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Selling off HS2 land is not ‘long-term decision making for a brighter future’ - Yorkshire Post Letters

Work going on at the Victoria Road Crossover Box ancillary shaft HS2 site near to Old Oak Common in west London. PIC: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Work going on at the Victoria Road Crossover Box ancillary shaft HS2 site near to Old Oak Common in west London. PIC: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

I refer to The Yorkshire Post front page article of October 21 ‘City’s HS2 land to be sold next summer’ and suggest this shows a complete lack of management skills and financial commonsense in both government and the civil service.

The country may not be able to afford both HS2 and the Network North projects already in the pipeline but it is unbelievable to come to the conclusion that it's forever one or the other and in effect prevent HS2 to the North ever occurring which is what the two decisions (on planning and land sales) on HS2 means.

Failure to protect the current corridors in planning policy terms means development can occur on them in the near/medium future and it will be much more difficult to claw back/create new corridors in our already densely developed urban areas. This development is likely to be less valuable without HS2 than with and makes no commercial sense.

The CPO (Compulsory purchase) of land and buildings is expensive and even in January 2022 (The YP 01/01/22) it was estimated £150m had been spent on acquisitions for the eastern leg and a further 130 applications were in progress, many I suspect now complete, thus increasing the figure of £150m considerably.

All of these assets now purchased have a value in terms of uplift in capital value over the years and rental income which would provide a financial return ameliorating some of the purchase costs and maintain the corridor for the longer term prosperity.

To sell off and repeat the process in 5-10 years at greater cost makes no sense at all and sends a message that an economic recovery for the north is not a target.

The current decision fails dismally to show ‘Long term decision making for a brighter future’, it appears to me to be short-sighted.

The second failure is for the government to have ignored the past, it appears to have lost its ‘corporate memory’, not unusual in the last 75 years. Governments throughout the 20th century allowed old transport routes to be closed and lost with no thought to the future.

First it was canals, closed, sold piecemeal and development allowed. By the late 20th century, at great cost the benefits of canals were realised environmentally, socially and economically and many have been reopened.

Then the railways following Dr Beeching, where not only branch lines but also main lines were closed and sold off and developed, only recently have some realised the error in this and proposals for reopening are slowly coming forward with the same advantages as reopening canals albeit in different proportions.

This failure of corporate memory continues not only in decisions on HS2 but also the Leeds trams (twice dropped by different governments) and the continued persistence of National Highways who are infilling old railway bridges without good reason and dissecting routes with potential reuse.

A look at passenger numbers for Great Britain in 2022-23 shows they are returning to the record levels pre-Covid, which far exceed the numbers for most of the 20th century. We need real ‘long term decision making for a brighter future‘ (Sunak, September 2023) to add capacity to our rail network.