High Speed Rail 2

by Nigel Bakhai on 31 January, 2012

Please find below a copy of the text of my speech to the January 2012 council meeting regarding the HS2 project:-

Thank you, Mr Mayor. It is quite clear from the demonstration outside the town hall and full public gallery this evening that there is a great deal of public concern in this borough about the impact of HS2 on residents living along the proposed route as it currently stands.

We in the Lib Dem group sympathise with those concerns and we support the council in defending the interests of its residents and raising those concerns with the Government.

However, members should remember that at this stage in the process, the Government has only given approval to move forward with the design of the scheme and there will be further consultation with local authorities like Ealing over the coming months to find ways to reduce the impacts and maximize the benefits of the scheme.

Indeed, our proposed motion 11.3 calls for the council to work constructively with the Government to help mitigate any adverse effects on local residents and businesses that are affected by the proposed route. In particular, we welcome the changes to the proposals since the initial consultation began, which include a new 2.75 mile tunnel along the Northolt corridor as a sign that the Government is already listening to concerns and has shown willingness to reduce the impact of the scheme on local communities along the route.

However, as anyone who may have read our leader’s article in this Ealing Gazette this month, we in the Lib Dem group have taken a longer term view about the overall benefits of this project and have welcomed the recent announcement by the Transport Secretary to move forward with plans for High Speed 2.

Nationally all three main parties in Parliament have come out in favour of HS2 with Labour’s shadow rail minister John Woodcock arguing that HS2 was “a vital lifeline of economic growth”. “We will be failing future generations if we pass up the opportunity to employ the most advanced technology available,” The Prime Minister has pointed out the growth of high speed rail in countries like China and the fact that there was opposition prior to building the M40, and has publicly backed the scheme saying “If you really want… rebalancing the British economy, spreading growth out from the South East, linking up our biggest cities with high-speed rail, it’s an agenda you simply can’t ignore.”

Ealing Lib Dems believe that investment in our antiquated rail network is long overdue. Britain’s railways are struggling to cope with the huge increases in passenger numbers we’ve seen in recent years with passenger miles rising from 18 million in 1994 to almost 32 billion miles in 2009. Overcrowding is already a problem on many lines in the capital, limiting both the city’s economic potential and quality of life for many Londoners. Without significant investment many of the rail routes in London will not be able to meet forecasted passenger demand over the coming decades.

The long suffering rail passenger will therefore enjoy the benefits of high speed rail in improved connectivity, reduced journey times, and greater access to employment opportunities. We believe that the government’s proposals offer an opportunity to bring investment, regeneration and jobs to London, particularly at Old Oak Common where up to 20,000 new jobs are expected which will bring economic benefits to a deprived area. We also believe that high speed rail offers an alternative to airport expansion at Heathrow or a new airport on the Thames Estuary. High speed rail has the significant benefit of reductions in noise and air quality when compared with air travel. There is clear evidence that a large majority of passengers switch from trains to planes where high speed trains are available and Eurostar now carries around 80 per cent of combined air and rail travel between London and Paris.

London Councils which is in favour of HS2 believes that, on balance, investment in a high speed network is the best option available and we agree with them. We therefore call on Ealing Council to support High Speed Two to ensure it takes place to bring the benefits to our transport system envisaged by both the Coalition government and Labour Party opposition in Parliament.

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