Business organisations join the debate over high-speed rail link

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THE debate over HS2 continues apace with Bucks Chamber of Commerce holding its own debate last week.

More than 120 Bucks businesspeople attended the packed debate at Aylesbury’s new Waterside Theatre on Friday, including representatives from local authorities, business groups and the government.

Bucks County Council cabinet member for planning and environment Martin Tett attacked the business case for HS2. He said it was based on the “wasted time assumption” that every single minute the businessman spends on a train is wasted time, which he described as “hopelessly flawed”.

“Without it, the cost-benefit analysis falls apart,” he said.

David Pritchard of the Bucks Economic & Learning Partnership said: “It looks to me like a vanity project that I think we’re going to regret.”

Ian Jordan of HS2 said the ‘disbenefits’ had been factored into the cost-benefit analysis, and that improvements had already been made to the plan including lowering the rail line through large parts of the Chilterns, creating green tunnels to maintain the landscape and protect against noise, and protecting Grade I-listed Hartwell House, near Aylesbury.

Delegates voted on whether they agree with the government’s proposals for high-speed rail and whether the proposed route is the best option. The majority was 87 per cent against HS2 on the first question and 92 per cent against the route on the second.

Christina Howell, of Thames Valley Chamber, said: “We believe that the national priority should be improved digital infrastructure and – from a Thames Valley perspective – western access to Heathrow.

“We shall be making our view known at the British Chambers of Commerce National Conference in April.”

Aylesbury Vale District Council’s environment scrutiny committee will be discussing the council’s response to the HS2 consultation at a meeting on Tuesday next week.

The council has already made clear that it objects to the proposals, but the committee will be identifying concrete examples of the environmental impact HS2 could have on the district.

The issues will include biodiversity, landscape and heritage, noise and air quality and overall planning implications.

MP for Bicester, Tony Baldry, has welcomed a decision by the House of Commons Transport Select Committee to carry out an enquiry into the economic case for and against HS2.

In a statement this week, Mr Baldry said: “Everyone in the UK has an interest in getting this right, not least because this is a multi-million pound project, all of which, it is proposed, to be paid for by us as taxpayers.

“So whether one lives in Cornwall, or Cumbria, it is important that Parliament collectively, through the Transport Select Committee, should answer the question, ‘Could this amount of money or even a smaller sum spent on improving the existing rail and transport infrastructure, result in better outcomes?’”

Recently the former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson attacked the proposals.