A Personal Perspective on HS2, part 1

Brian Thompson  |  Published: Mar 18th 2016

Looking Back, a personal perspective – part 1

The HS2 Select Committee did not give us a tunnel and did little to improve our lot, despite our best efforts. Not the result we had been hoping for and I thought it would be useful to review how we landed up in this place  

Originally predicted to cost £37Bn HS2 has now grown to £55.7Bn, so why are we spending this huge amount of money, and why is no one listening to us? I believe we have been failed by the whole process on a number of fronts.

Failure of Democracy.

We live in a democracy where one person one vote is the accepted norm and a strong opposition ensures that the government is held to account. So when David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg agreed HS2 was a jolly good scheme for them our future was doomed. Why?

An effective opposition, key to democracy working, would have meant that the swing vote was only 50 votes or so – convince them that the bill was a waste of money and the bill would fail. However having all parties whip the vote (ie. the political party force their party MPs to tow the line and vote the way the political party leader wants) meant only hard core opposition would count, and they would not be enough. The system failed us because the main party leaders had agreed together on HS2 thus bypassing one of the key checks and balances in the democratic system and acting like a one party state on this issue. 

Equally spin helps them as well. Telling the world it is a National Infrastructure project suggests if you are against it, it is almost an act of treason. Now if it is so important why don’t all the other MPs  care  Well firstly most MPs are busy people and if it does not impact them directly they do not particularly care or have the time to care. Secondly they will read the headlines and accept the ‘establishment’ view and thirdly they may have a job at stake.
The general public have paid little attention primarily because it is so far in the future. It will not be until people’s taxes go up to pay for this that the general public will pay attention. By the time they do it will be too late. Interestingly talking to people off the line, most think it will never happen – in an age of austerity how can anyone waste money on a this particular project.

A survey across the UK showed a majority against HS2 so how can the government ignore them. Well that is quite simple – keep the MPs in line and you can ignore the general public, at least in between elections.

Public Consultations

I expect many of you have responded to the various public consultations on HS2. Is it misnamed? We have been informed , but have we been consulted? Based on our responses what changes have been made to the proposal? I suspect the answer is not a lot leading you to believe it was more of a PR exercise than really consulting.

My premise on this particular project is that with all the major parties supporting it we have had, effectively, a one party state operating. Unfortunately the parallels get stronger when you consider how impacted people along the proposed route have been treated by the Promoter - HS2 Ltd and the DfT. So appallingly has their treatment been of people that the Parliamentary Ombudsman having considered just one specific case has classed it as maladministration.

It is this effective ‘one party state’ approach that has endorsed the government action in walking away from its legal obligations to protect the environment – that is National Parks and AONB’s. A sad day for future generations.

Now with this democratic deficit of not allowing any effective opposition and not allowing a free vote by MPs the government could have decided to protect us by ensuring the mitigation being offered was of the ‘finest’ variety rather than the mere ‘value’ type. Alas it was not to be.

Next month I will address the issues around the Select Committee process.

Brian Thompson

 

Part 2 of this article is online here and will appear in the May Wendover News print edition.

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