I have written before over my head and heart issues over HS2. I am beginning to wonder if part of my quandry is that the Pro HS2 team are just not very good at making their case...
Simon Jenkins wrote a very good good 'anti' case on Wednesday in the Guardian, so yesterday I was interested to see the other side had been given the opportunity to make the pro case. Paul Maynard is the Tory MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys and a proponent of the scheme.
Unfortunately, his piece seemed - well, full of holes.
First off, he agrees with me up to now, the case hasn't really been made very well...
"I would be the first to accept that HS2 could have been sold better from the start"
He then argues that the alternative would cause unacceptable disruption…
"I also welcome the increased focus on the non-viability of alternatives – the government is quite right to recall the delays and disruptions of the last west coast mainline upgrade. Trying to repeat that feat simultaneously on both main lines would effectively sunder the north of England from the south for a decade – hardly in anyone's interest?"
...but then a few paragraphs later seems to suggest that this will happen anyway thanks to the governments upgrade programme (which by the way I absolutely support)
"Arguing that the money could be better spent improving existing rail services in the north would be a powerful argument if the government didn't already have an ambitious set of plans for both mainline electrification and for the northern hub at Manchester, which will unlock much greater capacity".
He tells us that many of the criticisms of HS2 are based on things HS2 isn't about at all...
"The debate over HS2 has covered many things that HS2 isn't really about. Twenty minutes is neither here nor there when travelling inter-city, opponents have argued"
Um...the 'S' in HS2 stands for speed doesn't it; as I've said before, if its about capacity, they should rename it HC1
He goes on…
"and no one can really know what Heathrow's aviation demand will be by 2030, they (opponents) contend"
...but as Simon Jenkins pointed out the day before, when Theresa Villiers first kicked all this off, it was a direct alternative to the third runway at Heathrow. HS2 is all about Heathrow.
He then makes a point I totally agree with..
"As to whether HS2 will end the north/south divide, the new line will be the enabler for that, but not the decider. Unless local councils start planning now, the line itself won't guarantee economic growth in the regions. For that, you need coherent economic development, planning and skills policies in place to take advantage of the opportunities the railway line will bring. For every city that feels neglected because the line doesn't stop there, they should be looking at how they can maximise benefits from the freed-up capacity on existing lines."
...but then sort of contradicts it in the next paragraph. Apparently if HS2 IS going to your town, you shouldn't make any plans at all...
"I listen to Labour MPs for Birmingham and Leeds arguing the money would be better spent on underground networks for their cities – which would no doubt be great for local residents. But I doubt such schemes would grow the economy as much as HS2 might, since they would merely move people around a metropolitan area, rather than make such areas easier to get to for those wishing to do business"
Also see those 2 little words in the middle of that last paragraph. "I doubt" . In other words - he doesn't know. He's guessing. and on that guess he wants to spend £50bn. Blimey.
Now, once again, please don't imagine this means I'm anti HS2. I'm still on the fence. But as long as the case against is made eloquently and thoroughly, and as long as I can pick holes in every piece supporting it, it gets harder and harder to see why we should say yes?