Why do London’s Greens oppose HS2?

Why do London’s Greens oppose HS2?

The Green Party has high hopes of doing well in next year’s elections for London Mayor and the London Assembly, encouraged by picking up seats at last year’s borough elections and a solid European election result in the capital in May. But does their policy on one key issue affecting London quite add up? Notably for a party that foregrounds environmental issues, the Greens oppose High Speed 2 (HS2), the controversial proposed new rail link that would connect London, Birmingham and cities in the north of England. Why oppose what, on the face of it, ought to be a good project for the environment?

Kirsten de Keyser is the Green candidate for the Assembly constituency of Barnet & Camden, an area already affected by HS2 due to Euston station being lined up as its London terminus. She will also contest the Holborn & St Pancras parliamentary seat at the next general election. She is firmly behind her party’s policy of opposing HS2, explaining her belief that the environmental impact of constructing HS2 would outweigh its purported positive effects – an impact that would include not only the loss of natural habitats, but also the carbon emissions from construction. “If the means to an end are more destructive than the end is constructive, find a different solution,” she says. 

For de Keyser, that solution means upgrading existing infrastructure rather than building new. Past experience suggests this might be costly, not least for rail users: the modernisation of the west coast mainline, completed in 2008, entailed a decade of disruption for commuters. Proponents of HS2 argue that all three main lines out of London would require extensive work to achieve the same expansion of capacity a single new high-speed line could achieve. 

De Keyser recognises that the project has been wrongly sold on speed and that it is actually primarily about capacity. Her suggestion is introducing double-decker trains, which are common in continental Europe. These have never been used in Britain, largely because of the gauge widths and low tunnels of the countrys Victorian infrastructure. De Keysers response? “I dont believe it can’t be done.”

This comment reflects more generally de Keysers opposition to HS2. It boils down to a lack of trust. She doesnt believe the economic and environmental arguments put forward for the project are made in good faith. “You cant put honest and HS2 in the same sentence,” she says. Her theory is that HS2 is a vehicle for developers to by-pass local opposition to development. Planning permission, she noted, is “devilishly difficult to obtain” in Camden, “but if you have the cover of a public project you can sweep aside the entire slate of planning permission”.

She believes it is no coincidence that the project has been put under review by the government just as land around Euston has been cleared. The area is now “absolutely primed for the next Kings Cross regeneration project,” she says. Her view is an expression of a more general opposition to development: “We dont want to build any more in London.” De Keyser acknowledges that there is nothing in the public domain supporting this theory: “It is an incredibly controversial view and not a lot of people, if I may say so, are brave enough to express it”. If this sounds like a conspiracy theory, de Keyser would agree. She refers to it – part wryly, part affectionately – as “my conspiracy theory.” 

Describing herself as having “always been on the left of politics”, she was a Labour Party member throughout its “modernisation” by Tony Blair, but left over Iraq and found a new home with the Liberal Democrats, attracted in particular to the partys opposition to a rise in student tuition fees. But she had not signed up to deal-making with the Tories. Disillusioned with the coalition government, the final straw for her was the expansion of secret trials. Politically homeless once more, she turned to the Greens. She found they were not the single-issue party she had previously believed them to be and had come of age”

It is perhaps unsurprising that someone of De Keyser’s political background might lack trust in the good intentions of the government. But her stance also reflects her peculiar position as a Green parliamentary candidate in one of the safest Labour seats in the country. “Im the one-person awkward squad,” she says. “Where you have these big safe seats its really important that you have an alternative voice, otherwise no debate is ever had.” As she sees it, in safe seats the incumbent party gets complacent: “Their own people dont ask them the awkward questions.” 

Thanks to Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thurnberg, environmental issues have been pushed to the foreground of political debate. This might help the Greens  – oppositional, mistrustful of government and sceptical about development – to pick up voters and send a message to the Big Two parties. In the meantime, the battle over HS2 continues.

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Categories: Analysis


  1. Alex McKenna says:

    Meanwhile, thousands of gas-guzzlers trundle north, fouling the air with their fumes.. Not very good for her precious rare newts I would have thought. And as for tinkering with the other rail lines AGAIN! More sticky tape mending to achieve very little, costing fortunes and disrupting for years and years and years.

  2. Johan says:

    While there is a good green case made against HS2, I’m really surprised how narrow de Keyser’s POV on this is. Against a national infrastructure project because of local developers? And against further development in London at all? That seems very short-sighted given it is far better environmentally to densify London than increase the sprawl in the countryside. And double-decker trains? Has she read the RUS documents that looked at those options? I lean towards supporting the Greens a lot, and then I read the detail of their proposals on these things and it’s just clear they haven’t thought through a decent strategy. We need a strong green voice in London, but it ought to be an informed one if it is going to make headway against the mainstream.

  3. Alex McKenna says:

    … and Double Deck trains!! Yet again some idiot proposes this entirely hopeless idea, which has been tried and tried again, and found to be pointless and ridiculously expensive.

  4. jason leahy says:

    According to a letter sent to the The Guardian newspaper European double decker trains are a foot too tall for UK tunnels and bridges.The first railways were built in the UK when early steam engines were small,railways were built in other countries when steam trains had become bigger and more powerful so the loading gauge,height of tunnels and bridges was increased.New UK rail lines since 2007 have to built to the higher European Berne loading gauge so Alstom said it can build double decker HS2 trains for London to Birmingham,Manchester and Leeds line but single decker trains for the lower British loading gauge London to Scotland lines.Aeroliner 3000 double decker train design,which increases passenger capacity by 30% not the 50-60% of other double decker trains,does conform to the British loading gauge and can fit under existing tunnels and bridges but there has been no interest in the design from the Department for Transport,manufactures like Alstom and train operating companies.
    Greta Thurnberg said trust science so the Green Party and XR are hypocrites to reject high speed rail when the scientists such as the ones behind project drawdown which lists the 100 best ways to reduce CO2,with high speed trains listed above regular trains,say high speed trains reduce pollution and high speed networks should be increased.Transform Scotland published a study in 2017 claiming that old diesel Intercity 125 high speed trains running London to Scotland in 2005-15 had cut carbon emissions by 680,000 tonnes,new electric Hitachi trains will save even more.

  5. Dillon says:

    I love it when hand waving, self interested, posh, rich, politicians, based on no analysis or expertise, declare things and assume that “it” must be easy because they want it to be so.

    Double Deck trains – “I don’t believe it cannot be done.” Perhaps her expert analysis might care to explain just how much time and money it will take to knock down and rebuild (or raise or track lower) the 160 plus bridged between Euston and New Street. Of how DD stock can be made to fit into New Street f the WCML tunnels….?

    And where the report into how much it’ll cost in both money, carbon emmissions and knocked down houses to “simply” upgrade the WCML again.

    Wouldn’t you know it, those pesky experts at Network Rails, Dft, Arup, Akins, et al – you know, people that actually know something about railway engineering – have already down the studies and found a new build railway is a cheaper, quicker build, displaced fewer people and yields much greater capacity increase.

    I fear whenever someone started the sentence “surely it’s simpler too….” you almost inevitably know they are wrong and have literally no idea what they are talking about.

    Leave expert decisions to experts, not headline grabbing self interested politicos and their chums in the newspapers.

  6. M Lowery says:

    I listened as a child to the arguments about Euston station and the demolition of some fine English architecture . Harold MC Millions view of modernism had little little to offer except a functionalism and so uninspiring compared to the Victorian ideal. Oh dear Boris Johnson seems to be a reincarnation of that 60s viewpoint. Well done Mr Crookshank,you are inspirational.

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