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HS2 and GPEW Autumn conference 2021

It’s time for the GPEW Autumn Conference, this year in Birmingham. There are online workshops on 18th-21st October and hybrid in-person and online sessions at the Eastside Rooms on 22nd-24th October.

HS2 is the subject of two motions that we’d like supporters and those with an open mind to consider:

  • Motion D15 calls for party support for direct engagement with HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport to make HS2 work for our Green agenda – a Green HS2 not a Tory HS2. We want you to support this one.
  • Motion E09, on the contrary, calls for work on HS2 to be stopped immediately because there is no case for it. We say you should reject this one.

Both these motions are the subject of a workshop on Friday 22nd October: Workshop 2, 12:00 – 13:15, Room 8. (Full conference timetable is here: https://www.paperturn-view.com/?pid=MTk191739&v=3). Please attend this workshop if you can.

Read on to see why we recommend you vote best voting options for our sustainable transport future.

Motion D15 – Engage Positively with HS2 Ltd and the DfT

Text of motion D15

We’d like you to SUPPORT this motion.

This motion asks Conference to support and authorise our elected representatives and spokespeople who are trying to do just that, by campaigning for improvements in the scheme and the way HS2 Ltd are delivering it.

The motion is in the the Conference agenda here: https://www.paperturn-view.com/?pid=MTk191370&p=107&v=2

The background paper explaining the rationale for this motion is on Spaces here: https://spaces.greenparty.org.uk/s/autumn-conference-2021-agenda-forum/?contentId=72286 (for GPEW members only – you’ll need to log in). One of the key justifications is that there’s huge scope for HS2 to promote our existing Green policy goals, as expressed in our Transport policy statements.

The HS2 project is under way and we aren’t going to stop it. But there’s plenty we can do to influence it for the better – to make it a Green HS2, not a Tory HS2.

why is there a problem?

The trouble is, at the moment the Party’s position on the very existence of HS2 is very confused. We (rightly) support the idea of north-south high speed railways, but we (paradoxically) oppose the one actually being built.

This means we’re in a bind: without looking hypocritical, the Party can’t speak with a loud clear voice to HS2 Ltd to behave responsibly with affected habitats and communities, to design the railway so it’s accessible to all, or to link it properly with local active and public transport at stations.

Nor can we lobby the Department for Transport to plan the most effective use of the capacity freed up on the classic railway network, to set fares and levies to encourage travellers to use the train rather than the car or plane, or to invest in other new railways that build on the connections and capacity that HS2 brings.

Decisions are being made without us

We have Green councillors along the route of HS2 in places such as Solihull, where the new Interchange station is being built. They are already dealing with HS2 Ltd to:

  • force them to work considerately with local people to limit habitat destruction and disturbance during construction
  • link the new station properly with local buses, trams and cycling / walking routes and reduce dependency on access by car
  • reduce the amount of car parking and improve the cycle and bus facilities.

But they are having to work on their own, without backing from the Party nationally. Their voice is lessened.

And there’s no constructive pressure from the Party’s parliamentarians and spokespeople to hold HS2 to account for its poor record on community engagement and slipshod approach to habitat preservation and enhancement.

There are big decisions being made in Government about HS2 and other railway investments that rely on HS2, which will be transformative in their areas:

  • The Eastern leg of Phase 2b of HS2 is under threat. Even if you are opposed to HS2 as an idea, once it’s being built it makes best sense to build it all. The Eastern leg is the part that generates most of the connectivity benefits across the East Midlands and the North. We’ve already committed to the bulk of the woodland loss and the heavy engineering of the big viaducts, tunnels and stations for Phases 1, 2a and 2b West. If we snip off the Eastern leg, we have all that cost and environmental loss, but miss out on the best benefit: a transformation of railway provision for the deprived East Midlands and Yorkshire.
  • Northern Powerhouse Rail, a big scheme for the North which uses HS2 track and stations for its own high-speed cross-Pennine services and builds on the capacity that HS2 frees up around Leeds and on the Midland and East Coast mainlines to offer new trains, a more frequent and reliable service and faster journey times across the North.
  • Midlands Engine Rail, which plans massive improvements in services in and through Birmingham and other Midlands cities, using space at Birmingham stations and on the main lines freed up by the express trains being replaced by HS2 services. We could fight for this scheme and the other public transport links
  • Improvements to the freight network to maximise the benefits from main line capacity being freed up for more rail freight trains.

But national party figures can’t make constructive Green suggestions that would make these decisions as sustainable as they can be and further our party’s transport objectives. Rather than active participants in the discussions and campaigning about these issues, they are just snipers from the sidelines.

So, with authorisation from Conference, what could senior and elected Party representatives be doing?

Engaging with HS2 Ltd

A lot of HS2’s behaviours and outcomes are not yet set in stone and can be impacted positively by Green campaigning. Rather than simply calling for HS2 to be scrapped (which is NOT going to happen, however loudly we shout it), our representatives and spokespeople could be:

  • Actively engaging with HS2 Ltd to ensure that they treat the habitats they impact with the care they have promised. This means achieving a net gain of biodiversity, not just no net loss. It means enhancing provision for wildlife corridors and crossings to reduce habitat severance. It means proper mitigation measures for habitat loss, particularly to sensitive species such as Barn Owls.
  • Working with HS2 Ltd to get community engagement and involvement in habitat restoration activities. Local people need to be consulted and encouraged to become custodians of their local new habitat – just as they would with any rewilding scheme.
  • Ensuring HS2 Ltd uses very best engineering practice to reduce the amount of embodied carbon in its construction – particularly concrete and steel.
  • Ensuring HS2 Ltd records and reports its actual embodied carbon, so it’s clear whether it is meeting its forecasts.
  • Pressuring HS2 Ltd to ensure that design decisions emphasise the long-term climate benefits over any short-term thinking. HS2 is an asset designed to last more than 120 years: the Party should object to any attempt to penny-pinch now that would reduce these benefits. Cases in point are the design of Euston station and the construction of the Eastern leg.
  • Getting involved with the design of stations and their local transport links. At the moment HS2 seem to think a lot of people will drive to their stations to take the train, so have provided big access roads and massive car parks. This emphasis should be shifted to favour public and active transport.
  • Ensuring HS2 Ltd makes proper provision on the trains for cycles and mobility aids. There is a massive opportunity to make the train + bike combination a standard way of doing long-distance multi-modal journeys, including for people with reduced mobility.

ENGAGING with Government

It’s the Government that has to make key decisions on how HS2 will work and how it fits into the broader transport policy landscape. These can have a big impact on how sustainable our transport is in coming decades.

At the moment our parliamentarians’ and senior members’ only contribution to these decisions is to call for the whole of HS2 to be scrapped. This is missing a massive opportunity to influence it. With the support of Conference, they could be arguing for:

  • Investment in the public transport schemes in the Midlands and the North that make use of the released capacity HS2 offers. Midlands Engine Rail integrates with HS2 to offer better train services across the Midlands and into Wales: more frequent, more reliable, more places served. Northern Powerhouse Rail includes new high-speed trans-Pennine links as well as greatly improved services centred on Leeds and Sheffield. These schemes are under threat from Government penny-pinching – Greens should support them in full. HS2 gives a massive opportunity for the improvement and expansion of local rail services.
  • A fares regime that makes HS2 the cheapest option. HS2 fares have not been set yet. Contrary to popular belief, they will not be set by a train operator but by the Government. And they don’t have to be premium-level. Fares should be set to achieve high load factors for HS2 trains: this maximises the CO2 benefit from modal shift.
  • Integration of fares for HS2 with other connecting travel modes, so that it is easy to book end-to-end tickets and get the cheapest available price.
  • Extension of HS2 northwards to Scotland. This would reduce the London – Glasgow / Edinburgh time down below 3 hours, making it completely pointless to fly. It would also add much-needed capacity for north-south and cross-border rail freight, that presently has to compete for space with express passenger trains over the hilly and congested northern section of the West Coast Main Line.
  • New high speed links, such as a southwestern one from Birmingham to Cardiff / Bristol and the South West.

And Finally…

All of the campaign points listed above are already Green Party policy! (check out our Transport Policy page – you’ll find ’em all in there, or see the background paper (link above) for details of which of our policies are advanced by HS2). HS2 offers a huge opportunity to further our transport policy agenda.

Support this motion and give our elected representatives, spokespeople and campaigners the backing to engage effectively with HS2 Ltd and Government so the new railway is a Green HS2, not a Tory HS2.

E09 – Government to halt HS2

Text of Motion D09

We’d like you to REJECT this motion.

This motion calls upon the Government to cancel HS2 immediately and, presumably, return all the affected land to a previous or more bio-diverse state than before. The text of the motion is here: https://www.paperturn-view.com/?pid=MTk191370&p=115&v=2.

Why reject this motion

Why do we say this is a bad motion that should be firmly rejected by Conference?

In short – it’s a knee-jerk motion that doesn’t give the Green Party the credibility or platform to campaign effectively for sustainable transport improvements. It’s pointing the Party in completely the wrong direction, ignoring the big challenges facing our country. This motion must be stopped. We’re a political party, not a pressure group!

Read on for more detail on these points.

It’s futile

HS2 is being built right now. Cuttings and tunnels are being dug, stations built. All the woodland clearance for Phase 1 has already taken place. The mitigation planting and soil translocation are starting the recovery from that loss.

Any motion from the Green Party to stop HS2 is not serious politics, it’s performative grandstanding. It’s not going to have any impact on reality. It just makes the Party look like a pressure group, rather than a serious electoral force.

We know that the Party is at a crossroads. It needs to make an electoral breakthrough. Does it look inward, to its core constituency of environmentalists? Or does it look outward, to the electorate who have yet to choose to vote Green – who need comprehensive and coherent solutions to all our problems? Those include climate AND transport. We need to look at all sides of the argument. Voting for this motion traps us.

IT’s based on dubious arguments

The motion mentions several reasons for cancelling HS2 which are based on false assumptions or misunderstandings about it and what the alternatives are. Here are just a few of them:

  • “the cost of HS2 is now estimated to be more than £100bn”. No, it isn’t. The London – Birmingham section has a budget of £40.3bn with £4.3bn of contingency. Phase 2a, the section from Birmingham to Crewe, has an estimated cost between £5bn and 7bn. Phase 2b, not yet fully specified or designed, has an estimated cost between £32bn and £46bn. (Figures from latest report to Parliament). Other estimates are unofficial and dubious.
  • “the business case for HS2 is weaker than it was before COVID; the costs …. now greatly outweigh the likely revenues and wider economic benefits”. Here’s what’s wrong with that take:
    • its narrow focus on the output of an economic forecasting model. Strange for Greens to home in on just this small-minded view of what strategic infrastructure is worth. At least, we would expect to consider the strategic and climate impacts as well. These are massive. Strategically, HS2 will transform local rail around our major Northern and Midlands cities: more frequent, faster and more reliable local and regional train services – helping to rebalance them and make them a counterweight to London. In climate terms, it’s a super low CO2 alternative to cars and planes over longer distances – in fact with decent Green policy support it can repay the CO2 used to build it within a couple of decades, just by replacing domestic flights between London and Scotland!
    • its assumption that COVID and “working from home” will reduce demand over the long term. It won’t. All it has done is accelerate a trend that is already factored in to transport planners’ thinking – a move of a small proportion of the workforce to a more hybrid way of working. The real long-term trend that Greens should support is of a reduction in car and plane travel and a shift to lower-CO2 more sustainable modes of transport. Electric rail is the most energy- and CO2-efficient. As we’ve explained, this is going to mean we need more rail capacity, not less, as our current railway network can’t cope with the extra demand. HS2 is what gives us that capacity.
  • “the continued destruction of our habitats for major infrastructure projects cannot be justified”. This statement is divorced from reality:
    • It’s completely naïve to think that we can undo over a century of car- and plane- dominated transport by just building nothing. Our future transport network needs to have new low-CO2 links. These need to be built. Sadly, as a result of that, some habitat has be damaged or lost. But nature is resilient and can be restored – as we are strongly in favour of, in rewilding / habitat enhancement schemes everywhere.
    • It supposes that HS2 is a massive threat to habitat. It just isn’t – its impact has been hugely overstated, as we’ve explained. Even the Woodland Trust don’t rate railways in the top 5 of their threats to ancient woodland: far more is impacted by agriculture, road building, utility schemes and housing.
    • It would make the Green Party oppose any large infrastructure scheme, including, say, wind farms, tidal power schemes or hydrogen electrolysis plant. We need to have a grown-up way to trade off habitat impact and broader benefit.
  • “The UK would benefit more by spending the money on more sustainable projects”. Again, several incorrect assumptions rolled into this statement:
    • It supposes that there is a pot of money marked “HS2” that can be repurposed for other things. This is a pernicious Thatcherite myth that Greens should be ashamed to espouse. The money is created by the government as it spends. No spend, no money. Cancelling HS2 wouldn’t free up any money for any other purpose – the money just wouldn’t exist. (If this sounds dubious, suggest this brief video introduction to Modern Monetary Theory or this blog which explains it).
    • It assumes that HS2 is not a sustainable project. Wrong: it is. It’s going to last over 120 years. It will pay back the CO2 emitted in building it within a few decades at worst, as we have explained. It has been designed to cope with more extreme weather we expect in future, so will keep working when other transport links suffer. It runs on grid electricity, which is decarbonising rapidly.
    • It assumes that there is an either / or. That’s false. We need investment at all levels – local, regional and national. They all complement each other – they aren’t alternatives. There is no financial or technical reason why we can’t have that – the only impediment is political.
  • “Investment and improvement should be made to existing railway infrastructure, including … electrification … and improving connectivity across the north of England”. This betrays a massive failure to understand our railways, what is being invested in them now and what they need to support future demands. Here’s just a few of the misunderstandings wrapped up in that statement:
    • It suggests investment is not being made to our existing railway network. False: it is. Network Rail’s annual budget for enhancing the existing network is more than the annual spend on HS2, even during peak construction periods. The problem is, that our Victorian network is creaking at the seams, so there’s a limit to how much benefit we can get for each of these upgrade schemes. In the end, what we need is new tracks to add capacity – that’s what HS2 brings.
    • It suggests that electrification of the railway is an alternative to HS2. All supporters of HS2, certainly in Greens For HS2, also support electrification because it reduces carbon footprint and makes trains cheaper, faster, cleaner and more reliable. But what it doesn’t do is add capacity to the network or deal with the bottlenecks that prevent expansion of local rail services. That’s what HS2 brings to the party – as well as massive speed improvements that link Midlands cities together, compete with London-Scotland air services and free up space for local trains on all three of our north-south main lines.
    • It suggests that there are viable enhancements to the existing network that can add the capacity that HS2 does. There aren’t. There are local interventions that can clear some bottlenecks, but they only have minor effect. You could add new tracks alongside the existing main lines – but this would destroy far more houses, businesses and sensitive habitats than HS2 does: the existing lines go right through ancient woodlands; and communities have grown up right up to the boundary fence. And the disruption to the existing network – several decades of line closures and bus replacements – would put people off travelling by train right when we need to be encouraging it. And we need that big step-change in capacity: as we have shown, all serious studies of how we manage in a zero-CO2 world demand much more rail travel, even where travel overall is reduced.
  • “Opposition to HS2 does not equate to approval of road building projects.” Yes, in effect it does. The Green Party has limited campaigning effort and publicity bandwidth. At the moment it is using most of it in opposing HS2: our parliamentarians, senior figures and social media team take every opportunity to comment negatively on the scheme. By contrast, the RIS2 roads programme gets only occasional and mild comment – but it’s far, far worse than HS2. It’s costing more money (over £5bn per year, vs HS2’s £3bn to £4bn); it’s taking more land (4000 miles of road vs 345 miles of railway); it’s incomparably worse for CO2: HS2 will earn back the CO2 spent on building it – the only question is exactly how quickly, whereas road schemes emit CO2 in construction then stimulate yet more emissions in operation through induced demand and higher speeds.
  • “the focus should be on the local production of goods … thus lessening the need for transportation of goods”. This makes no sense. For goods, just as for people, we need to move less. But that can only make a small difference, over a long period of time. For the big, quick wins, we need to shift from high-CO2 to low-CO2 modes for what we still do. We know that for passengers, that means active travel and public transport, particularly electric rail. For goods, it means rail freight rather than road. Freight trains are super-efficient: each one can take up to 76 trucks off the road and, even with diesel haulage, generate only a quarter of the CO2. As the rail network gets electrified, freight trains can use electric locomotives, which are much more carbon-efficient still. And the key investment that enables more rail freight in the UK is the one that unclogs our main freight arteries – the north-south main lines, particularly the West Coast Main Line – is HS2. Cancelling it condemns us to more and more trucks on the road.

Pretty much every justification for this motion is wrong. Luckily for us at Greens For HS2, it’s so very wrong that, in rebutting it, we’ve been able to pick up nearly all the arguments in favour of HS2! Members should follow the links in there for more background on each of the points we’ve made.

IT ignores that HS2 supports green policies

There is a common assumption among Greens that HS2 runs counter to our principles and contradicts our policies. This is false. We’ve already shown above that there are many Green policies that we can campaign for, that make an already-Green project even more so. Here’s another bunch of our policies that HS2 supports without us having to do anything else! Cancelling HS2 would make achieving those goals harder, not easier:

PolicyHow HS2 supports it
TR010 Objectives: travel should be by sustainable modes of transport that don’t use too much resources, minimise impact on the environment, reduce car use.HS2 is powered by low-CO2 grid electricity. It uses less land and disturbs less habitat than road alternatives. It’s much lower CO2 than air alternatives. It promotes rail as an alternative to car for both local and long-distance travel.
TR030 hierarchy of travel modes: walking > cycling > public transport / rail freight > taxis > cars > HGVs > planesHS2 adds capacity to rail network and is a public transport alternative to cars and planes. It opens up space on the main lines for more freight trains to reduce use of trucks.
TR031 planning at the most local level possible, communities identify their own needsBy removing the national-level long distance express trains from the current rail network, HS2 allows railway capacity to be managed and allocated by Midlands and Northern local transport authorities rather than from on high by Whitehall.
TR047 favour electric transportHS2 is powered by grid electricity. It therefore automatically gets less carbon-intensive as the grid uses more sustainably-generated electricity.
TR200 car journeys must move to public transportHS2 adds capacity to both long-distance and local rail networks so many thousands of journeys of all lengths can be done by public rail rather than car.
TR242 Increase investment in rail servicesHS2 represents the best-value investment in our current rail network. It adds capacity to all three of our north-south main lines and the key station bottlenecks at Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, thus enabling huge expansion of local rail services.
TR244 Support principle of north-south high speed line to reduce short-haul flights, as long as local service provision isn’t affected.HS2 doubles the capacity of London-Scotland train services and knocks nearly an hour off the journey time. It’s thus an excellent alternative to the huge (5m+ per annum) air market between London and Glasgow/Edinburgh. And far from impeding local service provision, HS2 enables it to be greatly expanded.
TR350 invest to transfer freight to railHS2 frees up our major freight route, the West Coast Main Line, for more freight train paths, by removing the capacity-hogging long-distance express trains from it. This makes space for at least 20 extra freight trains every day.
TR512 substitute air travel with more sustainable modesHS2 offers a super low-CO2 alternative to domestic air travel, particularly on the busy London-Scotland corridor.
TR532 encourage access to airports by public transport rather than roadHS2 will be connected to Birmingham and Manchester airports. This means more passengers will be able to access these airports by rail, particularly from longer distances away. (Both these airports already have rail connections to the existing network).
There will be good rail connections to Heathrow airport via Old Oak Common and Crossrail, meaning more people can avoid driving to the airport.

It makes it even harder for greens to engage constructively with HS2 and Government

We’ve covered why this matters in our why-you-should-vote-for-D15 section above. If we vote to cancel HS2, we can have no say in how it is implemented and can offer no support to our councillors and campaigners who have to deal with it.

IT takes away the alternative to domestic flights

It’s remarkably little-known that HS2 doesn’t just connect London and Birmingham. Right from the very day it opens, HS2 trains will use the new lines, then continue on the existing track to places much further afield – as far as Glasgow and, later, Edinburgh. (See our myth-buster for more detail on where HS2 trains actually go).

HS2 will make the London-Glasgow rail journey nearly an hour quicker than now. (It’s already no slower to go by train than by plane, as this little jaunt by the Campaign for Better Transport and this one by the Independent show). In 2019, over 5 million people chose to fly between London and Glasgow / Edinburgh. We want those people to go by train instead. But our current rail offering isn’t a great alternative: it’s too expensive and it doesn’t have the capacity to absorb all the new passengers it would need to.

HS2 adds the capacity we need – with 2 500-seat trains each way every hour. And because all those seats need bums on them, prices can come down.

It sets us apart from other green parties

We in the Green Party of England and Wales are an outlier amongst green parties in opposing investment in high speed rail. It’s a real mystery how we’ve managed to get ourselves into this pickle.

Our colleagues in Scotland have a very sound and well-evidenced rail policy which includes high-speed links across the border. They wonder why it is that the UK struggles to match mainland Europe in rail investment.

Mainland Green parties are very excited about getting more high speed rail investment. They’ve recently proposed, for example, a Europe-wide network of high-speed night trains.

and finally…

If you want the Green Party to be a responsive, forward-looking and pragmatic political force, you must oppose this motion.

If you want the Party’s policies to be consistent, well-informed and based on good evidence, you must oppose this motion.

If you want our elected representatives to get properly involved with making our rail network the most sustainable it can be, you must oppose this motion.

If you think we should be aligned with our sister Green parties, rather than the investment-hating neoliberals in Tufton Street, you must oppose this motion.