Sunday, April 25, 2010

High Speed 2

First things first.

I live in the beautiful Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire, to the North West of London. Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and part of the Green Belt, supposedly safeguarded land.

I like where I live, and moved here for some very specific reasons which include peace & quiet, natural beauty and an abundance of Flora and Fauna. I particularly like the fact that I live in an area that packs in an unbelievable number of Red Kites.

Recently the current government announced its plans for 'High Speed 2', a high speed train line to link London with Birmingham and eventually cities further North. The preferred route will head through West London before diving into a tunnel just before the M25, traveling underground for several miles before emerging to desecrate the landscape somewhere in the Great Missenden area. The line would then continue through the AONB towards Aylesbury and then on towards Birmingham.

The total width of the line and associated workings will be approximately 25 metres wide - the same as the length of a typical municipal swimming pool.

This afternoon I traveled on a Chiltern Railways train from Aylesbury to Amersham - the stretch of line between Wendover, Great Missenden and Amersham passes through some fantastic scenery. The thought of that countryside being forever blighted by a 25 metre wide concrete scar, with electric pylons and express trains passing through every two and a half minutes is not something that fills me with glee. Many people feel the same.

As the proposed route is the preferred choice of the existing Labour government, it is natural that their manifesto has the most specific detail on the proposals. Explicitly it says:

Rebuilding our transport infrastructure

Britain needs to invest in modern, high-capacity and low-carbon transport infrastructure. At the heart of our growth plan is the commitment to a new high-speed rail line, linking North and South. Built in stages, the initial line will link London to Birmingham, Manchester, the East Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds, and then to the North and Scotland. By running through-trains from day one, cities including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Liverpool will also be part of the initial network. Journey times will be slashed – those from the West Midlands to London will be as little as 31 minutes. We will consult fully on legislation to take forward our high-speed rail plans within the next Parliament.

I am not overly keen on the proposed route tearing up and through, as it will, a relatively nice part of the South East of our Green and Pleasant Land. I will admit to breathing a sigh of relief that none of the three preferred routes in the HS2 Report cut through or near the valley where I live. Call me a nimby if you like.

The Conservative Party's election manifesto states:
We will begin work immediately on a high speed rail line connecting London and Heathrow with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, with construction beginning in 2015, as the first step towards our vision of a national network joining up cities across England, Scotland and Wales. Stage two will deliver two new lines bringing the North East, Scotland and Wales into our high speed rail network.

What worries me about this is the directly stated intention to connect HS2 to Heathrow Airport. The reason this causes me concern is the lack of specifics on the stated route that such a line would follow - one possibility is that from being a reasonably content but unhappy nimby, I would become an "Oh my God you've got to knock my house down" nimby. That is not a good position to be in. A level of ambiguity and uncertainty that leads me to dislike a Conservative manifesto pledge.

The Liberal Democrats' transport policy is exceedingly wishy washy on HS2 simply stating:

Only the Liberal Democrats have costed plans to put the passenger first, with plans for a rail renaissance, reopening closed railway lines and new stations and building a High Speed Network to cut journey times to Scotland and the north of England.

So, I have previously been open about my political leanings. I need to cast a vote inside of two weeks. What difference will my single vote make in the context of a relatively safe-seat parliamentary constituency?

I know which political party I believe will be best for the country. I know which party's view is least worst for me on HS2. I know which is potentially the worst for me, and I know which one says nothing to help me form any opinion.

Conundrum, conundrum.

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