Following media reports today that Patrick McLoughlin, the new Secretary of State for Transport, might reconsider the route of HS2 if the Department’s Aviation Inquiry recommends a third runway at Heathrow (see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9576183/HS2-rail-line-could-be-re-routed-to-Heathrow.html), Michael Fabricant has written to the Secretary of State asking him to pause progress on HS2 and to instruct HS2 to consider alternative routes that would, among other things, avoid Staffordshire.
Michael Fabricant says “Patrick McLoughlin is a no nonsense politician as has been demonstrated over his decision on the West Coast Mainline franchise. Having worked closely with him over a number of years in the Government Whips’ Office, he is very aware of the issues facing Lichfield and HS2. With news that he might also taking a similarly practical approach regarding the possible integration of Heathrow and HS2, now was the time to write.”
The content of the letter to Patrick McLoughlin now follows:-
As you might imagine, I was intrigued to read reports today that you might reroute HS2 if the Department’s Aviation Inquiry decides to develop the runways at London Heathrow. This has to be the logical way forward.
As you know, the present route of HS2 – determined under a Labour administration – seems to have been designed to be as damaging to the environment as it possibly can. It is not just the Chilterns that are badly affected. Previously unscarred countryside in Staffordshire will now be damaged not only by the line itself but, in my constituency alone, by a 100m square transformer station and associated pylons, a number of smaller transformer stations, and at least two 250m square construction sites. And this is just Phase 1. When the route north to Manchester is announced, it will herald a path of further destruction in my constituency and beyond.
This is wholly unacceptable to me and to my constituents.
While previous Secretaries of State have tried to mitigate the damage HS2 will cause in Lichfield, it still seems incredible to me that we abandoned a route which we adopted in Opposition, using the M40 and other existing transport corridors which would have minimised the environmental impact of the line, only to adopt a route which some might say was designed to upset as many environmentalists (let alone Conservative councils) as possible. And you will be aware that Mark Bostock who designed HS1 shares these views and believes that an alternative route is eminently possible.
It also seems extraordinary to me that HS2 will use an isolated and dedicated station in Birmingham expecting commuters to trudge with baggage between that station and Birmingham New Street station to reach connecting trains. If HS2’s model is that the majority of commuters will not wish to link with the rest of the rail network and that HS2 journeys will all be taken exclusively on the high speed network, it is flawed. If the high speed network is to be a success, it must be fully integrated with the existing rail network.
While I recognise that both the Coalition Government and the Labour Opposition are united in support of the construction of a high speed rail network, no-one will thank us if it is undertaken a botched manner.
Alternative routes that have been suggested by engineers include the M40 route northward, along the M6 and into Birmingham New Street, then north out of Birmingham following the route of the M6 into Manchester. Continental European countries have all planned their high speed networks to follow existing railway lines and motorways. They have far smaller population densities than that of the United Kingdom which makes that policy even more urgent here.
And engineering assumptions made by HS2 are already out of date! One major constraint on the line’s route has been the need for it to be as straight as possible which, it has been argued, has prevented HS2 from hugging the route of existing rail lines and motorways. But Hitachi and other companies are already working on high speed and ultra high speed tilting trains which would enable the track to follow existing transport corridors.
I urge you to pause the progress of HS2 legislation, have regard to the findings of Judicial Reviews currently underway with respect to the Department’s handling of the HS2 consultation, and use this delay to ask HS2 to consider alternative routes that would minimise environmental damage to previously unscarred countryside and would better integrate HS2 with the existing rail network.