HS2: who’s the daddy?
Discussion recently about the rights and wrongs of HS2 has turned to where exactly the political and promotional energy came from that put this scheme on the national agenda, writes Landor publisher and editor-in-chief, Peter Stonham.
Correspondence in our sister print publication Local Transport Today turned in the latest issue(No 703) to some key suspects; with writer Anthony Evans fingering not only Lord Adonis and Jim Steer, but also Gordon Brown and George Osborne.
His letter appears below. Readers are invited to add their own contributions to this discussion.
High-speed rail: an ego-trip for the few movers and shakers
I have enjoyed the correspondence about whose names should be on the plaque when High Speed 2 opens and concur with David Davies’ suggestions of Lord Adonis and Jim Steer (Letters LTT 10 Jun). The suggestion of Stephen Joseph came as a surprise but I understand the point (LTT 08 Jul).
The Guardian’s recent ‘long read’ article about the origins of HS2, written by Simon Jenkins, provide further insights into the question, and leaves the reader wondering how much the technical debates about HS2 – on matters such as demand, impact on the economy, and carbon emissions – really matter. The article is here: http://tinyurl.com/zpzx3x3
Jenkins describes Jim Steer as “a natural buccaneer” who was “captivated by speed” and who “proved adept at winning consultancy contracts anywhere there was a glimmer of interest in fast trains”. Steer, we are told, “understood that the idea of speed could arouse politicians and open purse strings to projects that might otherwise get nowhere”.
Labour transport secretary Lord Adonis had a “boyish enthusiasm for projects” and “leapt on high-speed rail”. He sold the idea of HS2 to then Prime Minister Gordon Brown as a source of “national pride”. Incredibly, Jenkins says that Adonis – who now chairs the National Infrastructure Commission – doesn’t support high-speed rail north of Birmingham! Nor does he support HS2 going to Euston, believing it should terminate at Old Oak Common (Euston is, says Adonis, ‘the poison at the heart of HS2. I bitterly regret not stopping it before I left office’).
Finally we have the former Chancellor, George Osborne, who “like Adonis, had seen Japan’s bullet train and had a weakness for megaprojects, which he viewed as a talisman of a virile, manufacturing oriented-Toryism”.
So there we have it: the key to understanding HS2 is to realise that, in the eyes of its champions, the technology is an end in itself. Arguments about what it will or will not achieve are surely bit of a side-show.