HS2: Waterman backs high speed London to Midlands rail

media captionHS2 rail will end 'north-south divide', claims Pete Waterman

Music man and train lover, Pete Waterman argues in a personal piece for the Daily Politics, in favour of the controversial High Speed (HS2) rail link from London to Birmingham and beyond.

The first electric train from Birmingham to Euston changed my life.

It was in 1967. As the new Inter-City rail service was launched with its electric trains, the old steam locomotives were decommissioned. (I now collect them at our facility in Crewe.)

The journey from my home town of Coventry to Euston was cut to under an hour.

That train meant a kid from Coventry could work in the music business in London. The rest, as they say, is history!

So I love trains because they changed my life.

But many of the people living near the planned route of the High Speed link from Euston through the Chilterns to the Midlands, claim it is a white elephant that a country in recession cannot afford.

HS2 problem areas

Green-belt land Wildlife sites Heathrow The Chilterns Conservative heartlands Euston station Interactive map of High Speed 2 proposed route

Green-belt land

The planned route encroaches on green-belt land in a number of areas, including around London and Birmingham.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England argues plans for new out-of-town parkway stations would have a "devastating" effect on green belt and that the economic benefits would be a fraction of those that would be achieved from town centre stations.

The campaign group wants, in particular, changes to the proposed Birmingham interchange station, which it says will "encroach into the green belt next to Birmingham Airport".

Wildlife sites

County wildlife trusts are concerned the proposed route will pose a threat to wildlife. They estimate more than 150 nature sites could be affected, including 10 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

Four nature reserves will be directly impacted, they say. They are Finemere Wood Nature Reserve and the Calvert Jubilee Nature Reserve, managed by the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, Broadwater Lake Nature Reserve, managed by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, and Park Hall Nature Reserve, managed by the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country.

The government has said that extra tunnelling and route amendments mean that the impact of more than half the route will now be mitigated. However, the wildlife trusts say this could actually make the damage to wildlife worse.


The second phase of the government's plans include a possible future spur to Heathrow Airport in west London.

The HS2 line from London to Birmingham is expected to open in 2026, followed in 2032-33 by high speed links to Manchester, Leeds and Heathrow.

However, in November, the Commons Transport Committee said a case for routing HS2 via Heathrow had not been set out clearly and needed further analysis.

Labour, which supports HS2, has suggested the first phase main route should actually travel via Heathrow, creating a hub at the airport and thus making it easier for travellers from south-west England to get on fast trains to the north. It would also protect the most sensitive parts of the Chilterns, the party says.

The Chilterns

The proposed HS2 line crosses the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). Environmental and local campaigners say the picturesque landscape will change forever if plans are approved.

The government was due to make an announcement on HS2 in December, but delayed it to incorporate miles of extra tunnelling to try to appease opponents. It has added 7.5 miles of tunnelling and 3.5 miles of deep cuttings along the 13 miles of proposed line through the Chilterns AONB.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has said additional tunnelling would be "essential" if HS2 is to be built through the area.

Conservative heartlands

A number of Conservative MPs have expressed concerns about the rail link, which passes through Tory heartlands. Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan has been one of the most vocal Conservative critics and says she is prepared to resign over the project that cuts through her Chesham and Amersham constituency.

Dan Byles, Conservative MP for North Warwickshire and Bedworth, and Andrea Leadsom, Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, have also voiced concerns.

To try to win over critics, ministers have added a overall total of eight miles of tunnelling along the route - mostly in the Chilterns. The changes include extended tunnelling near Amersham, in Mrs Gillan's constituency, near Ruislip in north-west London, Turweston and Wendover in Buckinghamshire, Greatworth, Chipping Warden and Aston le Walls in Northamptonshire, and Long Itchington Wood in Warwickshire.

Euston station

Campaigners fear the planned remodelling of Euston Station will lead to disruption that could last for many years.

Last year, a study from The TaxPayers' Alliance said passengers would face slower and less-frequent services if the scheme went ahead. Creating the London to Birmingham HS2 would mean Euston station in London "becoming a building site for seven years", it said.

Labour's Frank Dobson, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, told MPs the station was already overcrowded and lacked the infrastructure in surrounding streets to be the terminus for a high-speed rail link. The proposals would also mean the demolition of the homes of more than 350 of his constituents, he said.

The government has said its revised route halves the number of homes affected.

But I know that building the high speed rail link will change the lives of millions.

When the Victorians built Britain's railways in a generation, they combined engineering skills with vision and self-belief to create jobs for millions of people.

Nowadays, despite that head start, Britain's railways are lagging behind our competitors' and passengers often find trains are packed.

HS2 will change that. It's the only plausible solution to our capacity problems.

If the line is not built, then when the train lines become increasingly over-filled and fares go up dramatically to ration places, we will be kicking ourselves that we did not build it.

We will wonder why we lacked the vision and self-belief of our Victorian predecessors and our economic competitors.

More important for me, HS2 will help to rebalance the economy and create opportunities for those who, like me, struggled to find work in the north.

Railway innovation has always driven economic growth, and I believe it will create jobs in the parts of Britain that need them most by linking major northern cities with Birmingham and London.

Six months ago, HS2 was given the green-light by the Department for Transport but sadly the project is still facing a loud and organised opposition along the high-speed route, from Tory MPs, ideologues who oppose public transport, rich landowners, big trucking firms and the car lobby.

media captionThe HS2 rail route from above

I may be a northerner, but I am sensitive to the problems high speed rail will present the people who live near the line in southern England.

But I believe some of their arguments are overstated, and we all have to play our part in modernising the country so there are jobs and prosperity for our children.

Furthermore, the arguments of the opposition fail to recognise or appreciate any of the wider benefits that HS2 will bring. These include regeneration around stations, the creation of jobs not directly created in the construction of the line, inward investment, connectivity of the regions, and increased trade links.

We all need to look at the bigger picture and realise that HS2 will transform the lives of millions of people all over the UK, much like the new electric rail line from Coventry to London transformed life for me.

Heck, I want a station at Crewe!

media captionCouncil leader Martin with Pete Waterman on the HS2 rail scheme

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