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HS2 Week – Files Focus: Fighting back or off track?

HS2 Week – Files Focus: Fighting back or off track?

🕔16.Sep 2013

Foreword by Kevin Johnson, Partner, RJF Public Affairs


Today we set off on a journey in and around the tangled web that is HS2.

As Neil Elkes pointed out in the Post last week, President Kennedy stood up 41 years ago to declare he would put a man on the moon within the decade. Gordon Brown launched HS2 declaring to build a new line between London and Birmingham… in 16 years. The way things have been going recently, he might have been better off trying to land someone on Mars before 2020. In terms of management and messaging, it’s been a case study in how not to run a campaign.

Last week, the Government started a self-declared fightback on HS2. Thursday this week sees the Autumn Conference of Greengauge21, one the original groups established to act as an evidence base for High Speed Rail, taking place at Millennium Point. So, we thought what better time to give the issue some real focus.

RJF Public Affairs, publisher of the Chamberlain Files, is an unapologetic supporter of HS2. So there is more than a hint of bias in how we have constructed this series and who we have asked to guest blog. RJF is firmly rooted in Birmingham and we believe – if well managed – HS2 is critical to the city region’s long term prospects. Whenever I ask one of our city leaders what is on top of their list of long term priorities, HS2 is more often than not the answer. With close family and friends in Warwickshire and Buckinghamshire, I know only too well the strength of feeling against HS2 – much of the time for perfectly valid and understandable reasons. However, I believe the national interest in terms of the benefits arising from HS2 outweigh the concerns and consequences.

My colleague Paul Dale kicks off the week with a scene setter. We will be publishing pieces from Lord Adonis (former Transport Secretary), Jerry Blackett at (Birmingham Chamber Group), Ben Harrison (Centre for Cities), Geoff Inskip (Centro), John Morris (Birmingham Airport) and Hon Alderman Mike Olley among others. Notwithstanding our editorial stance, we are making space for the other side of the debate too, including an article from Phil Riley (Free Radio).

The anti-HS2 lobby is well organised and funded. For those directly affected by the line driving through their communities, objections are to be expected and understood. However, it’s easy to be negative – particularly in this country when we start discussing grand projects. We seem more able to remember the failures rather than the likes of the Library of Birmingham or London 2012. Those managing and advocating HS2 have certainly made it even easier to knock and have allowed a pessimistic and fatigued culture to invade those who once supported the project, let alone those who were previously on the fence.

So, Files Focus: Fighting Back or Off Track? aims to give those in favour of HS2 an opportunity to marshal their arguments and start to make a better fist of this £42Bn baby. The IEA, the IOD and the Public Accounts Committee have all had well publicised reports in recent weeks so the fightback is long overdue. We welcome debate from all perspectives – through comments on the site, via social media or by contributing guest blogs for publication later in the week.

RJF wants to see HS2 back on track, at least able to engage in a proper debate based in fact rather than myth and emotion. The first task for HS2 Ltd and all those behind the line is to flesh out the story, with clarity of messages and a pro-active campaign alongside robust data and strong project management. This is our small contribution to that effort.

If you would like to know more about HS2 or local transport issues in general, RJF has produced a special briefing paper. You can request a copy from Benjamin.Mulvihill@rjfpa.com.


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