Home >> News >> 2011 >> Sep >> LIB DEM CONFERENCE - HS2- Transport Minister Norman Baker concedes impact will be greater in Camden than Chilterns
LIB DEM CONFERENCE - HS2- Transport Minister Norman Baker concedes impact will be greater in Camden than Chilterns
Published: 22 September 2011
by RICHARD OSLEY
LIBERAL Democrats have been in the thick of trying to persuade their colleagues in government to abandon plans for the high-speed rail link threatening to demolish a trail through Camden.
The High Speed Two (HS2) link has been branded a “vanity project” and, due to the Lib Dems’ glowing support, at least one of their big names on the front bench has been accused of being “in thrall” to the party’s Conservative partners in the coalition government.
Transport Minister Norman Baker infuriated the delegation from north London by claiming that opponents were conjuring up “spurious” objections.
A chink of light for those lobbying for a rethink came late on Tuesday night, however, when Mr Baker was openly challenged in front of his supporters at a fringe meeting.
He was forced to concede for the first time that the potential disruption in the first few miles of the HS2 route – particularly around Euston – may not have been fully appreciated at a government level. He pledged to look again at concerns.
“I’m sympathetic to Camden,” Mr Baker said.
“I don’t think the issue of Camden has been heard in the papers as much as the issue of the Chilterns has been. That may be because the people in the Chilterns are by and large better connected. We have taken great steps to deal with the Chilterns.”
Members from Camden have used their week here at conference in Birmingham to try to secure promises that the London end of the HS2 line will get a full review.
This week away is often a time when rank-and-file members from all sections get their worries about party policy and its direction off their chests in open meetings – or at the very least in private sessions.
But the Lib Dem national leadership has been relaxed enough to joke that they have felt suspicious about the lack of dissent among coffee-break gossipers.
Members from Camden have not been so easy on the government.
Group leader Keith Moffitt, former leader Flick Rea and Cantelowes ward councillor Paul Braithwaite all gave television interviews at the canalside International Conference Centre directly opposing the coalition government on HS2, which is essentially one of its flagship policies.
The criticism is centred on what the effects on Camden will be, but delegates from north London have revealed wider reservations about a scheme which will cost at least £30 billion to construct.
At a time of cuts to public services, the willingness to spend so much has mystified cynics.
The number of different rail routes to the conference itself, with trains arriving at Birmingham’s three mainline stations, has left London delegates wondering whether the need is as great as the government has suggested.
Cllr Braithwaite has possibly been the most vocal.
He said: “I am saddened that our Lib Dem Transport Minister, who is responsible for encouraging more sustainable transport, was so unquestionably in thrall to [Transport Secretary] Philip Hammond’s ill-conceived, obscenely expensive vanity project.”
While nationally, all three main parties are in favour of the project, they have raised concerns locally, albeit with varying force.
The Labour council was accused earlier this year of dithering over what stance to take, with the claim that senior figures felt the possible regeneration rewards around Euston were too tantalising to dismiss.
The project, after all, began life during the Labour government.
But the demolition of existing housing estates has made the scheme hard to stomach for even the most ambitious councillors.
Holborn and St Pancras Labour MP Frank Dobson has been vehemently opposed. About 400 council homes could be wiped out by the construction work as the track beats a way north through the borough.
Sceptics have grumbled that worries in Conservative areas have been more speedily addressed during the planning stage, particularly in the Chilterns.
The issue came to a head at conference on Tuesday night when Mr Baker and Cllr Braithwaite locked horns at a fringe meeting which had essentially been organised to celebrate the plans to build HS2.
The meeting on the first floor at the Jury’s Inn, organised by transport provider Keolis, was packed with HS2 supporters.
When asked if anybody was against the scheme, only two hands were raised – one being Cllr Braithwaite’s.
Against a background sound of clinking knives and forks as those present ate plates of roast beef and sautéed vegetables from their laps, Mr Baker set out why he was so enthusiastic about the new rail line.
“We simply haven't got enough space for the demand, we haven’t got the capacity,” he said. “It is not an option to fiddle around with the west coast main line again, nor the east coast main line for that matter.
“You end up with the idea that you need a new line and if you are going to have a new line the cost of it is only marginally more if you have it high speed than if you have it conventional speed.
If you have high speed, you start attracting people who wouldn’t normally be attracted to the railways. Rail is having a renaissance in terms of high speed. There are also economic development benefits.”
He added: “You start reducing journey times and people start saying: ‘Hang on a minute, why am I taking the plane?’ and you start making inroads into that market.
What does concern me is that people who have legitimate concerns about the route are not saying this is affecting me personally or affecting my land.
I don’t mind them saying that. But what they are saying is this doesn’t make economic sense or it’s bad for carbon. They are finding spurious reasons to oppose.”
But when the session was opened up to the floor, Cllr Braithwaite challenged him over the wisdom of the project.
“I really don’t think the business case stacks up and I certainly don’t think the carbon case is congruent with our climate change agenda,” said Cllr Braithwaite. “I suggest Camden is the worst affected of the local authorities. Camden has Euston, which will turn into ground zero
“This is not an affluent group with gardens to protect or nimbyism. This is the destruction of a community.”
This led Mr Baker to concede: “I think the impact, in so far as we can identify if the line goes ahead as proposed, is greater in Camden, at the London end, than it is at the Chilterns. There are demolition issues in the Camden end that need to be addressed.
I’ve never committed myself publicly or anywhere else to the route. I am personally open to options that deal with London as sympathetically as possible.”
HS2 will begin at Euston and head to the Midlands. In later years, the route is planned to go further north and even possibly to Scotland. If approved, the line will take about eight years to build and will open around 2025.
A Y-shape route splitting at Birmingham and forking to Leeds and Manchester is currently under discussion.
The complaints from Camden, however, are now stretching beyond the immediate worry about what will happen to Euston and areas around Kilburn, where a shaft will be installed. Cllr Moffitt confirmed the Lib Dem group in Camden had concerns about the entire plan.
NO MORE HS2Submitted by Anonymous on Fri, 2011-09-30 12:58.
I have enough, totally. I am getting taxed more and kept being asked to reach into my wallet for even more money and now the govt is proposing on spending £30bn on a vanity project.
I live in Camden and the only thing left that is a major asset to us is our houses or homes and the govt is proposing to turn a quiet neighbourhood in Chalk Farm, Camden into a busy thoroughfare and rumbling of trains through people's homes including mine and my local MP, Glenda Jackson is oblivious and totally arrogant to the plights of her constituents.
But it can be altered slightly, tweaked slightly so that it doesn't go through the expensive houses of the Milliband brothers and other celebraties, but I guess who gives a monkeys for those council houses or ordinary middle class folks like me that are paying taxes?
HS2Submitted by Anonymous on Sat, 2011-09-24 18:52.
I'm shocked. the affluent Tory-voting shires have been listened to more than council hous dwellers in Camden! Is this the England in which I have grown up or some strange other dimension?
Imagine how much the whole rail network would be improved for ALL users if this amount of money was invested sensibly.
It is needed NowSubmitted by Anonymous on Sat, 2011-09-24 16:07.
HS2 is not a vanity project but an very important investment in the railway network. The new line will increase the capacity and therefore bring investment in the UK economy.
HS2Submitted by Anonymous on Fri, 2011-09-23 11:31.
Congratulations to Cllr. Braithwaite and his colleagues for challenging Norman Baker's unthinking commitment to HS2. Baker and his boss Philip Hammond refuse to engage in any dialogue about the alternative solutions to rail capacity needs.
A detailed plan, A better Railway for Britain (www.betterthanhs2.org ) shows how forseeable demand can be met by better management of existing lines and targeted investments to relieve pinch points, as recommended by the independent Eddingto Report in 2006 and reinforced by the McNulty Report this year. This is common sense, not 'tinkering' (note the 'smear' language typical of the HS2 supporters.)
High speed Rail was supposed to be part of the Government plans for a low-carbon economy. HS2 will increase carbon emissions by attracting most of its traffic from conventional rail (which is more energy efficient) and generating new traffic, if the business case is to be believed.
And to claim that HS2 has "taken great steps to deal with the Chilterns" is nonsense - ask the poeple who live there (like me)! What they have done is design the most expensive High Speed line in the world by trying to minimise the effect of driving an unnecessary line through an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
HS2Submitted by Anonymous on Fri, 2011-09-23 09:42.
I am one of the perceived well off types living near the Chilterns with a huge house, grounds and expensive car.. except, the only thing that is true is that I live near the Chilterns in the Vale of Aylesbury. I am just an average person, working to make ends meet etc but I am pasionately against HS2. Of course I am horrified at the damage it will do the Chilterns and indeed all areas the planned line will pass through but I also cannot understand why it is thought a good idea to spend at least £35bn on a project that will benefit so few.
This country has one of the most comprehensive rail networks in the world, if there are no links between places then building one can generate economic activity but to suggest HS2 will bring such benefits as bridging the so called North South divide is frankly ridiculous. Only yesterday, it was announced that the expensive project to build large regional centres for the emergency services was to be scrapped after billions had been wasted and I am sure at the instigation of this, it was lauded as a fantastic project but again ang again the politicians get it wrong.
HS2 is a bad, expensive idea of little benefit that will adversly affect many people for many years. It must be scrapped!
HS2 is not neededSubmitted by Anonymous on Fri, 2011-09-23 09:37.
Improvements to the routes to Birmingham have meant faster times now serving local communities now. HS2 does not serve local communities only London and Birmingham. HS2 Routes to the North will again not serve local communities and not be implemented for 20 or 30 years.
Have a try with Magnetic Levitation UK Ultraspeed has said it could build trial Lengths now with Government Authorisation but not money. They could indeed provide a service to all the HS2 stations at half the cost the journeys would be much faster 500KPH rather than 300KPH, much quieter very quiet at 200KPH through urban areas, much more environmentally friendly as they acelerate and brake much more quickly and are capable of climbing much steeper gradients. A Trial route could be built between Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool now dispending with the necessity for a Y route from Birmingham in 20 time. MAGLEV is 21st century technology operating successfully in Shanghai and proposed in Japan we don't want to go back to 19th century technology with all its ongoing maintenance issues and costs.
HS2 has no Business case, is environmentally disastrous and there is no money to pay for it.
NO TO HS2Submitted by Anonymous on Fri, 2011-09-23 09:07.
This proposed line will do untold damage to communities and wildlife sites that nobody seems to care about.The promise of a few trees does not begin to address.The area on the outskirts of Birmingham may not be the most beautiful to look at now ,but it will be a nightmare to live in.This project would have quietly been put forward had it not been for a few ,who happened to be in living in the Chiltens who bought it to the notice of the rest of ares affected.So when we asked questions all we got as an answer was You are Nimbies.Then we had road shows,when we asked questions we got 'I dont know for answers.This huge project that will cost the taxpayers a
vast amount of money when schools and hospitals need upgrading.When the elderly and disabled are suffering cut backs.They havent done the reasearch to check what damage it will do to the water tables in the chalk.!
The amount of co2 used in construction of this monstosity would not even make its running carbon neutral for a very long time.It will not cut flight travel as there is not a service from London to Birmingham infact there was talk that it would encourage people to trael on it to Birmingham to fill empty capacity.Please look carefully behind the facard of the shiney new toy and see that the costs do not add up favourably.
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