Yes, I am a NIMBY. So are you. So is everyone who cares about the environment. “Il faut cultiver notre jardin,” said Voltaire. If we were all permitted to follow his advice, the planet would be very much greener and pleasant.
British fishermen would not lay waste to fisheries which should one day sustain their grandchildren. Spaniards will. No-one is better qualified or better motivated to maintain and improve the environment than he or she who lives and works in a specific area and so has a vested interest in its sustainability.
But of course, a community or nation has requirements which do not always conform with the welfare of our prized herbaceous borders, so constant war exists between government and the concerned individual. This, provided that the NIMBY voice be heeded, is a healthy evolutionary battle.
We NIMBYs have plenty of reasons for objecting to the London-Birmingham High Speed Rail Link. It cuts a motorway-wide swathe through 150 designated nature sites, including ten SSIs and four nature reserves, without adequate consultation. It necessitates construction of a vast new car-park at Birmingham International. Even its most ardent champions cannot pretend that it will improve the appearance of the Chilterns or the quality of habitat for nearby villagers or Britain’s wildlife.
As for the cheap rhetoric attempting to embarrass British people for being small-time and outdated, that should be sent back, artfully mutilated and strapped across its horse. Proponents of HS2 wrote to the Daily Telegraph, pointing out that the UK has just 70 miles of high-speed track – less, apparently, than Morocco and Saudi Arabia. It is a "continuous embarrassment to British businesses promoting the UK overseas," they wrote.
No, it isn’t.
Saudi Arabia has an area over sixteen times that of England. Morocco is over three times bigger. Both boast extensive tracts of desert or mountain and few roads and settlements. England, by contrast, is an overpopulated little island whose road-map looks like a heavy-drinking farmer’s cheeks.
For all that, if this vast, Ozymandias-style project fulfilled government forecasts, we must pay the price – which includes, at current estimates, a cash outlay of £32.7 billion, or £1,700 per household (including, of course, many millions of households to which it is wholly irrelevant). If, as is projected, the link earns £46.9 billion, creates a million new jobs, facilitates international trade and closes the north-south divide, I for one must abandon my objections.
But I cannot recall a single comparable publicly-funded building project which did not go at least 25 percent over budget. Even the current quote fails to take into account the 22.5 miles of extra tunnels announced last week by Transport Secretary Justine Greening, the costs of extensive necessary enhancement of facilities and infrastructure at Euston, operating expenses and the £1.3 billion per annum required to service the resultant government debt.
As for the projected benefits, they are conjectural and improbable. £11 billion are attributed to working time saved by the shorter journey-time. This is a ridiculous, outdated assessment. In an age of mobile phones, laptops and video-conferencing, it is far more important that business-travellers are guaranteed seats and reliable connections en route.
The Taxpayers' Alliance, meanwhile, has assessed that a rise in fares of 27% over inflation will be needed if projections are to be realised. ‘If that does not take place,’ they say, ‘revenue is likely to be at least £10bn lower.’
So that’s our putative £14 billion profit wiped out. No attempt has been made to appraise the costs of compensation for inconvenience to season-ticket-holders during the decade of construction, nor can anyone accurately assess the social and economic cost to residents of communities along the line and those sidelined by this arrogant capital-to-subsidiary capital link. Services to cities in the process of regeneration such as Coventry and Stoke-on-Trent will suffer in consequence of HS2.
Travel time on the existing Euston-Birmingham line could be reduced to 50 minutes at a fraction of the cost. Overcrowding and restoration of the existing threadbare network is a far higher priority than a few minutes saved on a mainline artery. High Speed Trains in France and Spain have confirmed the dominance of already thriving capital cities and so reduced employment and engagement in smaller, needier communities.
Above all, perhaps, at a time of grave recession our government is proposing to spend a total of £33 billion of our money on a vast, essentially local vanity project which benefits only those on expense accounts and is opposed by 48 percent of the population and irrelevant to many more.
As an MEP travelling regularly between Birmingham, London and Brussels, I should be amongst the fortunate few to welcome this initiative.
I deplore it.