Sunday, 3 July 2011
Come with me on a journey...
“No business case, no environmental case, no money to pay for it” say the residents of the Chilterns.
“Their lawns or our jobs” reply the residents of Manchester. HS2 has divided opinion and generated strong feelings on either side.
But of course it is not alone. Barely any development project of any kind is proposed in Britain without a range of objections being made. Decision makers have to consider everything from impact on nature conservation, landscape and historic buildings to traffic, water supply and school places. Not surprisingly what is good for one of these may not be good for another. And then there is the process itself. Our planning processes make the progress of major development projects look like a Dickensian Chancery case; held up for years in the Circumlocution Office while i’s are dotted and t’s crossed, with the only obvious beneficiary being the lawyers’ standard of living.
In all of this the developer is trying to turn an honest copper, and the Government is trying to ensure the nation can feed, clothe and house itself.
Or perhaps that should be: in all of this the developer is making a fortune at our expense, while corrupt politicians rake off their backhanders and incompetent planners stand idly by, wringing their hands.
When it comes to the rights and wrongs of it you pays your money and takes your choice.
We are (and I don’t pretend to exclude myself from this, before you ask) a nation of brazen hypocrites where development is concerned. We all want to take long-haul holidays, shop at huge supermarkets and out of town shopping malls, buy a bigger house and generally get it all quicker for less. At the same time we bemoan “Britain’s crumbling infrastructure”, with its traffic jams, crowded airport departure lounges and sky high house prices. And at the same time again (remember that even Janus only had two faces), we don’t want any of the facilities, houses, or traffic routes which serve them, built near us.
So – with some free time on my hands courtesy of the Coalition Government’s “bonfire of the quangos” - and with more years experience as a town planner than it would be polite to mention here, I have decided to take a personal check on the development pulse of the nation. To do this I plan to travel on foot along the proposed route of HS2. Starting from Euston on July 6th, I intend to finish the 115 miles to Birmingham Curzon Street on July 27th, two days before the Government’s consultation on the route ends. I won’t be walking everyday. I will be taking time out to blog on this site, and to recover, in between.
What am I hoping to find? I want to get in touch with the tranquillity, natural beauty, and history along the route which people want to protect so fiercely. I also want to walk through the places where investment is most needed; the forgotten, wrong side of the tracks places; and get a sense of what might get them back on their feet. I will also be unable to resist casting a town planner’s critical eye over the towns, cities and villages which I pass through. There is only one criterion. I’ll only be looking at places you can see from the route (well alright – and those places that you would be able to see if only the route wasn’t in a tunnel, cutting or cut and cover section).
One thing I won’t be doing is taking sides on the value of HS2 itself. It’s too crowded a field already.
Oh, and frankly, I want to go for a good long walk and clear my head!