At the GLA’s London Assembly, Transport Committee meeting last summer when we investigate the issues around HS2 for London we did not get any representative from HS2 to come along to justify such a major investment even though invited to do so. This when we are quite accustom now to getting Ministers in front of us at our various meetings on London specific issues. So l was keen to see them making their efforts with the community most affected by the proposals inLondon, Euston & Primrose Hill. But there were some real obstacles to getting to the Euston Forum, quite literally. Including only knowing about the event through word of mouth. Even then like many l turned up uninvited to small community hall only to be greeted by a big fellow dressed in black outside. It felt like getting into a night club, with a bouncer outside with a guest-list. Indeed one of the major issues at the beginning of the meeting was who was invited or not and why the apparent secrecy including the exclusion of the local papers.
Lets face it HS2 did themselves no favours by not coming out before the Secretary of States decision to proceed to convince local communities of its need and in particularly why Euston was the favoured terminus in London. This of course would have meant entering the lions den particularly in Camden but nonetheless shown some commitment to informing local communities of what’s being proposed and how the route had been drawn up in the first place. Alas at these meetings we were still stuck at first base on this front, as unsurprisingly members of the community kept asking about how could it all be justified in the first place. Just maybe if HS2 had bothered to turn up to meetings when invited locally and acrossLondon, it would have helped the meetings it subsequently set up as its community and planning forums.
Understandably as a result we had a host of issues arising at both forums from whether we should have had an independent chair for the forums; the terms of reference for the meetings; detailed civil engineering concerns like positioning of shafts along the tunnel route ; damage to urban green areas like St James Gardens and if any assessment of environmental impacts had been made; and not least the compensation to businesses and homes blighted and destroyed by HS2. A whole array of important issues to address but no structure to deal with them all has been found at these meetings. It just appeared to me that the Department of Transport, the main sponsor of the HS2 had not even learnt the lessons of other major infrastructural projects like Crossrail going through London.
Furthermore on day of the Primrose Hill to Kilburn Community Form, the business case for HS2 has been undermined by figures revealed by the NAO that HS1 passengers numbers are a third lower than forecasted particularly of international passengers and thus based on “hugely optimistic assumptions”. Are the projected users of HS2 similarly over optimistic, ones asks oneself? This when we already have the Financial Times(FT) & the Economist magazine already doubting the finances of the whole project and the need for it from a business perspective. On top of being told in such austere times, government spending has to be reined in and brought down, this arm of HS2 is already the most difficult and expensive part of the whole proposal running from Old Oak Common to Euston. It clearly is not being told to do that with special projects like HS2. This while in February the Chancellor, George Osborne was trying to flog off HS2 project to the Chinese on a business trip toBeijingand widely quoted in the FT as one of a number of projects he offered to them to invest in UK plc.
Having now attended two HS2 Community Forums, it tells me everything about how not to conduct community and planning consultations on major infrastructural investments. So it is any wonder HS2 are being taken to judicial review by Camden Council and others with their failure to consult properly on the route; not fully consider impact on underground capacity at Euston; and inadequate environment information as the strategic environment assessment has not yet been carried out. This is clearly going to be a long battle.