HS2 is just not costing enough. That is the big problem

…And another thing: it is not taking enough Tory Voters’ housing.

The project as scoped is in fact incomplete. The end result is that arguments for the project itself are incomplete. Effectively, the project process itself has become the debate, as our short termist political system is not fit to manage long-term land use. For HS2; read Garden Cities, The High Street, and whatever aspect of the same problem is being badged by those with a specific interest. As with all aspects of land use and infrastructure, the issues are the same and the outcomes are linked. There is no real management of our portfolio by government. Government, when it comes to long term land and property, does everything but govern.

The HS2 project should be increased in scope to include public transport connectivity from each station; costing more initially but generating the sustainable economic benefits the core investment is designed to create. And let’s keep the objectives in mind by scoping this from a performance and not an engineering perspective. HS1 stations generated a lot of heartache, albeit fees for us, because of this.

‘Definition of Project’ is something necessary on any major urban project and a long forgotten piece of work we undertook for a public body still seems sadly relevant.

The net project cost can be ameliorated if a TDA (Transport Development Area) is established as part of the scheme at each hub, including CPO powers. Network Rail should be charged with creating these TDA’s in separate business entities, integrated with LEP Boards. Travel-to-work areas, area wide transport strategies, P&Ls and budgets should be set in the TDA remit. I am on record as saying that NR’s property team should spin off location specific TDAs. Following the David Higgins regime they ought to have the senior management to generate this. Phasing is also key, ie opportunities need planning for now.

Given the UK is a series of developed hubs and green swathes; we are nationally in effect one big Garden City, as the phrase can now be used very loosely! But perhaps not loosely enough to badge Ebbsfleet as one, when in reality at 15 minutes from central London and on a transport node, it is really a TDA. High housing densities can be achieved, as well as high amenity levels here and at any station. An approach demanded I thought by the needs of sustainable development and planning policy, or so I thought.

More domestic land and housing should be purchased along the route to reduce the number of losers. Development land should be designated so more value uplift can be secured, for the scheme promoter, the UK taxpayer.

Taken together these measures would include the real costs and benefits of the HS2 project, within the project. They would require our politicians to front up to a more comprehensive and more accurate Definition of Project. In the short term a more comprehensive approach would avoid diluting the clearly strategically justified set of economic arguments. In the longer term it would enable the taxpayer to benefit from more of the, frankly grossly unappreciated, land value uplift. (For long-term income from public investment generally, see our thoughts on reforming a tier of business rates around land use and its catchment.)

Lastly, the ‘does it benefit London or the regions?’ argument is of course bonkers. Land use and economic benefits no longer automatically coincide in this globally connected world. Connecting to London does matter and efficient connectivity gives the UK competitive advantages. London is the UK’s global hub and we are nationally one little ‘Garden City’; hence our international appeal. The one bit we are missing, if to secure the economic, societal and one-nation benefits from HS2 is some asset management. If HS2+ is to leverage anything as remotely sustainable as a Garden City we need a focus on ongoing management, not just the easily badged but less easily justifiable ‘development’.

Jonathan Naughton

Urban Futures, The Farm Fund, Chair RICS Land Use & Infrastructure Policy Panel

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.