In search of financial support for flood victims and defences? Divert the HS2 budget now

Step forward High Speed 2 and defend yourself

Mira Bar Hillel
Friday 14 February 2014 11:52
HS2’s under-fire rail line, as it might look crossing the Birmingham and Fazeley canal
HS2’s under-fire rail line, as it might look crossing the Birmingham and Fazeley canal

To try and estimate the true cost of the floods affecting significant tranches of the country would be unwise, as the crisis is far from over. It would also be in poor taste, as thousands are still engulfed in uncertainty as well as foul water. They desperately need sandbags – albeit not at £40 each - not accountants.

But the economic cost will be huge. It will include not only property, crops and infrastructure destroyed or damaged beyond repair, but also man-hours lost and long-term effects on property values, commuting, travel, retailing and tourism affecting the West Country, the Thames Valley and our friends in the North.

One need not repeat the horrors, nor the knowledge that not only is the winter of 2014 far from over, but that winters to come may be just as bad, as the Jet Stream takes up for walks on the wild side.

Adding insult to injury, the government’s “Money is No Object” knee-jerk didn’t last long. After much mealy-mouthing it is far from clear that any new money has been allocated to anything in particular, and that far from being “no object” money will be strictly subject to existing budgets, already stretched to breaking point.

Or are they?

There is a project which is totally within the remit of the Transport Secretary and its massive funding has been approved by the Treasury. It has had to survive High Court challenges and has come to be seen as some kind of Tory flagship, although its architect is the former (unelected) Labour Transport supremo Lord Adonis. It will profoundly damage the environment and is deeply unloved in many Tory heartlands. It will cost between £50 - £100 BILLION and will reduce travelling time between London and Birmingham by, er, 10 minutes – unless there is flooding, of course.

Step forward High Speed 2 and defend yourself.

I don’t know anyone who supports the project and, given my experience of High Speed 1, I can’t blame them. People who had the audacity to be living along the proposed route were treated as obstacles to be removed, not human beings with lives and rights. So far, I would say that no lessons have been learnt and people blighted by HS2 are being treated with the same degree of compassion.

London Mayor Boris Johnson warns the cost will spiral (and history is on his side). His father Stanley, whose house is in the blight zone, is leading prominent objectors into battle.

The project has done itself few favours by being evasive with local councils as well as potential victims. And by the recent appointment of Patrick O'Connell, the man involved in the huge waste of taxpayers money in the NHS IT fiasco, as head of programme and strategy.

So here we have it: a desperate – and extremely popular - cause without a budget, and a huge budget with a controversial – and arguably redundant – cause. A marriage made in heaven. Let the banns be read!

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