With only a few days to go before the General Election on Thursday, 12 December, we are looking at where our Aylesbury candidates stand on HS2, and whether that ties in with their national party's policy.
High Speed 2, the 345 mile rail link that would run from London to the north via Birmingham, cutting straight through the North Buckinghamshire countryside, was initially projected to cost £32.7bn in 2010 but is now estimated to cost approximately £86bn.
The scheme has also recently suffered a significant delay to its completion date, with phase one from London to Birmingham now set to finish as late as 2031. The original date was 2026. Phase two, which takes the line on to Leeds and Manchester and was supposed to be in operation by 2033, may not be completed until 2040.
In August this year the Government announced there was to be an independent review of the troubled project, with the outcome to be published this December, but due to the election it is now unlikely to see the light of day until early 2020.
The review suffered criticism from the outset as it was chaired by Douglas Oakervee, a former head of HS2.
This newspaper set up the HS2: Enough Is Enough campaign and has fought against the scheme. We believe that the Government's Oakervee Review is a sham.
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When we spoke to the Labour Party's candidate for Aylesbury, Liz Hind, she had the following to say about HS2:
“We need an independent review. It's a project where the costs have completely spiralled out of control. We're seeing environmental degradation, dead trees, work continuing even though it's supposed to be suspended - it's appalling.”
Ms Hind continued:
“You've got to look at the amount of money being spent on that one project and ask is that the best place to spend it, which you can only do through a properly independent review which is what the Labour party has called for, and you've got to look at the environmental cost. It's failing on both those counts at the moment.”
However, the 2019 Labour Party manifesto states:
“We will also unlock capacity and extend high-speed rail networks nationwide by completing the full HS2 route to Scotland, taking full account of the environmental impacts of different route options.”
Next we spoke to the Liberal Democrats candidate, Steven Lambert. He said:
“From day one I said I'm against it. For me it's the wrong project to spend all this money on. We do need rail connectivity, no doubt about it, but we need east-west rail. We've got lots of north to south stuff, it's east to west we need to improve and we need to start in the north.”
Referencing his own credentials in opposing the project, he continued:
“I've been to parliament, I've made representations at House of Lords and House of Commons select committees. Every chance I've had I've voted against it.”
The Liberal Democrats manifesto states the party's 'support' and commitment' to HS2 with the following:
“Significant investment in public transport, including converting the rail network to ultra-low-emission technology (electric or hydrogen) by 2035, and a continued commitment to HS2, Crossrail 2 and other major new strategic rail routes.”
“Support High Speed 2... and address problems with implementation to ensure that HS2 opens as early as possible to meet our de-carbonisation goals while minimising the destruction of precious UK habitats and woodland.”
Conservative party candidate Rob Butler said of HS2:
“I oppose HS2. I have listened very carefully and read very widely about HS2 over the years and I genuinely do not see either an economic or an environmental case for it. I do think that it would cause profound damage to our countryside and to our wildlife and I’m very clear that I will commit to taking that case first and foremost to the Secretary of State for Transport if I’m elected.”
The Conservative party manifesto ultimately hangs its hat on the Oakervee review, stating:
“HS2 is a great ambition, but will now cost at least £81bn and will not reach Leeds or Manchester until as late as 2040. We will consider the findings of the Oakervee review into costs and timings and work with leaders of the Midlands and the North to decide the optimal outcome.”
Only The Green Party appear to have a correlation between their local candidate and central party policy on HS2. Coral Simpson, the Aylesbury candidate for The Green Party, told us:
"As Greens we're pro public transport, however I'm not convinced that HS2 is the answer to public transport issues. I know there's talk of being able to move freight quicker but for the money that it's costing I'm not convinced it's worth the decimation of ancient woodlands, burial grounds and disrupting communities."
“It's gone so far over budget and that money could be better spent elsewhere.”
The Green Party manifesto states:
“Creating a new golden age of train by opening new rail connections that remove bottlenecks, increase rail freight capacity, improve journey times and frequencies, enhance capacity in the South West, Midlands and North, and connect currently unconnected urban areas. We would also look, where possible, to re-open closed stations. These rail improvements will benefit from funding switched from the damaging HS2 scheme, which we will cancel.”