White off – the HS2 debate goes on

As the white snow miraculously disappears here in the Chilterns, local minds turn once more to the (other white) issue of the moment in the Tory heartlands: HS2. Is this the White Elephant that all the householders make out here in Wendover and the surrounding areas? This protest will now extend to further Tory seats in Cheshire, where similar action groups will spring up as the next phase of the line is announced today. But how should it move forward?

Investment needed

I think the improvement of our rail links and travel across the country is essential. Too many trains are cramped, overcrowded, run late and the infrastructure is simply not up to the demands of the 21st century. The train operating franchises have improved the levels of service yes, but without more investment the scope for improvement is limited.

Economic nonsense

On the economic debate, I believe we need to cautiously invest in growth programmes – providing we have cut our cloth in the remainder of our public services to afford it. But I don’t think the current HS2 plan is the answer. Why? Because if you take a logical and considered approach to the issues, a high speed rail link to the north and Scotland is not the answer. The UK is not a huge rural expanse like some of Europe. The economics just don’t add up and instead of taking business to the north, it could just as easily make it simpler to commute south, where the much of the work is anyway. HS2 is indeed a White Elephant.

Common sense

So let’s use some common sense and invest in an infrastructure programme that is required for the future. Don’t cancel it or mark it as a write off  – just get it right. As any experienced cabinet maker will tell you when you have a fine piece of timber on the work bench – measure three times, cut once. Similarly, a good programme manager will tell you to invest at least 10% in the resource needed to design and plan something like this. – otherwise you will have prohibitive rework costs – HS2 works the same.

Get it right

The politicians seem adamant to go ahead with this project, so use the opportunity to get it right. My plea to PM Cameron and Chancellor Osborne is as follows:

– Make sure it is affordable
– Understand why you are doing this, what are the challenges and issues you are trying to overcome?
– Do a proper requirements capture (i.e. understands the needs of the consumer).
– Design something that then meets the needs of the consumer

Do it once, do it right

It is simple systems engineering. But the rhetoric about growth strategies and economic problems will not be overcome by a White Elephant. Let’s sort out the overcrowded trains; the lack of links between Heathrow and our other cities and our transport hubs and think about the existing infrastructure that is creaking at the seams and lacks the upgrades and infrastructure needed. A one hour improvement to Leeds to an out of city station that will take time to get to is not the answer. The fares will also be prohibitive. As a case in point: this week I booked a flight to Poland to visit a shared service centre we are working on – the flights costs £17 each way!

Come on. Let’s do something with our transport infrastructure, but do it once and do it right. Then we will all applaud this project wholeheartedly and not be seen to be Nimbys – because the business case really adds up.

Nigel Peters, MD at Alium Partners: www.aliumpartners.com

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