about HS2’s “benefits” for standing passengers on the London Midland trains out of Euston.
Presumably, in the high peak hour northbound from St Pancras low level, theoretical “zero PixC” Thameslink standee capacity would be 24 * 1,088 = 26,112. (Compare with standee_plus_seated suburban loadings from Euston.)
[HS2 Ltd, 20 October 2014]
Commenting, HS2 Ltd Chairman David Higgins said:
“Delivering HS2 will be as complex as it will be significant for the country. We therefore need Board Members who understand the technical, financial and community issues that will confront us. Jo, Christine and Neil, working with the existing Members of the Board, will bring the cumulative experience we need for the massive task we face. I am delighted to welcome them to the Board.”
Neil Masom said: “I am extremely pleased to have been invited by the Secretary of State to join HS2’s board. It is an extremely exciting project that has huge potential to act as a catalyst to boost British industry and create new economic opportunities. Coming from north west England I think High Speed Two’s arrival is a fantastic opportunity for the region.”
Christine Emmett said: “Having worked at British Rail and been involved with the Channel Tunnel project much of my working life has been rail-focused, so naturally I am greatly looking forward to joining HS2. It is a fantastic project that carries Britain’s railways into the 21st century with confidence and optimism.”
Baroness Jo Valentine said: “HS2 is a hugely important and exciting project that holds out the prospect of recasting the economic geography of Britain. I am delighted to take up this new position on HS2 Ltd’s Board as we work towards securing its full potential for the country.”
On her website, Ms Emmett trumpets her involvement with the disastrous pseudo-privatisation of British Rail, and the equally lamentable Channel Tunnel project.
[Christine Emmett website]
Christine has had extensive experience advising on major infrastructure, new hospitals and transport. She was responsible for expenditure of £450 million on the Channel Tunnel project and was Commercial Director for the British Rail privatisation unit. She has been a Non Executive Director of 2 large health trusts. She started her career as a buyer with Marks and Spencer.
As a county councillor she has the Health portfolio and is chair of the Health and Well Being Board. Christine stood in the recent parliamentary by-election at Corby and East Northamptonshire.
‘My political priorities include:
Tackling rural poverty
Protecting our green belt
Creating a sound economy, with low tax and individual business freedom
Renegotiation of the EU relationship
Equipping the military to the highest standards
Maximising education opportunities
Investing in infrastructure
Sentencing that does what it says’
“Christine has great experience of business, in the public and private sector and how this relates to government. She is a gifted communicator and has an appealing character. We should jump at the chance to have such a high quality experienced individual… I recommend her without reservation.”
Rt. Hon William Hague MP First Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Christine’s previous political achievements include:
Parliamentary candidate in the 2012 Corby by-election
Working with No 10 and the Cabinet Office on increasing awareness of public appointments
Member of William Hague’s Northern Transport Commission
Board member of Conservative Cooperative movement
Recruited over 100 members to a business club
Advised Chris Grayling and John Redwood on economy and transport
Successful campaigner across the country
In 2006 George Osborne MP visited Japan, and enthused about its high speed rail projects.
["Tories propose high-speed 'maglev' trains for UK", Matthew Tempest,
theguardian.com, 31 August 2006]
[...] Mr Osborne said: “We’re familiar with the Japanese bullet train, which has been around for decades now and is far faster than anything we’ve got in the UK.
“But Japan aren’t stopping there. They’re moving on to this magnetic-driven train.
“You have to ask yourself, if Japan is developing this technology, if China has already introduced this kind of train, if Germany is looking at this technology, why on earth are we not doing so in Britain?”
By the time of the 2010 election, the Conservative party had switched its interest to conventional wheel-based high speed rail, but JR Tokai (Central Japan Railway Company) has continued development of its proposed ultra high speed Chuo Shinkansen maglev.
JR Tokai’s maglev costs are expected to exceed 9 trillion yen (USD 90 billion), with tunnels making up 86 per cent of the 286-kilometre initial stretch between Tokyo and Nagoya (scheduled to open in 2027). Even though the Chuo Shinkansen train design “floats” 10 centimetres above the track, there is a lot of aerodynamic noise at speeds above 300 km/h (as with HS2).
["New maglev Shinkansen to run underground for 86% of initial route", The Asahi Shimbun, September 19, 2013]
Tracks on the above-ground sections will also mostly be covered by soundproof concrete hoods. JR Tokai said it will consider allowing open views on limited sections if requested to do so by local governments.
The British government’s proposed HS2 network is being designed for speeds up to 400 km/h, but official visualisations suggest that soundproofing on above-ground sections would not include soundproof boxes of the type planned for Chuo Shinkansen.
In Japan and Great Britain, the rights of passengers and riverains are valued differently. Why HS2 train travellers’ “right” to an unrestricted view should take precedence over the reduced noise nuisance from boxing-in the high speed track, has never been explained.