Opinion: HS2 and the Ivanhoe line

321px-Sileby_railway_station_in_2010HS2 is the high-speed link which will run from London to Birmingham and then divide, one side going to Manchester (and potentially then to Glasgow) and the other through Sheffield, Leeds (and potentially Newcastle and Edinburgh).

The economic case is overwhelming.  The latest figures I’ve seen suggest that, over the next 30 years, this will cost £32bn to build and generate £43.7bn of economic benefits and £27bn in fares. Those figures are conservative: after 30 years the income will continue, but the building costs will have been covered. On top of this, what they can’t readily include is the role of house prices. At the moment people are paying a substantial premium to live in London (which also pushes up labour costs): finding a way to spread out economic activity across more of the country offers huge additional benefits as people no longer need to live in London.

The down side is that people along the route lose out. This is close to home as the Sheffield/Leeds leg of HS2 passes through what I hope will be my constituency after 7 May, and there has been stiff opposition. There is room for a conversation about the best route, but it is hard to see an alternative which won’t draw similar opposition from elsewhere. The overall sense is that we stand to gain, along with the rest of the country, which is why I support it – provided that there is generous compensation for those along the route who stand to loose out.

But there is an extra dimension in the form of the Ivanhoe Line, the railway line from Leicester to connect with the Midland main line at Burton-on-Trent.  Re-opening this has been on the horizon for ages,  and my Liberal Democrat colleague,  Councillor Michael Wyatt has done a super job in getting the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership  to make a new feasibility. I see this as offering substantial benefits to people either coming into the constituency to shop, and for commuters working in Leicester, Burton-on-Trent or Birmingham. My own vision includes stations in Coalville and Ashby, but also on the edge of both towns so that people from the surrounding area don’t need to drive into town to catch the train.

Without HS2, it would still be worth re-opening the Ivanhoe line. But it adds a whole new layer of significance. As businesses are drawn from the South East to Birmingham and Nottingham, that will create new opportunities which are readily accessed by the trains passing through Burton-on-Trent. This makes the re-opening of the Ivanhoe line one of many examples of transport developments which spread the benefit of HS2. For people living in North West Leicestershire it changes HS2 from ‘All pain and no gain’ to something from which we stand to gain.

Far from seeing the Ivanhoe as the sweetener which makes the pill of HS2 bearable, I see it as one of any things spreading the benefit of HS2 and contributing to its value.

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at markargent.com/blog.

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  • We’d be better off spending a fraction on reopening the GCR.

  • you have the facts wrong
    Suggest you read the recent House of Lords eac report

  • “Reopen” the GCR?

    A few drawbacks:

    1. What about the London end?
    2. Doesn’t serve Birmingham.
    3. Only serves Manchester very, very indirectly.
    4. . Large stretches have been built over.

  • Stephen Hesketh 6th Apr '15 - 8:27pm

    HS2 essentially extends the London-south east region to the south and east Midlands. If that is what people there want that is fine but the north of England would be much better served by a main Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-Hull route and satellite feeder lines linking in places such as Crewe, Preston, Wigan, Blackburn, Lancaster, Skipton, York, Newcastle, Sheffield, Doncaster etc.

    I found quite a good article from Tribune:

  • >HS2

    A few drawbacks:

    1. What about the London end – specifically a High Speed interconnect with HS1?
    2. Doesn’t serve Bristol/Cardiff etc..
    3. Only serves Liverpool very, very indirectly.
    4. . Large stretches of the route have either been built over or are SSSI’s.

  • It is unfortunate that Mark seems to be linking the reopening of the Ivanhoe Line with HS2. As has been argued before on these pages, there are many lines across the country that could be in reinstated for a fraction of the cost of HS2 and for which the economic case is solid (unlike HS2). The only negative is that these are business as usual improvements in the kaizen mould and hence don’t generate the sort of buzz so much liked by politicians these days who like to be seen doing something, rather than actually doing something useful.

    Personally, I would either decouple the Ivanhoe line from HS2 or demand that its reinstatement is commenced BEFORE the first turf is cut on HS2; as once HS2 construction starts don’t expect any money to be available for other schemes until circa 2035…

  • If you want less people to live in London HS2 is not the answer!!! If anything it makes London more viable as a base from where to work around the country. The commuter trains I use into London are frequently so full you cant get on them in the evening. Its borderline unsafe, guards cant get along the train and often mothers with pushchairs dont have a chance to get on. The operator subsidises other franchises. There needs to be more Birmingham London capacity but there are many other routes that are full which will be ignored as the money pours into HS2. MPs dont seem to care. If MPs less than say 75mins commute away from the HoC had to commute rather than being housed in the capital, there would be a huge number of MPs opting to spend the HS2 money in a different way.
    Are folk from Birmingham likely to be heavy users of the London to Paris line? I very much doubt it.

  • Stevan Rose 7th Apr '15 - 12:29am

    HS2 will only benefit a small number of business people while the ordinary passenger pays substantially more to arrive a tiny bit quicker. The claimed benefits are only valid if they are over and above the status quo and you can’t invest the money in other ways to better effect. Fare income claims mean massive fare increases or an assumption of massive long distance passenger increases solely attributable to HS2 alone. You can cook some of the people some of the time etc.

    You could spend a fraction of the HS2 costs and still get most of the benefits. Fix local public transport with the rest. And while we’re on the transport topic, stop coning off vast tracts of motorway to upgrade to “smart motorways” and instead pay small local contractors to fix the ever rising number of potholes. What are the lobby groups offering that has persuaded so many politicians of these foolish and wasteful white elephants that will benefit only tiny numbers of people.

  • Stevan Rose 7th Apr '15 - 12:32am

    For cook the people read fool the people. My tablet has the weirdest auto correct…

  • Jonathan Pile 7th Apr '15 - 12:23pm

    HS2 is one of the biggest follies we have swallowed via the Coalition Agreement. It will end up as a £100 billion white elephant, blight and damage the communities grossly affected to the benefit of London and the money will come from the spending cuts or higher borrowing. There is a cheaper better alternative HS1a which has already been suggested to the party and is quicker and cheaper, and could be build 10 years earlier. https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-time-for-lib-dems-to-ditch-hs2-for-alternative-hs1-extension-39626.html
    Our party has it’s policy grossly wrong on HS2 , while the Greens and UKIP are right on this issue. No wonder our supporters have switched . If we want to strengthen our support in the next month then a referendum on HS2 is the answer. There are better (Liberal Democrat) schemes out there to rival bonkers Tory and Labour follies.

  • Paul Thornton 7th Apr '15 - 1:32pm

    Mr Argent is only correct that the case for HS2 is overwhelming. But this is because it is overwhelmingly bad and unsubstantiated.

    Not least, since the business case was floated, the direct link to Heathrow has been scrapped as has the direct link for through trains from the North to Europe.

    As mentioned by “Stratfan” above, Mr Argent should review the recent assessment by the House of Lords Economic affairs committee


    If he prefers a left wing perspective, the Fabian society assessment is, linked off here:


    If he prefers a right wing perspective the IEA is here


    But his comments are particularly misguided from a North West Leicestershire perspective. No benefit will accrue to Leicestershire. Indeed investment is likely to be diverted from Leicestershire to nearer the HS2 stations. The £32 billion cost for HS2 that he reiterates is cushioned by a contingency for overspend taking the cost to £50billion, and even that is perceived to be an under estimate. And that £32 Billion, is already dependent on an £8 billion reduction in the funding to the existing classic lines that are by-passed by HS2. HS2 is a complete barrier to the proper upgrading of the Midland Main line (including perhaps Ivanhoe).


  • David Evershed 7th Apr '15 - 2:34pm

    If you want to save 20 minutes travelling from Birimingham to London then it would probably be cheaper to rebuild Birmingham closer to London than build HS2.

    Also moving Birmingham closer to London would have genuine benefits rather than the HS2 supporters having to maintain the myth that businessmen don’t work on trains.

  • > “…rather than the HS2 supporters having to maintain the myth that businessmen don’t work on trains.”

    A truism that can be observed everyday on the London-Paris services: On the one hour flight it is very difficult to do anything more than about 30 minutes of half-hearted essential work; whereas on the 3 hour Eurostar service I can do a couple of hours real work…

  • I’m going to extend the challenge I always make to HS2 opponents: show me a series of rail improvements that solve the capacity crisis on the West Coast Main Line, at a lower cost and higher BCR than the HS2 worst case estimates.

    Oddly, people go silent at that point.

    HS2 is not a behemoth swallowing up all of our infrastructure spending. A lot of schemes – notably, “HS3” – over the next twenty to thirty years are only getting built because HS2 will provide benefits to make it worthwhile. Cancelling HS2 won’t open up a massive pot of money to improve local lines either; the capital will just not be raised.

    If we don’t build HS2 or a similar project, we can’t move long-distance passenger trains off the WCML. If we don’t move long-distance passenger trains off the WCML, we can’t run freight on it. If we can’t run freight on the WCML, we have to transport it via road. Which means more money spent on fixing roads, which also means more congestion on the roads and the rails. That’s an environmental disaster waiting to happen. The green case is enough to justify building it.

  • Stevan Rose 7th Apr '15 - 9:57pm

    @Sarah Noble. It is for HS2 advocates to prove the case for the spend and in my opinion they haven’t. But they will quote figures that are easily contested. Where is the evidence for an assumption that any demand exists for moving freight onto the railways on any scale? I am sure there are big business interests who could afford investment in rail wagons but rail is not an option for independent hauliers so you would kill small business while investing public money to boost the big players. A great Lib Dem policy that is. Why not put research into greener road transport using alternative clean fuels.

  • As regards freight, at record levels (figures from 1990 onwards) with a 5.8% rise over the year

  • @Sarah – read the Network rail report on the WCML upgrade – that will have to happen regardless of HS2, if we still want a WCML and not a defunct asset!

    Also read the Network Rail reports on the Strategic Freight Network to understand the real amount of freight that is intended to be run over the WCML trackbed… these reports also reveal the investment that has and is being made in enhanced freight capacity that (because its freight) isn’t ‘sexy’ and so doesn’t get much attention – except from anoraks!

    As for HS2 being ‘green’ I suggest you read the original report, which clearly states that HS2 on the preferred route fails to meet any of its stated ‘mandatory’ environmental requirements.

    The real challenge with respect the WCML is effecting a capacity upgrade whilst trying to run the level of service we are currently used to: If we were prepared to have significant periods of time without running any trains on WCML and the level of investment being proposed for HS2 then the upgrade could be completed relatively quickly. However, such an approach is deemed inappropriate and hence the necessary infrastructure upgrade will occur over a much longer period of time…

    Whilst cancelling HS2 won’t open up a massive pot of capital, it will however reduce the need to find circa £2 Bn (in 2012 money if memory is correct) per annum from the taxpayer, over and above all the other things that LibDems want to spend taxpayers money on…

  • @Stevan until the petrol car dies, “green road transport” is an oxymoron. And believe me, cars won’t be going all-electric for a very long time, with the amount of sway the oil lobby has had in the past and in the present. One of the greatest setbacks to green transport was the Great American Streetcar Scandal, where oil companies and car manufacturers alike bought out public transport systems and ran them down to obsolence. Now, if you try to argue that the petrol car is unsustainable from both an environmental and a foreign policy perspective, or try to state that building more roads provably makes congestion worse, or try to build cycle lanes to relieve short car journeys, you’re instantly accused of declaring war on the motorist and real people.

    We really should be declaring war on the petrol car, though; it’s the greatest single threat to global stability right now. I’m not even joking.

  • Ewen Simpson 8th Apr '15 - 12:22am

    Mark Argent seems to accept DforT figures as gospel. Sorry Mark there is an old adage – Rubbish In gives rise to Rubbish out. There are many studies that refute the DforT figures. Study them – for example construction costs now minimum£50b more likely to rise to £80b. Fare Income – which crystal ball are you looking at? No mention of opearting subsidies I wonder why. As for Sarah’s comments, please study actual existing WCML existing capacity and passenger usage as well as current upgrading works sourth of Crewe that will added to existing pathways. Long Distance capacity is not the problem, it is Commuter capacity & HS2 will exacerbate that. As for Freight, HS2 will not free up WCML for freight, because Road Transport is far more flexible and cost effective. By the way HS2 will deprive many towns of express connectivity to London & it is connectivity that is important..

  • Jonathan Pile 8th Apr '15 - 4:33pm

    It’s refreshing to see some genuine two sided debate on HS2 for a change. Such a shame the party bounced into the Tory-Labour plans without independent thought about route, costs and benefits, All the polling shows a vast majority of 2010 Lib Dem voters (anyone remember the 23%?) and a majority of current Lib Dem voters (7-10%) oppose HS2. Wish we were in touch with our roots.

  • Kevin Sowden 8th Apr '15 - 10:23pm

    To Sarah Noble and anyone who might still think that there is a capacity argument for HS2, I politely suggest that you review the evidence regarding capacity that you will find on all of the following websites: 1. HS2 Action Alliance – led by two transport experts that have very many years of experise as transport consultants in the rail industry; 2. 51m – the group of councils against HS2 and also 3. Beleben ( try beleben.wordpress.com/:). Beleben has done a massive range of studies and analyses on HS2. In all these websites you will find a wide range of facts which destroy any case that might be made for there being a capacity problem on the WCML. In particular note that within the plan published by HS2 Ltd it is planned that there will be almost £9 billion of cuts to EXISTING railway services, which apart from the reduction of existing services, that huge sum of £9 B is used as a part of the business case justifying HS2!

    Then, if you haven’t already done so, please read the full report produced on 25th March 2015 by The House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs, when it published its report entitled ‘The Economics of High Speed 2’. Do you completely reject the in-depth study of this group of people who heard evidence from both sides of the argument, and concluded that, after 5 very long years, that the government, neither the Labour Govt that announced HS2 in March 2010 in the dying days of the last Govt. or the coalition Govt. that has been in power for 5 years since then has made a convincing case for HS2.

    The report is highly critical of the HS2 project and concludes that “The construction of High Speed 2-a railway estimated to cost £50 billion-will be one of the most expensive infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the UK. The Government has yet to make a convincing case for proceeding with the project”

    The report sets out in detail numerous concerns with HS2, including a failure to properly assess alternatives and a reliance on “inconsistent and out of date” evidence to calculate potential benefits from HS2. The report tackles head on the two central justifications put forward by the Government for the project.

    On capacity, despite hearing from HS2 insiders – Network Rail, HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport – the Committee say the scale of the capacity problem “is unclear” and the published rail usage statistics “do not suggest that there is an overcrowding problem on long distance trains – either now or in the near future”.

    On rebalancing the economy, the Committee say that “evidence and experience suggests London will be the biggest beneficiary of the project”. Transport projects in the North and Midlands are more likely to create economic benefits there, but the Government has not considered whether these might be a better approach than HS2.

    In addition to the HoL report I would recommend that you read a cross section of the professional Engineering and specialist Railway websites: I think that you will be very surprised at the range of criticism that continues to be levelled at HS2.

    To be really frank it is really about time that the Lib Dems, (as well as the Cons & Labs), set about a truly objective assessment of all of the facts surrounding HS2, rather than continuing blindly down the political path that very sadly has continued like a “Blunder Bus” since this project was announced. The whole history of HS2

    Never forget that HS2 is the offspring of lobbyists (Greengauge 21), nurtured and promoted by politicians solely for political reasons, most of whom have since renounced HS2 – Alastair Darling, former Labour Chancellor and Peter Mandelson; and NEVER properly planned or thought through. Witness its start in life promoted ONLY as HIGH SPEED and now purportedly justified for capacity reasons. Any sane & objective review of capacity will show that HS2 will not resolve the MOST IMPORTANT capacity problems, which the Sir Rod Eddington Transport Study stressed were those suffered by ordinary every day commuters everywhere.
    Also, ask yourself, why is it that our senior politicians (Cameron & Osborne) have such limited imagination that they can only think of spending £50,000,000,000 (yes, Fifty thousand million pounds) on outdated technology such as a new railway and not realise just how much our Northern cities could benefit from even a fraction of this cash. Imagine what even £2 or 3 billion could do for any ONE of our great cities.

  • Stevan Rose 8th Apr '15 - 10:48pm

    “We really should be declaring war on the petrol car, though; it’s the greatest single threat to global stability right now.”

    So you’re not exactly objective in your views then Sarah. If you put the investment into greener fuels it will pay off in a fraction of the time it would take to deliver HS2. Declare war on the car and we’ll be competing on seat numbers with the Greens. Incapable of influencing anything. You have to have a viable and affordable alternative. When you have that the switch should be quite rapid. Trucks using hydrogen power cells produced by geothermal energy. Wouldn’t that be something.

    Your streetcar story is a bit out of date. Trams are back big style and that’s where the HS2 cash should be going. When I travel regularly from Manchester to London it isn’t that bit of the journey that is the problem but the dire public transport getting to and from Piccadilly. No car, no train journey.

  • Kevin Sowden 10th Apr '15 - 10:11am

    In the interests of wider information on the subject of HS2, Mark Argent makes a completely erroneous statement of the cost, even worse saying that these are the latest figures he has seen, he says it will cost £32 billion. Even the official figures say it will cost £42.6 and including the high cost of high speed trains brings it to £50.1 billion. Unfortunately Mark’s remarks are only too typical of so many politicians extremely limited grasp of the economics of HS2. If only someone senior in the LibDem party would take a long hard look at all aspects of HS2, it would bring some much needed clarity to the thinking. Ask yourself this: If EVERY other European country is satisfied with a design speed of 300 kph (186 mph), why did the UK set a design speed of 400 kph (250 mph) and even now the design is for 360 kph (225 mph). As Michael Wand points out, Germany is reducing its trains to 250 kph (156 mph). Why is this important? Two reasons: Extremely High Speed (EHS) trains are not in any way energy efficient; secondly, EHS trains need extremely straight lines so they are far more environmentally damaging by not being able to curve around the countryside (fitting in aesthetically with our beautiful country) and EHS trains are much, much noisier that those running at lower speeds. Isn’t noise one of the things that most people feel upset by?

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