HS2…Don’t Ask

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Patrick McLoughlin of the Department of Transport vetoes a public request to see a document potentially damning the HS2 project, the last time a policy of secrecy like this was employed by the government it was for the Iraq wars. 

In November 2011 a report was filed by the Major Projects Authority and utilising the Freedom of Information Act, which creates a public “right of access” to information held by public authorities, we wanted to see that information and analyse the viability of this rail line ourselves.

At the time of the creation of this bill there were advocates of it that referred to the bill as “toothless” for allowing the option for ministerial veto. Now we have an example of why they felt that way. Surely there is no freedom of information at all if the government still retains control of how public the information gets.

There has been wide scepticism for the HS2, a proposed high speed rail network from London through Birmingham and on to Manchester and Leeds. The main issue with the rail line is that it costs £42.6b and the business case for it has never seemed the strongest. Add in the environmental impact of the required straight line rail track to allow the train to hit the 250pmh it boasts and suddenly this project needs a lot of justification.

The aim of the project is to link north to south, provide better access to London and create jobs. There is wide spread criticism for the governments decision as the public feel we should be turning to look at some of our european partners and seeing how successful they have been. Cities like Zurich and Frankfurt with integrated public transport that doesn’t discriminate towards the poor but gives great access to everyone.

So this all adds up to the fact that the public are wary of our government spending nearly £50b on a single transport solution when we cannot see the argument for it. We take ourselves to the Freedom of Information Act, as we are supposed to, and then we get ourselves turned away because one man in the Department of Transport says no. Does someone have something to hide?

The Rt. Hon. Patrick McLoughlin is certainly not short on character having been reprimanded by the Speaker John Bercow for inappropriate behaviour within the House of Commons. So why is our Secretary of State for Transport not letting the public in?

He claims it was to allow the officials that went on record in the report a “safe space” of confidentiality – that the interviewees needed to know they could speak with “frankness and candour”. I’m sorry, what?

The document won’t be released into the public because the people involved in building the report had to be open and honest and therefore it’s a little too much for us? That is the most backwards defence he could of used. This implies that if they had time to edit the truth and then deliver us a government rated version then it would be fine. It begs the question, what other truths only hit us once they have been government ratified?

As a businessman I know that it is always a risky endeavour starting a new project, especially one that is expensive and seems a little off the beaten track. Never forget that it takes this kind of thinking to create and push the human race and that it should be rewarded. What concerns me is that if you cannot justify the process of spending £42.6b to the public with open and concise reasons, then it shouldn’t be going ahead.

In times where the government seem to struggle to support young people wanting to create their own wealth with a “risky” investment, why should we, the public, not have an informed opinion on one of the largest government projects in our history.

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