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‘Build HS2 to save the green belt’, claims David Higgins

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London green beltIn an interview with The Sunday Times, HS2 Ltd chairman and “infrastructure superhero” David Higgins has predicted that if the high speed rail project is scrapped, “a new motorway would have to be ploughed through the Chilterns, and vast swathes of countryside in the South East England destroyed by house-building”.

[“HS2 ‘will save green belt’”, Mark Hookham, 26 October 2014]

Higgins’s stark warning comes ahead of the announcement tomorrow by George Osborne of a new railway line between Leeds and Manchester, dubbed HS3. The chancellor will claim that the line, which is likely to require new tunnelling under the Pennines with trains travelling at conventional intercity speeds of 125mph [200 km/h], will help create a “northern powerhouse”.

The “new motorway” claim

The Department for Transport’s Road Transport Forecasts 2013

(1) estimated that over the thirty years from 2010, traffic would increase by an average of 43% for all roads (central projection)

(2) noted that the road-to-rail shift from HS2 would be equivalent to just 0.9% of long distance inter-zonal car trips in 2037.

[DfT Road Transport Forecasts, published 2013]

[…] This 0.9% is equivalent to one year’s traffic growth and highlights that the impact of HS2 does not affect the key facts and conclusion of this document.

Furthermore, Section 5.2.2 of HS2 Ltd’s October 2013 Economic Case, gave the year_2036 modal shift forecast for its high speed network as follows:

From Cars → 4%

From Aviation → 1%

From Existing Rail → 69%

Generated Journeys → 26%.

The “HS2 saves the green belt” claim

On 26 June 2013, the Evening Standard reported that London’s population had hit a new high of 8.3 million, and at the current rate of increase, “will grow by the equivalent of an extra borough every three years and hit nine million people by 2019”.

Predicted growth of London population, in HS2 Ltd diagram

The uplift in London commuting capacity from HS2 would largely be indirect (i.e., take the form of released capacity for more ‘outer suburban’ travel from counties such as Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, and Hertfordshire). According to Figure 2.12 from the October 2013 Strategic Case, by reducing the number of intercity trains on the West Coast Main Line, HS2 would allow an additional 7 commuter trains to run into and out of Euston in each peak hour.

Each 12-car Class 350/2 train of the type used on the WCML has a capacity of around 830 seats, and there could also be some additional standee capacity, and long distance commuters on HS2 itself. But whatever assumptions are made, the overall commuting volume uplift from HS2 could only be trivial, when compared against the expected increase in London’s intra-muros population and workforce. The encouragement of long-distance commuting should not be a governmental policy objective.

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Written by beleben

October 26, 2014 at 1:12 pm

One Response

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  1. London enjoys a monopoly position within the UK economy. It needs some serious domestic competition, not a new high-speed feeder. In particular, the wider economy needs that Manchester-Leeds fast rail link to be the first stage of HS2 construction, to start delivering the benefits of improved regional connectivity North-first. If instead, HS2 puts construction of its uber-fast Stage One first, it will draw central Birmingham time-nearer the huge London economic magnet. The London super-magnet will then grow bigger and the North-South Divide will become worse.

    Michael Wand

    October 26, 2014 at 8:07 pm


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