Some objections to HS2 are because people have heard that it will stimulate air travel. After all, it’s supported by, and has stations near, Birmingham and Manchester airports. Of course we Greens want much less air travel, not more, so how can we support HS2?
HS2 is not about airports. Three reasons why:
Firstly, the argument puts cart before horse. It’s like saying scrap the Tube because Heathrow wanted it to go there, or abolish any Transpennine Express services that call at Manchester Airport. Of course airports want better transport links to them – and of course they prefer low-CO2 modes.
The airports, after all, have their own PR agenda to attend to: they want people to turn up in cleaner ways than car. But does that drive up passenger or plane numbers? Will more people decide to take a flight just because there’s a train to the airport? There’s no evidence that this is the case.
In any case, where people do need to fly for necessary reasons, would we not prefer them to travel to and from the airport by a low-CO2 method?
Secondly, the air passengers have hardly any impact on HS2’s viability. For example, look at Birmingham’s now-paused expansion plans. They wanted to add 18 million passengers per year by 2030, with 31% of them using rail. We crunched the numbers. Assuming about two-thirds of the new passengers would use HS2, and the rest use conventional rail, Birmingham Airport passengers would account for less than 1/30th of HS2’s train capacity – so they aren’t in any way critical to its success.
Thirdly – we’re Greens! We wouldn’t support any policy that leads to more air travel. We would press down hard on it, with carbon taxes, frequent flyer levies and landing slot restrictions. We’d make sure those seats would be filled by people who’d left their car at home.
HS2 is all about opening up the rail network so more people can travel by train, and that means locally as well as over longer distances. They’ll be able to leave the car at home and ditch the plane. We suggest Greens look beyond the anti-HS2 spin.