Mrs Villiers, Shadow Transport Secretary, has declined to give Labour a blank cheque for its proposal to build a high speed rail line from London to Birmingham. Far from being the end of the transport world as we know it, as presented by some, this is welcome news.
New high speed rail lines pose two serious problems. One is they are very costly to the hard pressed taxpayers, requiring substantial public subsidy. For that reason I understand that new high speed rail lines are being considered not for the next impecunious Parliament, but for the one after that, in the hope that by then there will be sounder and more ample finances. It means there is no need to rush this decision.
The second problem is they can be very damaging to the environment. Labour’s proposal may entail driving an intrusive swathe of concrete sleepers and steel overheads through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Chiltern hills. Successful high speed lines need to be as straight and as flat as possbile, requriing substantial earth moving. Anyone living near the proposed route will want to be able to object and to discuss the level of compensation that will be appropriate for loss of amenity, increased noise and vibration should they lose their case.
Lord Adonis may fancy his role as the man who drew a line on a map for the future. Just drawing a line is the easy part. It is raising the money and selling the idea to all who will be affected by it that is the difficult part. New roads can be paid for from private money and tolls, and new roads can be more flexibly designed as they can take more hills and bends than railway tracks. Perhaps that’s why they are not so popular with fans of big government. Both main parties did co-operate successfully on the M6 tollway.