Evening Standard backs "Bow Group Route"


Writing for the Evening Standard on the 11th January Anthony Hilton has advocated the adoption of the "Bow Group Route" for HS2.Everyone accepts that Britain needs to modernise its infrastructure if it is to maximise its chances to remain competitive in the world. Most people accept too that internal transport links need to be significantly improved if businesses in the Midlands and the North are to have an equal opportunity to flourish, which means among other things better and faster links to the main markets in continental Europe.In addition, part of the purpose of rebalancing the economy should be to spread growth more evenly across the country. The economy is already skewed towards the South-East; it makes no sense at all to have capacity constraints slowing things down in the South while there are idle resources in the North.It is an odd argument therefore which says that Britain would not benefit from high-speed rail, but it is perfectly valid to ask that if such links are to be built, they be built in the right place.The Government, poised as it is to give the go-ahead to HS2 to link London to Birmingham, seems to have got the first point, but if it opts for what appears to be the currently favoured route, then it will screw up badly on the second. It is not difficult to design a high-speed route to Birmingham. Indeed, it only has three ingredients.First, it must go via Heathrow, the key transport hub in the UK. Second, it must run alongside the M40, making use of that corridor so as to keep to a minimum the further destruction of countryside.Third, the first part of the route from St Pancras, where it begins by connecting with the Channel Tunnel link out through the western suburbs, should be entirely in tunnels to avoid the chaos and destruction that would be caused by trying to put it above ground.It speaks volumes for the way in which we take decisions in this country that the proposal the Government is minded to support fails on all three grounds. It would also be a mistake rashly to assume that it will take in Birmingham Airport and the National Exhibition Centre and finish in the city centre. Perhaps one should make that a fourth criterion, because one current money-saving suggestion it that the line stops in the middle of nowhere.Of these factors, the key to success is to route the line directly via Heathrow and to create there what is know as the Heathrow Hub, a new development just to the north of the existing Heathrow perimeter. This is a proposal developed by Arup, the consultants, and others that would in effect be a combined station and check-in terminal at which passengers would disembark, check in, go through security and then travel - having got rid of their luggage in pods to their designated departure gates within the existing Heathrow layout.This "passenger processor" would not only be on the HS2 line but also on Crossrail, with all the links that would bring to the East, and in addition on the Great Western main line from Paddington to Bristol. This would also give the West direct access to the airport and end the nonsense where passengers from the West have to go into Paddington and then out again.More to the point it would also make it possible for Heathrow to handle the forecast increases in passenger numbers - which it is said will rise by 40% over the next 20 years as aircraft get bigger - without having to put yet more buildings within the existing, already overcrowded site. This in turn would make aircraft movement on the ground easier and more efficient.One further thought is that the same hub could also quite easily service Northolt, the RAF base which is only six miles away. It would in effect be as close to the Hub as Heathrow's existing Terminal Four. But the point is that it already has a barely used runway, which with a minimal amount of realignment could in effect become a fourth runway for Heathrow, should that ever become a politically acceptable idea.And this in turn may knock on the head once and for all the magnificently romantic but hopelessly impractical ideas for building a new airport somewhere in the Thames Estuary - impractical because in the last 70 years the Thames corridor has grown into one of the most vibrant parts of the British economy because of its proximity to Heathrow. It is sheer folly to think those businesses would relocate to Gravesend and Gillingham. They are far more likely to go abroad - to Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Paris.All this is so logical it is hard to see why it would be a problem. The Heathrow Hub increases the airport's capacity while reducing its environmental impacts. It makes virtually no difference to the overall journey time to Birmingham, and will probably work out cheaper in overall construction cost.But when had logic anything to do with the way we take decisions? The Conservatives supported the hub idea when they were in opposition and Labour wanted a different route that bypassed Heathrow.Now they are in power, the Conservatives in the Coalition have adopted the route Labour first suggested. Labour's response to this, would you believe, has been to switch its support from the original route once favoured by the Tories. It now backs the Heathrow hub idea.What more can one say?

Friday, January 13, 2012