2012 started with good news for people who care about making this country a nicer place to live and a better place to do business.
On January 10, the government gave the green light to High Speed 2: an exciting programme to build a modern high-speed railway system that will speed up journeys between our major cities and accommodate rising passenger and freight numbers.
This week the government, as part of its review of UK aviation, said it would consider the Thames Hub airport – one of several proposals to relieve chronic overcrowding at Heathrow.
Good news – but this is just the start of the line. It will be years, if ever, before JCBs move on site to deliver these overdue improvements. First, comes an expensive and lengthy process of consultation. And with consultation, comes the PR war.
A blue-blooded coalition is lining up against HS2. In The Daily Telegraph, Lord Rothschild laments that the railway – passing perhaps two miles from his door – will make a “great noise” and shatter the tranquility of his Waddesdon chateau. Meanwhile Lord Astor, taking to the Spectator, murmurs darkly that HS2 is the mischievous work of “northern Labour MPs who relish the thought of the beauty of the Chilterns being destroyed”. Surely, these people could just use the Internet?
The opening salvos in the PR war against Thames Hub have been fired from the lofty heights of the moral high ground, rather than high society. In The Guardian the RSBP says it would be an “act of vandalism” to concrete over some “internationally important” mud in the Thames Estuary. Friends of Earth, no doubt shaking their heads sadly, add “David Cameron’s pledge to lead the greenest government ever will ring hollow if he gives the green light to a huge expansion in air travel.”
If that wasn’t enough to convince you that any attempts to improve transport will end in disaster, the anti’s have also resorted to pseudo-economic arguments, suddenly demonstrating a mastery of cost-benefits analysis to ridicule the proposals. Not to mention amazing powers of foresight.
Fortunately, the debate has not entirely be hijacked by NIMBYs, luddites, the mean-minded and the absurd Liberal Democrats. James Dyson and Lord Foster have offered visionary thinking. But I think Matthew Parris, in last week’s Spectator, gives the most lucid and compelling argument in favour of progress. It’s a wonderful piece, with his trademark generosity, good humour and insight. His closing words give you the sense of it:
Be bold. Ask yourself: if we had already moved to a new airport east of London with bespoke, fast transport links, would we now be regretting it? No! If we already had high-speed rail links to our major English cities, would we now be regretting it? No! Then it’s only about getting from here to there, starting now. Go to it, David Cameron, George Osborne.