16 Feb 2012
HS2 - exactly what is not required
80% of Britain's population lives within an area south of Leeds-Manchester and east of the Welsh border. Most of the rest is concentrated into two outliers, the Newcastle-Sunderland and Edinburgh-Glasgow conurbations.
The largest conurbation in Britain is Greater London, which can be defined in various ways, such as the area inside the M25. However, as an economic area, it can be considered to take in Reading, Oxford, Luton, Cambridge, Southend and Brighton. The second conurbation is that centred on Birmingham, whilst the third takes in Liverpool, Manchester, and arguably, Leeds. In between the conurbations are numerous towns with populations of between 100,000 and 250,000, roughly 30 miles apart. Since 1960, the tendency has been for these places to spread and join up, so that, for example, it could be argued that London and Birmingham are on the way to becoming a single conurbation. Also since 1960, the predominant forms of residential and commercial development have been on the assumption that they will have access by private car. Thus, in order to get to work and maintain their job opportunties, as well as to perform regular household tasks like shopping, people have been obliged to run one, and often more, cars per household, leading to very high levels of car ownership and use.
Such a pattern of development gives rise to a particular pattern of travel, with a myriad of different journeys being made, many of which would be very difficult to serve by public transport in any form. Nevertheless, people are continuing to live and work in towns and their travel habits could be catered for by public transport if the services were available. What is needed here is a system that provides the maximum journey opportunities. A high speed line between major centres, not stopping en route, is exactly what is not required. The right configuration is not a trunk but a net. Much of this could be achieved by reinstating lines closed under Beeching, with good connections where the routes cross.
If there is a case for high speed rail at all, it is to serve the outlying centres of Tyne and Wear, and the Scottish lowland belt. To maximise the benefit, construction should start from Scotland, where the obstacles are fewest, the potential benefits greatest, and where the routes could be brought into revenue-earning use long before 2026.
One has to wonder what kind of planning methodology was used to generate this proposal?