“You can’t play politics with our prosperity.”
With these words, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin tried this week to push the lid down hard on the HS2 debate. You must do what corporate capital wants. Or else. It looks like we’re all in transition from evidence-based policy to policy-based evidence, and it’s a worldwide trend.
It’s widely acknowledged that HS2 is a thoroughly bad deal for us. But not within the London regime, which this week published figures showing that the alternative of upgrading existing lines would lead to 14 years of disruption.
So why is that the only alternative? Have they never heard of ‘demand management’, of reducing the need to travel in the first place? Which they could do by taking 99.9% of the decisions currently made in London and allowing them to be made locally and regionally instead. MPs apart, few in Mercia or Northumbria would then need to go to London ever again. And neither would we in Wessex.
The whole debate about rail investment in the UK is skewed by the unchallengeable idea that top priority must go to improving links to and from the capital. It ought to set alarm bells ringing. Why should London be given that importance? Is it for our benefit, or for London’s? What is it that London has that we should all want to access? If it’s power and wealth, then those are things that can be moved to where we are, and moved far more cheaply.
All the money that goes to speed up connections that already exist is money deducted from the possibility of making other connections that don’t. Ones that would actually be of some use in strengthening our regional economy, and those of others elsewhere in over-centralised England. In the previous post here, passing reference was made to the ‘foundation projects’ that a free Wessex should be putting its mind to undertaking. One will certainly need to be the rebuilding of our rail network so that transport in Wessex becomes less dependent upon routes created primarily to link the region to London.
Abingdon, Axbridge, Bideford, Blandford Forum, Bridport, Chard, Cheddar, Chipping Norton, Cinderford, Cirencester, Clevedon, Coleford, Corsham, Cullompton, Devizes, Faringdon, Fordingbridge, Glastonbury, Gosport, Highworth, Holsworthy, Ilfracombe, Ilminster, Kingsbridge, Langport, Lyme Regis, Malmesbury, Marlborough, Portishead, Radstock, Ringwood, Seaton, Shepton Mallet, Sidmouth, Somerton, South Molton, Stalbridge, Stow-on-the-Wold, Street, Sturminster Newton, Tavistock, Tetbury, Tewkesbury, Thornbury, Tiverton, Wantage, Wellington, Wells,Wilton, Wimborne, Witney, Wootton Bassett.
This is a list of places, but not of stations. Certainly not stations on a high-speed line, existing or proposed. Not stations on any line, of any speed. These are places that once had their own stations (in some cases more than one). All are substantial places that, post-Beeching, have no passenger rail access to the outside world, while many smaller places do. Some are on existing lines, or on past strategic links that cry out to be re-instated. Never mind the Y-shaped HS2: let’s get on with putting back the Y-shaped S&D.
The London regime seriously asks us to believe that places such as those listed should continue to languish in the late 20th century. (The locals don’t always agree with that.) All because the money that could join them up with the rest of Wessex is going to be spent cutting minutes off the journeys of those heading somewhere big that really ought not to matter all that much.