Two of the hens have taken to flying up on to a bough of one of the larger apple trees as darkness falls. Given the presence of foxes we have a ladder nearby, and the duty ‘locker-upper’ is expected to climb up in the dark and to carry them to the coop. It was whilst Albert and I were so engaged last night that he unwittingly gave me a topic for today. I was holding both ladder and torch as he wobbled up there when he exclaimed that ‘these sods are as barking as the supporters of high-speed rail’.
He later explained that the consultation period for HS2 – the plan to create a high-speed rail link between London and us up north – expired yesterday. There were around 40,000 objections and the government immediately announced that since this was a lower number than expecetd they planned to proceed. There has been no convincing business case yet a commitment to the expenditure of up to £40 billion has been rubber-stamped. Incredible! Only this week I learned from friends in the London area that so many redundancies are being made to Mental Health services that clients will be vitually left to their own fate, and all for a saving of one million pounds, yet we can afford to fund the biggest folly in our island’s history.
This has all the hallmarks of a public-sector vanity project. Other countries with such a facility have larger landmasses than ours and therefore achieve larger cuts in travel times. We are told that once the London to Birmingham stretch is built there will be a saving of 15 minutes. Who are all these dynamic business people who can turn around their company’s fortunes in less time than it takes me to pop up to the newsagent?
Cameron has made constant play of his commitment to localism yet he is apparently relaxed at the propsect of bulldozing whole villages and ruining some of our loveliest rural escapes. Considering just how weak is the business case it is almost amazing to imagine anyone in their right mind being prepared to devastate tracts of unspoiled countryside and our natural heritage.
Another factor in the case against HS2 is the appalling state of today’s rail services. In many parts of the country commuter services are a nightmare. Train sets often comprising just two or three units are jam packed, filthy, and run late. The constant excuse is lack of funding, this despite fares that, unlike the trains, continue to rocket. For a tiny fraction of the cost of high speed, these services could be transformed. As for journey times, the current inter-city trains already run at 125 mph.
Sorting the present capacity would certainly have a more significant effect on the economy than hurtling business executives from London to Birmingham in a marginally shorter time! Inevitably those who question such supposed progress will be labelled Luddites but the analogy is a false one. This is not a question of opposing progress but one of whether it is progress at all. And at a cost that makes the forecast savings from all the cuts look tiny, the answer is surely no.
And another thing, as Victor Meldrew was wont to cry. In today’s connected world, the physical location of offices has come to matter less – so why not stimulate regional economies by investing a fraction of the cost of high-speed rail in broadband connections and other technological facilities?
If we as a nation had money to burn this would be a prestigeous project with plenty of private sector profit, and resulting employment. But we haven’t the cash, we need huge improvements in our existing services and our ever-shrinking countryside could do without yet more desecration.
The only defence that Cameron and his pals can produce is that the Lib Dem and Labour parties also support it. The answer to that is they are equally daft, Mr Cameron! Even Boris Johnson is more sensible than you. He is opposed to HS2 and no one could accuse him of being anti-enterprise!
There is a fair head of steam building up in the anti-HS2 camp and the likelihood is that the whole thing will be abandoned before the election. The problem is that by then a few billion will have been blown on planning, and a few deep pockets made deeper still!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S GENERAL KNOWLEDGE QUIZ; 1. Dutch 2. It is not finished 3. Kylie Minogue 4. Tea taxes 5. Pig 6. Angela Merkel 7. Wolves 8. Minnesota 9. Holland 10. England