Tom Richmond: HS2 gravy train gathers pace as passengers – and communities – left behind

HS2 Ltd is looking to appoint a new tranche of non-executive directors. Can the expense be justified?
HS2 Ltd is looking to appoint a new tranche of non-executive directors. Can the expense be justified?
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NICE work if you can get it. HS2 Ltd – the body responsible for building Britain’s high-speed railway – is in the job market.

It has started advertising for three non-executive directors. Remuneration? £950 a day. Obligations? Two days work a month.

Boris Johnson is a HS2 sceptic.

Boris Johnson is a HS2 sceptic.

That’s £1,900 per person a month. Multiply by three and you get a £5,700 monthly bill. Times this by 12 – the number in months of the year – and the cost is £68,400 for 72 days expertise at an organisation where over 300 staff – one quarter of employees – already earn six-figure sums.

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According to the job spec, the “specialist skills and experience” of applicants “will include at least one of the following”:

Experience of large and complex railway operations and interoperability between different systems;

Dr John Sentamu will retire as Archbishop of York in 2020.

Dr John Sentamu will retire as Archbishop of York in 2020.

Experience of property and regeneration of varying scale;

Experience of strategic planning and organisational development.

Fine. Now read the ‘brief’ again. Where is the reference to ‘passengers’, the people who will use the service? And where’s any mention of another word – ‘community’ – as controversy grows over the housing estates that will have to be demolished to make way for this £56bn project?

This matters because HS2 chiefs have lost the PR battle. Travellers and taxpayers alike can’t – at this stage – see how the scheme will benefit them when local services are still in chaos and Northern’s rush-hour trains from Doncaster to Leeds, judging by passenger complaints this week, are more likely to be cancelled than run.

Graeme Bandeira's latest cartoon appears in The Yorkshire Post today.

Graeme Bandeira's latest cartoon appears in The Yorkshire Post today.

And, by not involving passengers – or local communities – in this process, HS2 Ltd is playing into the hands of politicians like Boris Johnson who will scrap the scheme if he succeeds Theresa May as Prime Minister, or Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the Commons, who urged the Cabinet last month to drop the plan, not least because it will blight her rural South Northamptonshire constituency.

Like them, my instinct is that a new east-west line across the Pennines should take precedence, but I keep being told that it will only maximise its potential if it is built in conjunction with the main HS2 lines from London to Leeds and Birmingham.

Fine. Perhaps HS2 chiefs could start explaining this logic. For, unless they jump off their gravy train, and start responding to the concerns of passengers and the public by appointing real people to the new roles rather than industry insiders, they’ll all be out of work if this project does hit the political buffers – and leaves the North at another dead-end when it comes to rail investment.

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NOT only has David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary, dismissed the Tory leadership chances of Jacob Rees-Mogg, but he’s been equally dismissive of Boris Johnson – the man who followed the Haltemprice and Howden MP out of the Cabinet.

On the emergence of the former Foreign Secretary’s plan for a bridge linking Scotland with Northern Ireland, Mr Davis observed: “I think one of the blights of British politics is politicians having fantastic ideas that cost a fortune and don’t do much good.”

And this brings me to the Conservative leadership. For, with the Brexiteers split, just as they were in the 2016 contest, it opens the way for a Remain supporter like Home Secretary Sajid Javid, the proud son of an immigrant bus driver, to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister. Is that what they want?

IT doesn’t bode well for plans to build a new rail link to Doncaster Sheffield Airport to turbo-charge its ambitious expansion plans.

Even though Network Rail, Transport for the North (TfN) and Welcome to Yorkshire have endorsed the proposal, which would put nine million people within 90 minutes of an airport already regarded as one of the best in the UK, it wasn’t among the aviation success stories highlighted by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling at the Tory conference.

Yet he did cite Leeds Bradford Airport – one which has poor transport links and where planes struggle to take off, and land, in bad weather.

He clearly knows as little about planes as he does about trains.

EVEN though the Queen, like 
everyone else, hoped the indomitable Archbishop of York would go ‘on and on and on’, Dr John Sentamu has, regrettably, bowed to Church of England rules and confirmed that he will 
retire in 2020, on the eve of his 71st birthday.

The Yorkshire Post says: An Archbishop like no other. Dr John Sentamu and his legacy

Yet the announcement was also enlightening in another respect. There was no need to mention that 
the Ugandan-born cleric was, in fact, Britain’s first black Archbishop.

What a contrast with societal attitudes in 2005 shortly before his enthronement.

I recall going to a literary event at York Minster where ushers at the place of worship were sceptical, and not very Christian-like, about the new Archbishop’s appointment and likely approach. There were racial undertones. “He’s not one of us,” they lamented.

They were wrong. He’s very much one of us. And he always will be.

For this pioneering Archbishop could not have done more, with the help of his family and supportive staff, to serve his Church or adopted county.

THERESA MAY’s fleet-footed party conference speech was very One Nation in its tone. Yet she did not utter this phrase. Instead the Prime Minister referred to leading – and governing – “in the national interest”. Clever.

For, as Parliament returns, she is still Britain’s best hope if (and that’s the key word) her party consents... and is probably in a stronger position after some cringing dance moves showed her human side.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk