High speed alone is not enough
Building new high speed lines on their own is simply not enough: They need to be integrated with regional regeneration plans and greatly enhanced local transport connections in order to ensure their benefits are widely spread.
That was the main message of the Independent Transport Commission’s latest London symposium meeting reviewing the spatial effects of high speed rail. The event, which brought together over 60 leading experts from many different fields, heard presentations from Professor Sir Peter Hall (University of Central London), David Prout (Director-General, HSR, Department for Transport), Dominique Laousse (Head of Innovation & Foresight, SNCF), and John Worthington (Project Chairman and ITC Commissioner).
The meeting was held in the Alan Baxter Gallery and opened by ITC Chairman Simon Linnett.
While the main focus was HS2, it was felt that the main lessons to be learned were applicable to high speed rail generally.
Professor Hall began by saying that HS2 must not be self contained. ‘It has to be combined with regional regeneration, otherwise the benefits will not be evenly spread. The links in the northwest are particularly bad at the moment, especially those between Manchester and Burnley, for example, and compare unfavourably with those in the southeast like London to Reading. The peripheral areas have to be brought into the picture and must be properly connected.’
Hall was effusive in his praise for the French model, and cited two towns in different parts of the country to make his point.
‘The TGV/LGV network has been extended to the extremities and connects with Montpelier in the south. This is now the fastest growing area in France, and has consequently seen major urban investment. The TGV, link, however, was not enough. The key to success was the excellent tramway and other excellent public transport feeder links which brought everything together.
‘Take Montpelier Line 3, for instance. This created a new five kilometre long north/south growth corridor covering 2,500 square metres. The ensuing development resulted in over 6,000 new homes, 75,000m2 of new office space, and over 40,000m2 of new public buildings, all mainly outside the central city area.
‘Lille, in the north, is another town that has benefited from similar treatment. Modernisation of its ancient 100 year old tramway system, plus an automated metro and feeder buses have transformed this once industrial town into a service city.’
Hall was keen to emphasise that these results were the outcome of a more interventionist transport policy (of the kind practiced in France).
Capacity, not speed the main issue
The purpose of the meeting was not to debate the pros and cons of building HS2, but to see how the benefits should be maximised and extended to other parts of the country.
According to DfT’s David Prout, capacity is a key issue. ‘Fifty per cent of all rail freight goes by the West Coast Main Line, Britain’s busiest trunk route. There is little if any capacity for additional long distance passenger services so new construction is really the only feasible option. Between London and Birmingham, HS2 will have the capacity of two six lane motorways, so it should make a huge difference. North of Birmingham, it will greatly improve links to Manchester, Leeds and beyond.’
Prout was particularly scathing about the poor and badly researched arguments articulated by some of the scheme’s leading opponents. In particular, he singled out recent scaremongering reports about the number of homes requiring demolition to make way for the route. ‘These are irresponsible comments and far in excess of the actual number of houses involved,’ he says.
‘For example, we estimate the total number of residential demolitions in North London (Holborn, St Pancras, Hampstead and Kilburn) will be 209, and 327 for the whole of Phase One (to Birmingham), or 691 if commercial properties are also included. Some press sources say 600 homes will be destroyed in Camden alone, which is completely wrong.’
Nonetheless the spatial effects will still be considerable. ‘Construction will have a major physical impact, but will create between 25,000 and 50,000 jobs. It will change the economic geography of the country. Phase 1 (London to Birmingham) is all about capacity, but phase 2 (the northern extension) is concerned with greater connectivity and linking up with other parts of the country. The scheme will also make HS2 a major landowner.’
ITC is still collating evidence from a variety of sources. The final report will be published early next year.