High Speed 2

2013 January 28
by Chris Vernon

High Speed 2
I have just one simple response to High Speed 2 (HS2). Why do we need to invest a lot of money, many billions, in further facilitating long distance national travel? This seems like a bad idea. We would be better served by re-engineering the country and economy to reduce our need and indeed our desire for long distance travel.

We’d do well to focus on the Proximity Principle as described by Dr David Fleming in Lean Logic. The principle states that the need for transport is reduced by using space more intelligently, producing goods and services – especially food – where they are needed, rather than having to transport them over long distances. The objective is to build competence across the whole range of economics and culture, and to enable personal lives to be organised so that routine travel and transport are no longer a necessary condition for material needs, nor for leisure, friendships and work.

The HS2 proposal misses this entirely, it seems to be based on the single, dumb, assumption that there’ll be more travelling in the future. To what end? I and I expect most others don’t want to travel more. In fact what we’d all really like to do is to meet all our needs as, Fleming describes above, without having to spend good time, and good money travelling.

Sadly, HS2 is another case of treating the symptoms, not the disease. Something to which transport policy is particularly susceptible.

The unanswerable question at the heart of transport is the one asked by the farm labourer standing bemused one day in the mid-eighteenth century at the side of the Liverpool-Manchester turnpike, crowded with urgently-speeding coaches: “Who would ever have thought that there were so many people in the wrong place?”
From Lean Logic ~ David Fleming 1940-2010

10 Responses leave one →
  1. January 29, 2013

    Couldn’t agree more! I’m working at home 4 days a week…

  2. January 29, 2013

    These can only be passenger trains not goods trains. So what is the advantage of people getting in and out of London faster except to people who want to work in London. It won’t be Londoners wanting to work up North!

    The Government need to stop demonising cars, they are not the problem (just the fuel) and improve the road systems by improving rail systems for GOODS!

  3. Chris Vernon permalink*
    January 29, 2013

    Passengers, agreed. The proximity principle, against which this project should be tested, is broader than just passengers.

    Interesting you feel cars are demonised. I would say this, and previous governments are pro-car. Certainly the cost of motoring has fallen steadily for the last few decades whereas the cost of rail travel has steadily increased above inflation. Government spending on cycle infrastructure is some of the lowest in Europe. The UK, with government support, has a car-culture. It’s far from being demonised.

  4. Drinley Sepulchrave permalink
    January 29, 2013

    I think the government is really pro-fuel more than pro car. Cars are the means to the end of converting oil energy rapidly into human activity. If anything else did that better, governments would be pro that instead.

    Cars are starting to fall out of favour because, at today’s and tomorrow’s oil prices, they don’t offer any further growth potential. EVs are a bust from that perspective. When people realise they will need to adapt their travel expectations to the limited capabilities of battery power, they’ll be loathe to pay the huge prices (relative to future buying power) neded to own anything bigger than a Twizy. And many will share ownership anyway.

    Building HS2 looks like an end in itself. Like PFI, it’s all about the usual suspects cashing in on the finance and construction money, leaving the taxpayer with the headache of trying to make its operation stack up financially in 20 years time.

  5. Chris Vernon permalink*
    February 1, 2013

    A few people are under the impression I am linking HS2 with food. This is not the case! I’m not suggesting anyone will use HS2 for their grocery shopping or that HS2 will be used to transport grapes from London vineyards to Manchester.

    Food was mentioned above as part of the wider ‘Proximity Principle’ as detailed by Fleming. HS2 should be tested against this principle, not every detail.

  6. February 3, 2013

    Nice piece, with the unusual blogging virtue of being concise!

    I wonder whether the Government’s ideal, informed by their economic formulae, is for everyone in Manchester to commute to London every day, and vice versa..

  7. Angus Kelly permalink
    April 7, 2013

    An elite few within the political system will no doubt make a killing from this project, hence why it’s being pushed through with little or no regard to valid objections.

    How many people across our beautiful country actually support the project and basically think it will be money well spent?? Normal Joe Public don’t get a say, as it’s being pushed through by the FAT CATS……Same old story I suppose!!

  8. rob s permalink
    July 12, 2014

    hs2 is not required, what is needed is more capacity on existing lines, ie 2 tracks each way to allow for maintenance, mixing of traffic(intercity, suburban commuting, freight). nowhere with the exception of Scotland is far enough away for the speeds that hs2 could achieve and it is not even going that far!

  9. September 24, 2014

    Hi Chris, I could not agree with you more. High Speed 2 is a complete wast of valuable funds, and proposes to takes up large amount of very useful countryside. In terms of sustainability. If correctly managed, take out industrial farming. This country could be almost self-sufficient, most certainly in the main roots crops, native fruit, meat (if required) Fuel, trees, manage the soil better, harvest water and build very efficient housing. This would provide cleaner air, a stable, secure food supple, which in turn leads to a much healthier society. Stewart. web site open soon.

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