Finally, after weeks of waiting and all sorts of political shenanigans’ and uncertainties the announcement has finally been made. HS2 is going ahead.
To be honest, it wasn’t much of a secret, or a surprise. The final decision’s been slowly leaked to the media over a number of weeks – as have dissenting views (not that they mattered).
Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the news. To be fair announced is hardly the right word. Those who thought the Government were ashamed of their decision were completely wrong-footed. This was no apologetic slipping out of unpopular news, this was a full-bore celebration with a fanfare and 21 gun salute. Johnson stood at the dispatch box and made a meal of it. This was bombastic, bellicose Boris in full flow. And, for once, he actually seemed to have some idea what he was talking about, because he wasn’t announcing vague plans for yet another bridge. This was the culmination of 10 years of planning, re-planning and co-operation between people on a huge scale. There was plenty of detail to be had – and Johnson made the most of it. Why wouldn’t he? He has an 80 seat majority and HS2 has huge cross-party support. It’s simply not a contentious issue and he desperately needs something like this to celebrate to take everyone’s mind off what comes next in the EU negotiations.
You could see that the penny was dropping with some of his back-benchers (old and new) as it became clear his Government were going full-tilt for HS2. Those ‘newbies’ who have ambitions but who represent constituencies on the route are starting to realise that opposition to HS2 could severely limit your career – especially when opposition is futile. Of course, for a few of the old hands like Chesham and Amersham MP Cheryl Gillan – whose career is already over – it’s not so much of a blow, but then she didn’t even bother turning up. The announcement also contained another gem. As I predicted in a blog back in August last year, Phase 2b of HS2 is to be re-aligned and merged with ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ (always an unwieldy name) to be rebranded “High Speed North”.
This is clever on a number of levels.
For a start, HS2 is now the project that’s already got the go-ahead and it’s a railway between London and Crewe (because phase 1 and 2a have been merged). It isolates the StopHs2 ‘campaign’ from the North. Why? Because the anti HS2 campaign was always based on phase 1, the railway from London – Birmingham. It’s where their grassroots and groups (like Hs2aa and StopHs2) were.
What do they have on the rebadged “High Speed North”? Nothing.
They have a tiny bunch of MPs who’re opposed – most of whom are newly elected and easily neutered as they have ambitions – and little else. In contrast, the North has massive political and business support for what was HS2 but is now clearly a Northern project that will deliver far more than HS2 could do in isolation. Don’t forget that 50% of the new ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ tracks would have been HS2 tracks. So, how many Northern MPs are now going to be brave (or foolhardy) enough to say “I oppose HSN” And why would Southern Tory MPs who’ve been outflanked on HS2 phase 1 put their own government at risk at the next election by opposing HSN when they no longer have a dog in the fight?
I could write more as I’ve not even touched on the Oakervee review yet, but I’m going to save that for another day. All I’ll say is that the review has made fools of much of the mainstream media. Why? Because they fell for the spin and briefings from Lord Berkeley that the cost of HS2 had risen to £106bn and they ran with it. In fact, the only refence to that figure in the Oakervee report is to dismiss it, not to endorse it.
StopHs2 is dead. Is anyone going to be stupid enough to try and rebrand it as “Stop High-Speed North”?