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With all three main political parties behind HS2 it seemed a reasonable certainty that


the new high speed rail line would go ahead. But, says Robert Wright, an articulate protest campaign could mean that plans have to be withdrawn


High speed support reaches a low


I


f there is anyone in Wendover who supports the government’s plans for high speed rail, he or she must be keeping quiet about it. The pretty market town, whose outskirts will be severed by the new line if it is built, has become a de facto headquarters of the movement to prevent building of the new line to carry fast trains from London to Birmingham.


‘No2HS2’ posters fill many windows and, where the line will


cross roads, ‘HS2 crosses here’ signs have been put up. The people of Wendover and other Chiltern towns protesting


against HS2 are lucky, however, that the flimsy arguments for building a high speed line and the project’s questionable genesis are making their task so easy. The stockbroking analysts, marketing managers and senior executives who are key figures in many parts of the anti-HS2 campaign are paid in their day-jobs to spot logical inconsistencies and questionable figures. They are doing the same with the government’s high speed rail business case. The Chilterns campaign has helped to


erode previously


overwhelming support for high speed rail among Britain’s chattering classes. A year ago, a


dinner party guest who suggested that Britain might not need high- speed trains as much as the French or Spanish would have invited ridicule. Now, an increasing number of the comments about the project concern its cost, the relatively small improvements in train speed entailed and the relatively minor environmental improvements. The question is whether the shift in public perceptions


can change the government’s position on the totemic project and whether the government would be right to revise the scheme. Any answer to the questions is bound to be an unsatisfactory compromise between unappealing options. The original sin of its original, illogical conversion


to high speed rail taints every statement Conservative politicians now make about high speed rail. When Geoff Hoon, the then transport secretary, announced his support for building of a third Heathrow Airport runway in late 2008, the Conservatives became more vocal in support of high-speed rail, saying they wanted a high- speed line to be an alternative to airport expansion. When Andrew Adonis as transport secretary later


proposed a high-speed line through the Chilterns, the Conservatives, however, came over all pious about localism. Unlike Labour, they said, they would consult properly about a route before forcing one on people. Those policy decisions have left the


PAGE 16 MAY 2011


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