Conference highlights alternatives to HS2

A CONFERENCE against the HS2 high speed rail project attracted dozens of visitors.

The Yorkshire HS2 Alternatives Conference 2017, at Wakefield Town Hall, was co-hosted by Wakefield Council and Yorkshire Against HS2.

HS2 wants to build a line from Aston through Bramley, Mexborough and the Dearne Valley — known as the M18 route — after switching from an option via Meadhowhall.

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A consultation period ended last week and a decision is expected later in the year.

Event organiser Jonathan Pile said: “It’s incredibly important that Yorkshire’s voice is heard and it’s not decided in London by people in a smoke-filled room.

“For two years, from 2010-12, HS2 were researching a route in Yorkshire. They came up with the Meadowhall route. They spent two years researching it and two years advocating it, then after a successful lobbying campaign by Sheffield City Council and Sheffield Chamber of Commerce they dropped it overnight like a hot potato.

“The M18 route was rejected by HS2 in 2011.”

Mr Pile said that HS2 had looked at a number of different routes through South Yorkshire and said it could still opt for an alternative.

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Mr Pile said that Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband, prior to his current opposition to the M18 route, “did a lot to save HS2 when Labour wasn’t keen”.

He added: “How has he been rewarded? By HS2 going smack through Mexborough.”

Former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, of Sheffield Green Party, said her party was against HS2.

She said: “The Green Party saw that it simply did not add up.

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“It forces resources and money into London. It’s not for the North.

“London needs a healthy economic country around it, not everything pulled into London.

“Labour went for HS2 because in 2010 they wanted a few northern seats. That’s no way to determine transport policy.”

Jonathan Tyler, of the Institute of Transport Studies, co-wrote a study on HS2 and said he could not support the project.

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He said that over the years he had seen many mistakes in the railway sector but “none as potentially catastrophic as this one”.

Mr Tyler said that the HS2 plans offered “no sense of a real network” and blasted HS2’s claim it would run 18 trains an hour.

He said: “No other high speed rail network has more than 14 an hour.”

Mr Tyler said that the Institute experts had tried to show their findings to ministers but had received a “brusque rebuff”.

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Tony May, the study’s co-author, said that HS2 did not deal with connectivity problems because it would reduce the service to existing stations.

He added: “The bottom line is that if you get benefits they will be accrued by areas more economically active, London in this case, and it will be very patchy in distribution.”

Wakefield Council leader Cllr Peter Box suggested a better rail link from Hull to Liverpool would benefit the North more.

He said the HS2 budget could be better spent boosting the road network or spending £2.6 billion to solve Britain’s social care problems.

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He said: “I think it’s immoral. This country needs to look at its priorities.”

Wakefield Council’s cabinet member for transport, Matthew Morley, said: “I don’t see how this sort of investment is going to improve anything. All it’s going to do is suck new jobs to the south and take more young people away.”

Tom Banks, of the Taxpayers Alliance, told the conference that a survey showed 91 per cent of Yorkshire people believed HS2 would go over budget and there was little support for it.

He said: “The insistence that people from the north want to get to London a bit quicker is questionable, but also quite patronising.”

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Joe Rukin, of Stop HS2, said there had never been a proper assessment as to whether HS2 was needed.

He said: “There was never anyone sitting down saying what does the country need?

“They said we need a new north-south railway line so it might as well be a high speed one.”

Other schemes were outlined at the conference, including double decker trains, as well as alternative routes suggested by different groups.