Meeting with Michael Fabricant – 22nd January 2011
The Pavilion, Bit End Field, Whittington:
John Smith opened the meeting and thanked Mr Fabricant for attending. He emphasised that this HS2 group is not a Parish Council action group but a separate action group co-ordinated by John Heeler who will chair the meeting. He advised that minutes would be taken and posted to the group website. He advised Mr Fabricant that the group had prepared a number of questions, which they would like answers to. John also added that as this issue is very important for many residents of Whittington who are unable to attend the private meeting today, he would like Mr Fabricant to agree to attend a public meeting at a later date to address the residents concerns.
Planned question: The Whittington Community (John Smith / John Heeler)……”Mr Fabricant, when you offered to come to Whittington to talk to the WPC HS2 Action Group, you stated your preference at initially meeting with a smaller group rather than attend a large public gathering. There is quite a strong feeling in the community that this meeting should have been open to the public. Can you assure us that you will find time in February to meet with and take questions from the Whittington community in a public forum?”
Mr Fabricant advised that he would stay as long as necessary and thanked the group for inviting him. He advised that he was prepared to attend a future public meeting to address residents of Whittington and hoped that we would invite the local press i.e Mercury, Express and Star etc. to report on the content of the meeting. Mr Smith advised that the public meeting would be similar to that held recently by the County Council and that all press would be welcome.
Geoff Hanson asked that Mr Fabricant be given the opportunity to provide us with some background knowledge to open up proceedings:
Mr Fabricant advised that he is not pro-HS2 as may have been perceived by his actions to date but neither is he an apologist for it. Due to the planned viaduct over Boley Park he felt that opposing HS2 in principal would not have been an appropriate course of action to take as this would have left Lichfield with a route which he felt was totally unacceptable due to the number of residents affected. He accepts that in doing so the route has moved nearer to Whittington and that our group, and others, would have preferred him to oppose HS2 in principle.
He advised that he has queried with Philip Hammond and the Prime Minister whether HS2 is required at all. They state that we need to heal the North/South divide, which he agrees with, but he remains unconvinced that HS2 is the answer. Because of his professional qualifications he has been able to look into the view people have regarding increasing capacity on the existing line and he believes this will only increase capacity by 10% which is not enough. He stated that he has no reason to believe HS2 projections regarding capacity are correct and does not know where these figures have been derived from. Neither has he heard anyone else offer a viable alternative.
process for anti HS2 groups to put arguments forward against HS2 in principle. He advised that there will be opportunities within the consultation period and in the following 3 years during the independent enquiry
He reiterated that if he is not convinced HS2 is the answer, he will not support it although his lack of support may not make any difference due to cross party support. He added that he will do what he feels is right for Staffordshire and the nation.
John Heeler: Although we are not motivated by local issues we need to ask on a local level why you felt that moving the route had been a victory for Whittington residents.
Planned question: In view of the fact you are aware that this group opposes the principle of HS2, can you explain why you championed moving the line towards Whittington (which condones the principle) as being a victory for the people of Whittington?
Mr Fabricant responded by advising that his comments were made as he thought Whittington residents would be happy that the Loescher route was not going ahead. He apologised if we had thought otherwise and reiterated that he had not had any involvement in the Loescher route, had not invited Mr Loescher to a meeting and also felt that the Loescher route was appalling.
He acknowledged that the Loescher route had been considered by HS2 Limited.
John Cannon observed that the Loescher route had simply been exploited as a ”stalking horse” by HS2 to enable them to claim that they were listening to comments made but make only minimal changes to the initial proposals.
Mr Fabricant commented that if HS2 goes ahead and must go through this area, the current proposed route is a better route for the residents of Lichfield on the whole. That said, he is not yet convinced HS2 is viable particularly due to its high cost which he has raised with Philip Hammond and the Prime Minister.
He accepts that he has a responsibility to his constituents as well as to the United Kingdom.
Reasons why HS2 may not happen
Mr Fabricant advised that he believes there are two reasons why HS2 may not go ahead:
- The country enters into a double dip recession – this could mean Government reconsiders its spending. Mr Fabricant added that there is little be gained by arguing that we cannot afford the train in the current economic climate as we are not funding it now and when we are paying for it, hopefully, the economy will have improved.
- If national anti HS2 campaigners provide a compelling argument that HS2 is not needed and will not achieve its aims, it will not go ahead. However, given that all 3 parties support HS2 he is not convinced that there really is a compelling argument to be found.
Stuart Thurlby mentioned that the alternatives are there but do not seem to be being realistically considered. He stated that if the Government spent a similar amount of money on the current line as is being considered for HS2 it may prove to be a viable alternative. He also stated that many of the facts and figures quoted appear flawed
Mr Fabricant explained the concept of a Hybrid Bill – It has no party Whip, those who serve on the committee have power of judge and jury and no-one with an interest in the issue can be on committee which is selected from MP’s and Peers. As he has an interest through his constituency he will not be on the committee.
He went on to explain the process: at the end of 2011/early 2012 after Philip Hammond has made a decision on the final route (assuming no alternative to HS2 has been found) a procedural vote will take place and a committee will be formed. The Committee will undertake an enquiry considering all the evidence provided and any alternative proposals and report on their findings. This may take 3 years or more.
The Hybrid Bill is needed if both public and private expenditure are incurred and a Hybrid Bill would continue even if there is a change of Government.
Chris Miller asked for confirmation that the final decision would not be made until after the 3 year enquiry – Mr Fabricant confirmed this was the case.
Chris also queried the logic behind why an enquiry into the best solution for the North/South divide issue was being done after the decision that high speed rail is the best option had been made. She likened this to putting the cart before the horse.
Mr Fabricant advised that under the Hybrid Bill there is no party whip and therefore he will not have to follow the party line when voting. He also stated that Peers are also on the Committee who in his opinion tend to be more independent.
John Smith asked how the Committee members can be entirely neutral. Mr Fabricant advised that committee members would be discrediting themselves if they didn’t listen to the evidence provided and vote accordingly. He added that if David Cameron and George Osborne believe there is a better alternative they will consider it.
Geoff Hanson commented that people do not understand the Hybrid Bill issue and that perhaps it needs publicising.
Chris Miller commented that the vast majority believe we only have 5 months to make a difference. We need to show that that is not the case. Mr Fabricant agreed and commented that it is still very early days and we have to be patient.
Mr Fabricant recommended that the national anti HS2 group consult with engineers, economists, rail experts and the like to provide accurate evidence that the figures provided by HS2 Limited are flawed and inaccurate if we believe that to be the case.
He is happy to put any of our questions forward to Philip Hammond and is happy to continue to do so until all our queries are answered. He will be an advocate for us.
John Heeler asked if Mr Fabricant felt the statistics provided by HS2 made sense to him. He answered that they did not but that he had queried this with the Prime Minister.
Planned question: Passenger Demand
Do you really believe the passenger numbers forecast for the west coast line, rising from 45k in 2008 travelling to and from London every day, to 165k in 2033?
Does this feel like common sense to you?
As a businessman would you support this with your own money?
John Cannon advised Mr Fabricant that when we have raised queries with Philip Hammond and the Dept of Transport we have been fobbed off with standard answers. Mr Fabricant advised that because this issue is going to public consultation we cannot be fobbed off – our queries have to be answered as part of this process. He understands and shares our frustration.
Chris Miller commented that it appeared we must wait for committee to be allocated and lobby them.
Mr Fabricant advised that during the enquiry, findings will be published approximately every 3 days on the internet and a full report produced. As a result of the publication of the findings he would expect that the press will follow up and report on the economic figures quoted.
On the subject of the press Mr Fabricant advised that it is frustrating when figures quoted are distorted and reported incorrectly.
Rationale for HS2
Stuart Thurlby asked how the group can find out the original rationale behind HS2. He advised that it is unlikely that we can as it will be within cabinet papers and therefore secret for 30 years.
He advised that he will write to the Transport Select Committee of the House to ask for an enquiry the rationale behind HS2, and write to the Treasury Select Committee to query if the project will be subject to detailed scrutiny by them in the near future.
Stuart Thurlby observed that a high speed train network sounds a good idea in principle until the rational behind it is looked into. When we have done this we have concluded that it is not such a good idea. Mr Fabricant responded that the truth will out and HS2 will only go ahead if it the right thing for the nation.
Another group member advised Mr Fabricant that he felt HS2 is a trade off for a 3rd London runway and that healing the North/South divide is not its main aim. Mr Fabricant replied this is not the case and that HS2 is not intended just to link Birmingham to London – it is to link London to Scotland. Mr Fabricant does not believe there is a real substitute for face to face meetings regardless of improvements in technology (e.g. video conferencing) and therefore there will always remain a need to travel. He feels that air travel is out of favour at the moment although it may realistically be a viable alternative.
John Heeler asked – Would a more integrated transport system be a better option for all? Why is this not being considered?
Planned question: Transport Strategy
Do you not believe that an integrated public transport system giving efficient and cost effective access to all areas of the UK is a better use of public funds than a dangerously fast green field train line that only links cities with London?
Mr Fabricant responded: With regard to land mass – we are not like Spain and France. which are square – we are long and narrow and therefore high speed rail is a viable proposition.
He accepted that high speed rail had not been fully successful in France but believed it had been successful in Germany and in Denmark, another small country. He accepts that high speed rail only connects cities and had mentioned to Lord Adonis that his constituents can already get to London quickly on existing rail networks.
HS2 to HS9
Mr Fabricant was asked why the other routes had not yet been published although it was public knowledge that plans were in place up to HS9.
Planned question: Why are the plans for stages 2, to 9 not published?
He responded: In order to stop people registering companies, HS1-9 were registered but routes are not yet finalised. He believes that further route plans (HS3, HS4) will be announced within the next 12 months including routes to Liverpool and Manchester.
Also, as it has taken 3-4 years to get to this stage, further routes are not yet at the stage of publication. He added that, originally, the previous Labour Government was only going to take HS2 as far as Birmingham which the Conservatives felt was pointless.
John Heeler stated that this seems like an underhand tactic to avoid further areas of the country that may be affected in the future from joining current anti HS2 action as at this stage as they are unaware that they may be affected. Mr Fabricant vehemently disagreed with John’s view.
Mr Fabricant clarified that the Hybrid bill will only discuss HS2 – not HS3-9 and stated that HS3 will follow the same Hybrid Bill process.
John Heeler asked if that made the further routes somewhat inevitable.
Mr Fabricant advised that if the next part of the route is published in next 12 month far more MP’s will become involved.
Chris Miller suggested that perhaps people currently perceive that the Government/HS2 are deliberately not publishing the rest of the route to keep it localised and reduce opposition.
Mr Fabricant did not agree with this view and argued that the work has only been done on HS2 thus far which has taken a number of years.
Cost of HS2
Gordon Poxon mentioned that he was surprised that the Conservatives still support these Labour plans as they are generally more frugal.
Mr Fabricant advised that expenditure is not due to start till 2017 when the country should be in a better financial position and even then expenditure is to be spread over 8-10 years.
Planned question: Cost and Funding (David Smyth)
Are you aware that £19 bn is Nineteen thousand million pounds?
Even on the Governments own figures HS2 will cost £19.3bn (Nineteen thousand million pounds) to build and will lose £11.9bn cash over its life. This is public money and the Government accept that any private contributions or EEC funding will be small.
National Health Service: Capital budget now reduced to £5bn a year.
The massive flagship Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham cost £545m to develop – 35 such hospitals could be built instead of HS2
Education: Capital funding is being reduced from £8bn to £3bn per annum despite the condition of some of our school buildings
The national debt is £863bn and rising, and needs to be reduced.
Can you explain how this is a proper use of cash when the national debt is so high and other public facilities such as schools and hospitals are in such need of investment?
David Smythe queried whether Mr Fabricant felt that the general public really understood the huge sums of money the figures being quoted really are. He advised that the whole country will be paying for this and asked how the Government can justify spending such huge sums of money when we are in a period of austerity?
David also mentioned the toll road, and other train routes which have proven not to be commercially viable. He asked Mr Fabricant why therefore we should believe HS2 would be viable
Mr Fabricant agreed with David’s points and advised the group to involve the press to try to get some transparency on this issue.
John Heeler pointed out to Mr Fabricant that he is well placed to act on our behalf and asked him to help us get this out in the open and felt that he had a duty to push for this to be made public. Mr Fabricant agreed and stated that he is pushing for the figures to be verified.
On the subject of HS1 Mr Fabricant agreed that it is not making a profit but declared the previous train system laughable due its slow speed. He believes therefore that HS1 is a huge improvement on the previous set up.
What we should do next
Stuart Thurlby asked Mr Fabricant who we need to direct our questions to. Mr Fabricant advised us to write to him and he will act on our behalf to get us the answers that we require.
Mr Fabricant advised us to lobby national anti HS2 campaigners to get engineers and economists on board to disprove that HS2 is the only way to bridge the North/South divide and that there is not a better alternative.
He also advised that when questioning figures quoted by HS2 Ltd and putting forward an alternative we must ensure that we give full detailed reasons for our findings and back them up with expert opinions. John Heeler queried where the funding to pay for expert opinions should come from and questioned whether it should be Government funded. Mr Fabricant advised that it should not be Government funded and that the national anti HS2 group will be able to find experts to provide their opinions.
Mr Fabricant noted that within Whittington we are campaigning articulately and added that there must be some equally articulate professional people within the national anti HS2 campaign who can provide expert opinions and present their views. He strongly recommends that the group take steps to link up with the national campaign.
A member of the group advised Mr Fabricant that the County Councils involved are intending to join forces on this issue. Mr Fabricant does not believe that opposing HS2 without an alternative is productive which he understands is what the Staffordshire are doing. He felt that the County Council would be unable to take any action as HS2 is a national issue rather than a County issue.
David Smyth advised Mr Fabricant that he felt that if we gave the public a choice of what their taxes are spent on locally they may not be quite so quick to agree that HS2 is a good idea. He added that most people would accept a high speed train is a good idea until they realised exactly how much it costs.
Mr Fabricant stated that there is no wish to waste money but spreading the cost until 2050 annual costs would be relatively modest. He added that if the group disagree with this view or feel the cost is unacceptable they need to provide evidence that HS2 won’t achieve its objectives.
John Heeler asked if Mr Fabricant will press for an independent public review.
Planned question: (Clive Wormley) Given that it is inevitable that the experts on the part of HS2 Ltd will disagree with the experts of the HS2 action alliance over the business and environmental case for a high speed rail system, will you press for an independent review of their evidence?
Mr Fabricant advised that we will get one as part of the process and that publicity will arise within the 3 year process.
The meeting felt that in their limited experience of MP’s select committees they do not appear to be very effective and only provide answers to the questions asked, and therefore were not convinced that putting all their faith into this process is the right course of action.
Geoff Hanson advised that he has received an email from the transport committee stating that HS2 is not even on their agenda. He also advised that Virgin Rail are not communicating with us.
Mr Fabricant advised that he has already agreed to write to the Transport Committee and asked us to direct our queries to him. He will contact National Rail etc on our behalf to raise our specific questions. He advised that they may not answer our questions if they feel any answers would be commercially sensitive.
John Cannon suggested that Virgin could be keeping quiet deliberately as they may be an interested party in future franchise deals for HS2 and would not wish to jeopardise this position.
Mr Fabricant then answered John Heelers original question (John Heeler asked if Mr Fabricant will press for an independent public review?) advising that he believes that public enquiries work but so to will the Hybrid Bill enquiry. Chris Miller stated that a public enquiry would be newsworthy but this Hybrid enquiry may not be. Mr Fabricant stated that enquiries only generally become newsworthy when a high profile person is involved. He believes that the Hybrid enquiry will gain publicity. He stated that if he thinks the Hybrid committee are not giving us the answers we need he might say so and ask for an alternative.
Mr Fabricant’s actions
Mr Fabricant agreed that there are many issues to be considered further including congestion and capacity on the current WCML. Consideration could also be given to the Chiltern line and even to having train lines above the motorway as they do in Japan thus using existing transport corridors. These issues should all be seriously considered if proven viable.
Mr Fabricant has added our website to his facebook page which has 3200 followers.
He advised that he has asked Philip Hammond why we can’t add 2 lines to the current WCML. Mr Hammond had answered that this option would destroy more housing as the current lines run through cities and built up areas.
Mr Fabricant asked us to consider that the current system is running at capacity and therefore an alternative is needed. Stuart Thurlby agreed with this and queried what exactly the North/South divide issue related to? Mr Fabricant advised it is an economic argument. He stated that in other countries high speed rail has helped to spread economic benefits.
Chris Miller asked if the main motive regarding the North South divide was to provide transport or to increase wealth in Northern cities. Mr Fabricant advised 2 reasons – there is already overcrowding on trains which we can’t improve and there is a wish to increase wealth in the North and in Scotland.
John Smith commented that moving the route from Boley Park the loop would of necessity stop the train travelling at high speeds. Mr Fabricant agreed that HS2 does need to slow down when travelling through the inverted S shape which adds approximately 4 minutes to a journey to Scotland. He also observed that the viaduct would be 28ft high over Streethay (much less than some exaggerated claims made recently) and advised that some of the route (North of Lichfield) is temporary until HS3 is built.
Mr Fabricant was asked why we can’t wait until HS3 published before continuing the route past Birmingham to avoid spending on a temporary route. He suggested that because HS2 is not planned to arrive in Birmingham at New Street station it cannot be linked to the existing routes North of Birmingham.
Paying for HS2
Planned question: Can you please explain where the funding for the £17-30bn is coming from given the current state and predicted forecast of the economy, and in particular what percentage will be met by the taxpayer?
Mr Fabricant commented that he does not believe that HS2 will be funded by European monies. He advised that the majority of funding will come from private funding i.e. pension funds with only a small proportion from taxes. Cynically he expects more than currently planned will come from taxes as private investors may not give sufficient support.
Geoff Hanson asked Mr Fabricant to consider what this money could do in other areas e.g. education. Mr Fabricant advised that all costs will be fully evaluated.
Ali Smytheman asked Mr Fabricant if he was aware that Virgin was apparently able to reduce journey times with much lower levels of investment than required in HS2 and had this been considered. Mr Fabricant advised that he had no knowledge of this issue.
Geoff Hanson asked if modifying existing routes to accommodate the larger rolling stock envisaged had been considered. Mr Fabricant advised that we would need to raise the height of tunnels and whilst that is being done no trains could run. Therefore it is not a viable option.
Geoff also asked if HS2 will stop at Birmingham airport/NEC. Mr. Fabricant replied that he was not sure. He added that not all trains will stop at Birmingham and some will pass by.
A member of group queried if HS2 Limited were comparing like for like when quoting timings as the current train route stops at Coventry but HS2 will not.
Mr Fabricant recommended that we focus on showing show how immediate congestion can be alleviated (e.g. reducing 1st class rail carriages and increasing 2nd class carriages) and give us time to properly consider our options as a country.
Ali Smytheman asked if it is correct that if we get 100,000 signatures on the national petition the issue would be debated in Parliament. Mr Fabricant replied that this was not decided on fully but if it was the outcome would not be binding. Ali asked if it is worth us trying to get to this figure. Mr Fabricant advised not and commented that this was just gesture politics. John Smith commented that he felt this was very sad as we had believed it would make a difference and encourage debate.
A member of the group commented that as we are near capacity on WCML, how are we going to get travellers North of Birmingham until HS3 is in place? Mr Fabricant commented that this was a good point and advised that he will ask The Department of Transport how many extra HS2 trains could be accommodated on WCML North of Lichfield until HS3 is built. If the response is “very few” he will ask why HS2 is continuing past Birmingham. He added that if HS2 could stop at Birmingham until HS3 is built he will be in a position to argue that the train does not need to go through Staffordshire at all. He considered that travelling to Coleshill on this basis is viable but perhaps not further.
Ali Smytheman commented that the group are worried that a decision on high speed rail has already been made by the Government. Mr Fabricant responded that it has been decided in principle but can’t be delivered until it has been fully investigated. With such a huge amount to be spent and with huge economic cost he reassured the group that it will be fully investigated.
Gordon Poxon asked what advice Mr Fabricant would give to residents directly affected. He responded that in the next 6 months very detailed information regarding hardship issues will be published. He advised that Philip Hammond has stated that compensation will be above what is normally paid.
John Heeler asked Mr Fabricant if he will show he is questioning HS2 rather that pro HS2. He responded that yes he will – he’s not sure why this has not been promoted this way thus far. He is currently unconvinced and is very questioning.
Mr Fabricant was asked to confirm the timing of events. He advised:
Consultation period – Feb to July
End of year – Secretary of State issues decision on whether HS2 is going ahead or not and the final route
Months later – Hybrid Bill Committee established (mid 2012?)
Years later – final outcome.
Mr Fabricant advised that everyone on final route will be contacted directly by the Government regarding compensation. He also advised anyone trying to sell their house now who feels that the sale price has been affected by HS2 should contact him directly as there is a compensation fund available for that purpose.
He will also ask Mr Hammond for details on public consultation.
Ali Smytheman advised that the standard answer letter that we receive from him is disheartening. She asked how we can get a more personalised reply from him. Mr Fabricant responded that he receives 4-500 letters per month on other issues and therefore individual replies on the same issue are not feasible.
Mr Fabricant stressed that we must push ourselves with regard to the consultation process and act quickly.