HS2 opponents’ survey points towards road-building
Do opponents of HS2 really support the view we should build more roads instead? Railnews editorial director Alan Marshall takes a closer look at a survey commissioned by HS2AA.
THE anti-HS2 brigade is at it again — asking a selective question and then interpreting the answers to promote its own ends.
The HS2 Action Alliance got Ipsos MORI to ask 1,442 people in an omnibus survey (that is one in which many questions are asked about a wide range of subjects): “The Government is trying to boost the economy and is considering major infrastructure investment. Which one of these, if any, do you think is the best way of boosting the economy?”
The options given to respondents were (in alphabetical order, with the responses in brackets) — build a new high speed rail line (4%); build more homes (40%); improve airport capacity (5%); improve and extend high speed broadband (8%); improve existing rail infrastructure (14%); improve existing road infrastructure (20%); none of these (5%); don’t know (3%).
Based on these results, the HS2AA has now taken whole page advertisements in Total Politics and New Statesman magazines to highlight the results, which HS2AA claims are “pretty clear cut” — “Sandwiched between ‘Don’t know’ and ‘None of these’ the building of a high-speed rail line polled a paltry 4%. Considering its cost to the taxpayer of £33bn, not to mention the £1bn being spent in this parliament alone – it’s a massive public investment with minimal returns and little public backing.”
Indeed, HS2AA’s press release went even further, and carried the heading “Public Rejects [sic] a New High Speed Rail Line as Best Method of Boosting the Economy.”
This really is ‘spinning’ how people responded, since they were not asked what options they rejected, but to say which ONE SINGLE OPTION (and only one of those offered) would be the best way of boosting the economy.
HS2 and the economy
Yet I am unaware that anyone has ever suggested that building HS2 alone (to provide more rail network capacity) to be THE ONLY way of boosting the economy — rather, it is one of a range of projects that many people consider are together necessary to help boost the economy.
It is also necessary to ask why — after the preamble “The government is trying to boost the economy and is considering major infrastructure investment” — one of the options offered to respondents (and which proved to be the most popular) was “Build more homes” when housing (also schools and hospitals) are not counted as infrastructure.
Our overall infrastructure in Britain compares badly with many other developed countries and the National Infrastructure Plan anticipates investing HALF A TRILLION pounds (£500 billion) between 2010 and 2020 — and that does not include any investment in housing (which, according to Ipsos MORI’s survey for HS2AA, is the public’s preferred option!).
Of that £500 billion, the most that is likely to be spent by 2020 on HS2 — on the initial design work and legislative process, on acquiring the necessary land, paying compensation and on starting some of the early construction — might be about £10 billion . . . or just TWO per cent of the total expected taxpayers’ investment in renewing or improving the nation’s infrastructure.
It has always amazed me that HS2’s opponents have tried to focus on the full ‘Y’ network’s estimated cost over 16 years — an average of about £2 billion a year, the same as that being invested now each year in major rail enhancement schemes such as Thameslink and Crossrail, but without any major complaint or opposition. Perhaps it is because most of HS2’s principal objectors come from along, or close to, the proposed line of route.
Incidentally, little of the National Infrastructure Plan’s investment is likely to be spent on roads, even though 20 per cent of those interviewed for HS2AA by Ipsos MORI said improving existing road infrastructure is the best way of boosting the economy. Road building hardly features in the Government’s future plans — not least because of our obligations under international treaties to massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for which road transport is the largest single source.
And, anyway, as I have written before, people are increasingly driving less, young people are not taking up driving and they, like many older people, too, are traveling ever more by train, while more of the population is moving back into cities, which are ideally served by rail.
Working from home
And if any new roads are built, they are likely to become subject to some form of tolling or road pricing, which may well be extended more widely since the decline in road use — together with the improving efficiency of internal combustion engines that results in reduced fuel consumption — will see the Government’s revenue from vehicle excise duty and fuel taxes steadily decline, and will have to be somehow replaced.
Finally, it is very interesting to observe that — while HS2’s opponents have long argued there is no need for the project because modern technology means people don’t need to travel and can work at home — only eight per cent of respondents to the Ipsos MORI survey thought that improving and extending high speed broadband was the best way to boost the economy.