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Goldfish and guard dogs

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On the Tarakin blog, Katrina Krishnan Doyle has written about her involvement in the communications strategy adopted for HS2 Ltd.

The approach we adopted for HS2 looked at positioning the company as an authority on high speed rail as opposed to an advocate for it over other transport alternatives. The proactive communications would be about public education on the principles of high speed rail, the advantages, the disadvantages and how it works in other countries. We started by conducting media interviews with national transport correspondents at the same time as restructuring the HS2 website so they could edit the information on it more easily and add or remove things quickly if it was needed.

The first few national articles were well received, positioning both David Rowlands and Andrew McNaughton as authoritative experts on the subject. However, when we started getting into the detail of the proposed line and journey timings, some articles began to question and speculate on the relevance and potential of the investment. In fact, some journalists raised more questions in their articles than they answered, which put additional pressure on the press officers and civil servants in the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd.

At some stage, it was agreed that it was the proactive campaign that was attracting unwelcomed attention that civil servants weren’t comfortable with so they decided that a traditional responsive campaign would be more appropriate – sticking to the strict statutory public consultation process, Freedom of Information channels and media management in conjunction with DfT press office.

When this decision was taken, I made it known that I did not support it and could not continue to work with the company if it did not want to take my advice. I have seen too many Government campaigns ‘launch’ new policy without engaging properly in advance. They are all hit with major criticism as soon as they’re unveiled and Ministers then spend all of their time justifying the decisions that they took in the lead up to the launch rather than talking about the positive benefits the policy or scheme could bring in the future.
HS2 Ltd’s managing director, Alison Munro is a consummate senior civil servant. She understands the intricacies of this policy area like few others. However, she is not a heavy-hitting, public-facing chief executive and expecting her to play that role is just daft. Her role is to meet the needs of the Ministers she serves. To date, her whole career has been based on this principle, as is the case for every other civil servant in Whitehall. Asking her to be a vocal spokesperson for the high speed rail in an arena that might see her disagreeing with her Minister contradicts these fundamental principles entirely. It’s just not in the nature of the civil service. In essence, it’s like asking goldfish to be guard dogs.

The issue of HS2 Ltd’s role cropped up at one of the early meetings of the Analytical Challenge panels. Officially, the company was set up to “consider” the case for high speed rail, but it has been unable to provide balanced information and advice, and has effectively turned into a promoter.

This was painfully apparent at the public roadshows, where virtually no space on the display panels, leaflet racks, or computer displays was allocated to non-HS2 choices (not even the government’s “straw man” Rail Packages), the environment, or alternative views of economic impacts. No distinction was made between Department for Transport material, and HS2 Ltd material. From my personal experience, most of the roadshow personnel had only a rudimentary understanding of high speed rail. Even the specialists in attendance exhibited a surprising lack of knowledge outside of their particular subject area.

Setting up a high speed rail project in a silo, separate from the wider transport and economic milieu, was a ridiculous decision that was bound to come unstuck. Transport planning needs to embody a balanced and holistic approach, and the existence of HS2 Ltd, in its present form, is inimical to that objective.

Written by beleben

September 9, 2011 at 4:29 pm

HS2 challenge panels

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Strategic Challenge Panel | Analytical Challenge Panel | Technical Expert Panel |
Consultation Peer Review Group | Meetings

Extract from HS2 Analytical Challenge Panel 17 Aug 2010 minutes - redacted

HS2 Ltd’s website outlines the HS2 project’s External Challenge Groups.

The External Challenge Groups have been set up to ensure that HS2’s approach to High Speed Rail is rigorously scrutinised at every stage. They are comprised of panels of independent experts specialising in the groups’ respective areas of focus and they challenge and reinforce; they will challenge and reinforce HS2’s strategic, technical and analytical approaches.

If you are interested in the work of any of our panels, please contact us on or by any of the methods listed on our contacts page. We respectfully ask that you do not approach any of our panel members directly.

Strategic Challenge Panel

The Strategic Panel provides strategic challenge and an independent perspective on how HS2 develops proposals for a new railway line from London to the West Midlands and potentially beyond. It also scrutinises the proposal themselves and their fit with the strategic objectives.

In particular, the panel will provide views on:

HS2’s overall approach – from option generation to stakeholder involvement – to ensure it is fit for purpose and will ultimately deliver results that are sufficiently robust and comprehensive;
whether all relevant factors, including wider economic impacts, are being taken into account in our sifting and appraisal methodologies to ensure that the outputs are reliable and take account of the wider costs and benefits;
whether the option selection process is both sensible and publicly defensible;
whether the proposals generated are appropriate solutions to our strategic objectives;
HS2’s assessment of corridors for potential development of a high speed line.

Expert Panel Members:

Kate Barker CBE – Monetary Policy Committee Member, Bank of England
Prof. David Begg – Chair of the Northern Way Transport Compact
Richard Brown CBE – Chief Executive, Eurostar
Tony Collins – Chief Executive, Virgin Trains
Iain Coucher – Chief Executive, Network Rail
Stephen Joseph OBE – Executive Director, Campaign for Better Transport
David Leeder – Vice Chair, Commission for Integrated Transport
Sir Michael Lyons – Chairman of the BBC Trust
Anthony Smith – Chief Executive, Passenger Focus
Tony Travers – Director, Greater London Group, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Analytical Challenge Panel

The Analytical Challenge Panel scrutinises HS2’s analytical plan and outputs. In particular it provides advice and scrutiny on the models developed, and of specific issues relating to Wider Economic Benefits.

Analytical Panel Members:

Prof. Robert Cochrane – Transport planner and visiting Professor Imperial College London
Prof. Stephen Glaister CBE – Director of the Royal Automobile Club Foundation and Professor of Transport and Infrastructure, Imperial College London
Prof. Peter Mackie – Research Prof. Institute for Transport Studies, Leeds University
Prof. Henry Overman – Director Spatial Economics Research Centre, LSE
Dr. David Simmonds – Director, David Simmonds Consultancy Ltd
Prof. Roger Vickerman – Director of the Centre for European, Regional and Transport Economics, University of Kent

Technical Expert Panel

The Technical Expert Panel will advise and scrutinise HS2’s engineering, operations and environmental impact work plan. In particular it looks at specific issues relating to the railway systems being considered, the interaction with the existing rail network and the relationship of environment and planning with engineering.

Expert Panel Members:

Ted Allett – Formerly Planning Director of Union Railways and expert on route development, planning and environmental assessment
Mike Ash CBE, MRTPI – Formerly Chief Planner at the Department for Communities and Local Government
Keith Berryman – Engineering Advisor to Crossrail
Clive Burrows FREng – Director of Engineering, First Group
Prof Andy Collop – Head of Civil Engineering Dept at Nottingham University
Alan Dyke – Former Chief Engineer and Managing Director of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Project (HS1), now an Independent Consultant
Prof Robert Mair FREng FRS – Cambridge University
Hugh Norrie OBE FREng – Government’s Agent for Channel Tunnel Rail Link
Prof Roderick Smith FREng – Chair of Future Rail Studies at Imperial College, London and Vice President of the IMechE

Consultation Peer Review Group

The Consultation Peer Review Group webpage does not define its purpose or identify who its members are.


The challenge panels’ meetings with HS2 Ltd have also included staff from other organisations, such as the consultancy company Atkins. However, there are no detailed minutes, and even the names of people attending have been replaced by ‘XXXX’.


[Edit: HS2 Ltd altered the Consultation Peer Review Group page to include the following (as at 23 Feb 2012)]

We set up an independent peer review group to challenge the planning and implementation of our consultations and engagement. Panel members will be independent professionals who have experience of consultations, transport infrastructure projects or communications.

The panel will provide:

feedback on key aspects of our strategy

an independent view

checks that our consultations are fit for purpose, comply with Cabinet office guidelines and are consistent with consultation best practice

advice on consultation delivery

checks to ensure that plans are followed

feedback on response analysis processes

HS2 and Heathrow

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According to the Department for Transport factsheet HSRFCT49, ‘Connecting to Heathrow

Future patterns of economic activity are likely to depend increasingly on international connectivity. Heathrow is the United Kingdom’s only international “hub” airport providing links to a wide range of long-haul destinations. It is vital to the UK’s competitiveness: easy access to Heathrow is often a major factor for business in deciding where to locate.

The Government’s policy is not to allow airports in the South East to increase their runway capacity but to make them operate more effectively within existing capacity. High speed rail could support this, taking traffic from domestic flights which would enable Heathrow to boost its operational resilience and provide opportunities for enhancing its route network.

A direct link would transform the accessibility of Heathrow from the Midlands and the North, bringing Leeds and Manchester within 75 and 70 minutes respectively of Heathrow.

In HS2 phase one (London – Staffordshire/Birmingham, or ‘HS2WM’) there would be only future provision for a link into Heathrow. Air passengers would connect to HS2 at the Old Oak Common interchange served by Crossrail and Heathrow Express. The airport high speed link would only be built with phase two (‘HS2YN’), the Y-shaped network extending to Yorkshire and Lancashire, and would be north-facing, i.e. for use by trains coming from and going to Birmingham and points north of it:

This would allow HS2 services to start at Heathrow and split on route to serve a number of destinations in the Midlands, the North and Scotland. Eventually this spur could be extended to loop back to the main HS2 line so that trains from West Midlands and beyond could call at Heathrow on the way to London.

The factsheet gives the cost of the Heathrow spur as being £2,500,000,000 to £3,900,000,000, but does not say how many passengers would be using it. And there’s no indication of service frequencies to the north, or how much time is saved with the direct link, compared with changing at Old Oak Common. The map in the factsheet is confusing – at the Heathrow end, it shows two different termini for the link, at Heathrow North, and Terminal 5, on separate alignments (no track between them). Whether one or both termini would be built, isn’t clear.

As there is a shortage of runway capacity in the South East, it seems quite odd for government policy to encourage passengers from northern England to use the Heathrow ‘hub’, with a dedicated high speed rail connection. It would seem better to encourage ‘flying locally’ wherever possible. In the United States, point-to-point flights have begun to supplant the hub concept.


  • 5 million journeys a year
  • with the lowest construction cost estimate (£2.5 bn), and
  • 5% as the interest rate applied on money borrowed to fund it,

the cost of each one-way journey on the stage two link (from the junction with the HS2 trunk line, south-west of Rickmansworth, to Heathrow, and vice versa) would be about £25. This doesn’t include any other charges, such as staffing or energy.

Begging the question: what is Yes to High Speed Rail for?

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In Great Britain, the recently established ‘Yes to High Speed Rail‘ (Campaign for High Speed Rail) describes itself as

a campaign, independent from the Government and HS2 Ltd, representing employers from across the country who believe Britain needs a modern, high speed rail network to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

Our case is backed by business people from across the country. Some of these business people employ large numbers of people, some employ just a handful.

No doubt there are many business people across Britain who are opposed to HS2, and many others who are indifferent, but Yes to High Speed Rail isn’t concerned with such details. It’s an uncritical campaign for new build high speed rail, and nuance, factual analysis, and research don’t figure prominently in its outlook. At the time of writing, its website doesn’t mention that Britain already has several high speed rail lines according the definition used by the European Union and International Union of Railways (UIC). The Campaign is focused on new-build very high speed track, and its claim to be “independent from the Government and HS2 Ltd” is overshadowed by its presentation of, and reliance on, official documents produced for the government and HS2 Ltd. For other claims, it offers no evidence at all:

Internationally, the most successful high speed lines have been between cities at similar distances to those the UK is facing, such as the Paris-Lyon line in France and the Frankfurt-Cologne line in Germany. The latter is around 110 miles, the same distance that separates London and Birmingham.

If the Yes to High Speed Rail Campaign thinks the Frankfurt to Cologne high speed line is one of the most successful transport projects of recent times, they need to start doing their homework better. But it looks like they have other priorities. On 24 April 2011 the Guardian reported that

Rail companies have been asked to contribute £10,000 each to a High Speed Two campaign group which has been launched to fight back against a growing anti-HS2 movement.
Professor David Begg, former chairman of engineering firm Tube Lines and non-executive director of airport group BAA, launched the organisation last month following a dinner attended by the transport secretary, Philip Hammond, and senior transport industry figures.

Yes to High Speed Rail and Greengauge 21 are both engaged in campaigning for HS2 to be built, and their positions on a national high speed rail network appear to be extremely similar, if not identical. So why set up another separate operation?

Both campaigns were founded by chiefs of abortive Labour transport quangos after they were wound up (Jim Steer at the Strategic Rail Authority, David Begg at the Commission for Integrated Transport). So it may be a personality thing, with Professor Begg not wanting to play second fiddle to Jim Steer. But because the SRA was wound up and Greengauge 21 set up in 2005/2006, Professor Begg’s outfit is very late to the funding party. The early bird catches the public sector worm.