Monday 7 May 2018

HS2 will reduce number of East Midlands trains through Derby

A 2015 BelperStuff post explored the claim of Alistair Darling that building HS2 would drain money away from the existing rail network. He was rubbished by the then transport secretary Patrick McLaughlin who eventually went on to postpone the East Midlands electrification. The sorry saga of political shenanigans has taken the odd twist since then, first reinstatement of electrification but eventually cancelled by the incoming transport secretary Chris Grayling once the 2017 general election was safely out of the way.

I suspect Alistair Darling of possessing a crystal ball because the reasons finally admitted to by Grayling for cancellation was that the cost benefit ratio for electrification of the Midland Mainline (MML) was now so low that it made more economic sense to use by-mode trains that could run as electrics under wires and diesels everywhere else. The MML wires would only go as far north as Kettering with a branch off to Corby. Trains to Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield would be diesel powered.

HS2 Phase 2 planned for sometime in the early 2030's once a route through Nania has been agreed

This came as a surprise to many of us who remember that in 2015 the cost benefit ratio for MML electrification was stated as being between 1:4.7 or :7.4 (that's for every £1 spent the benefit would be between £4.70 and £7.40). Now Grayling claims it's only 0.8:1 (which should have read 1: 1.25, for every £1 spent you gained £1.25 - sorry to bang on about this). So what happened between 2015 and the 2017 Grayling statement? That is very clear:

HS2 would, by 2033 carry all Sheffield passengers that currently use East Midland trains.

That was the justification for cancelling MML electrification, just as Alistair Darling predicted. The Tories went into 2 general elections promising electric trains and improved services on the MML only to break those promises to shore up the weak economic case for HS2.

(In the accompanying cost benefit chart only the minimum benefits have been listed but it should be noted that the MML scheme ranged from £4.70 to £7.40. The HS2 figure was scrutinised in 2016 by the House of Commons Account Select Committee who found that it should be nearer £1.10).The true costs will emerge in time but many believe that Phase 1 between London and Birmingham will go so far over budget that Phase 2 will never be completed. (More of that in a following post).

But what of the future? 

What does this mean for East Midland trains? Grayling has already stated that HS2 and the West Coast franchise passenger service (WC) will be merged with first contracts to be signed as early as 2019. The consequence of this is that a significant number of MML passengers will be counted as HS2/WC passengers which will make East Midlands Trains loss making. The DfT and HS2/WC will move to deter passengers staying loyal to the MML route to St Pancras so a decrease in the number of MML trains would seem a likely outcome; the existing East Midlands services will not survive in their present form so our 2 trains an hour from Sheffield and similar 2 trains an hour from Nottingham will at best be cut back to 1 per hour .............. the Sheffield services may be cut back to Derby with Chesterfield, perhaps with the most to lose, served by Cross Country trains (though even these are under threat from HS2).

Even if my pessimistic view is proved wrong (and I don't think it will be) we will be condemned to a second class service on the MML. Already the trains are slowing:

The April and May times are factual whilst the 2033 times are a best possible time guess.

These timings are partly the result of  more intensive Thameslink train services south of Bedford resulting in slower running MML trains and more time spent changing trains at Derby. Electrification of all East Midlands trains to London was originally planned for 2019 and would have mitigated against these extended journey times.

Grayling says that new by-mode trains will perform just as well but does not say when these new trains will be available. The surprise is that the railway industry has not called Grayling out on this because the technology he proposes will add to operational costs and struggle to match the existing Meridian performance levels. The current East Midlands Meridian fleet were due to be cascaded to other routes with the InterCity electric trains currently working on the East Coast mainline (Kings Cross <> Leeds/Edinburgh etc) moving over to the MML. This will not now happen. The Meridians were built in 2003 and have an expected minimum life of 25 years so could be around on the MML well after HS2 is introduced in 2033. Can we believe Chris Grayling when he says that new by mode trains will replace them before 2033? I have serious doubts. Whatever the outcome we here in Derbyshire will suffer diesel fumes for years to come. Grayling tries to placate environmental criticism of the continued use of diesel by claiming that the hybrid trains will eventually be converted from electric/diesel to electric/hydrogen power yet this is a technology that is unproven in such an environment as the MML.

Data equates to Passenger journeys made in 2016 - 17

What we need in the East Midlands is a transport strategy that delivers what local people need and not counted as makeweights used to bolster an HS2 scheme that is seriously flawed. Only 27.3% of East Midland passengers travel to London, whilst a similar number stay within the regional boundary, basically short commuting or shopping trips to local centres. The main growth is seen on cross country routes to the North West, North East and West Midlands. Just how HS2 can improve these journey experiences is debatable once we factor in the necessary transfers to and from Toton. If anything, the passenger journey data underlines the case for re-opening the through route to Manchester via Matlock .......... I am sure that the cost benefit ratio for the old Midland route through the Peaks would make interesting reading. 

That 13% of East Midlands passengers are journeying to the West Midlands is significant (around 4.6 million per annum) though a fair proportion of these are travelling to and from the Leicester area which is bypassed by HS2. For East Midland passengers in the Derby area HS2 offers no real benefit for travel to Birmingham, the added mileage to Toton and extra time changing trains eating away at the fast HS2 journey time to Birmingham Curzon Street. There is claimed to be a benefit for Nottingham <> Birmingham passengers but here there is a much cheaper and immediately deliverable alternative ............... a fast connection utilising the freight branch between Sheet Stores Junction (near Long Eaton) and Burton, thence to Birmingham. This would be an additional service that would cut the current 74 minute journey to around 50 minutes by avoiding Derby. This offers a centre to centre journey time comparable to the 44 minutes claimed by HS2 for a fraction of the cost. We are talking of a couple of cascaded diesel multiple units to maintain an hourly service that could even offer new journey opportunities for the good folk of Burton. The resultant loss of journey opportunities on the Derby <> Birmingham route would also have to be addressed but there would be no loss of capacity as astute Nottingham passengers would avoid trains routed through Derby.

What next

The usual justification cited by those who promote HS2 is the claim that we desperately need more capacity. The next BelperStuff post should perhaps take a look at this and perhaps try and make sense of some of the doom-laden forecasts of spiraling HS2 costs. The bill so far is at least £2.7 billion and they haven't even started building anything yet.

Friday 4 May 2018

Results of yesterdays Belper AVBC elections ............. an analysis for nerds

Success in Belper but losses elsewhere means Tories increase their majority hold of the borough. Congratulations to Carol and Fay.

Both Labour candidates won their wards with Carol retaining Belper South whilst Fay wrested Belper East from the Tories. A good result for Belper Labour but not so successful elsewhere as we did not make any inroads in Duffield and lost 2 wards in Heanor and 1 in Ripley.

Further analysis

Belper East

What the figures show is that a 6% increase in turnout favoured Labour and easily offset the fallout from the UKIP disintegration (if not fielding a candidate can be so described). Labour campaigned hard to win this ward and fielded an excellent candidate, backed by a dedicated team of supporters which netted a 52% increase in their vote. In contrast, the Tories relied upon their incumbent retaining the seat with the help of UKIP voters in search of someone to vote for which gave them a 29% increase over 2014. The strong LibDem increase of 141% is encouraging for them and evidence that they are emerging from the cloud cast over them from their alliance with the Tories at national level (or is it ...... see Belper South results).

Belper South

With only a 1% increase in turnout Belper South should be an easier analytical proposition but the emergence of both Green and Independent candidates coupled with the towel being thrown in by UKIP  leaves this ward hard to read. Labour and Tories increased their vote by a similar percentage amount but Carol Angharad attracted an extra 182 votes (evidence of incredibly hard work and application) whilst Tim Sutton (who is presumed to be the next Belper mayor) could only manage an extra 148 votes. In 2014 it seemed that the UKIP vote was a decisive factor in Erik Johnsen winning for Labour, the theory being that UKIP took votes away from the Tories. The 2018 result does not support this analysis as Labour's showing suggests that many UKIP voters have moved to Labour. The significance of the 200 Independent and Green votes tends to confirm this.

The collapse of the Liberal vote in Belper South is at variance with their strong showing in Belper East which could or could not be reflection of strength of candidate and campaign.  

Looking forward to 2019

It should be noted that Labour now has 4 seats in Belper so has emerged as a strong force in the town's representation. In 2019 a further 4 Belper borough council seats (all Tory) will be up for election. The work never stops.

One last comment

I would like to thank Erik Johnsen for his hard work over the past 4 years, not only for Belper South but for the help he gave to BelperStuff, supplying accurate feedback to ensure that this blog remained truthful. Well done Erik and good luck for the future.

Tuesday 1 May 2018

YOU HAVE TO THINK THROUGH THE CONSEQUENCES ................... Amber Valley council election 2 days to go

In yesterdays blogpost I mentioned the content of Belper Tories facebook page. I braced myself and took another look today and, to be fair, the content, in the main is an acceptable expression of the image that local Tories want to promote about conservatism. Unfortunately some of their posts need closer scrutiny such as their slant on parking. In their zeal to attack Labour they have not thought about the consequences of their car park plan. I noticed that they had a graphic that attacked the Labour plan to sell off the Field Lane car park extension (so-called). I thought this warranted a closer look because I consider the Tory position to be illogical and ill thought out.

Additional note: It has just been brought to the attention of BelperStuff that whilst the Tories attack Labour about wanting to sell off the parcel of land off Field Lane it was the Tories  themselves who actually did  propose to sell it off in March 2014. As you read through this blog keep in mind that the land is still up for sale by the Tory controlled borough council despite what Tories would have you think. Theirs is not a well thought out strategy ....... more akin to knee jerk reactions.

The graphic that they produced is:

The graphic is intentionally misleading as it suggests that Labour want to sell Field Lane car park in its entirety which is not the case; though the Tories do admit in the accompanying text that it is only the so-called extension that is proposed for sale (that's the lighter square of land under the "LE!" of the word "SALE" superimposed on the above image).

Now if I was a Tory I would want to keep very quiet about this small parcel of land. It was bought by AVBC Tories to be the site of a new leisure centre and never intended to be a car park. Those plans had to be scrapped because the scheme depended upon a level of government funding which, when applied for was declined on the basis that Belper already has a leisure centre. Unfortunately, the Tories had already bought the land so to make the best of a bad job they re-purposed the land as a car park extension. The shame of it is that they shunned the opportunity to buy some land adjacent to Derwent Street that would have cost a third of what they spent on Field Lane and provided far more car parking spaces. What we have ended up with is car parking at a cost per space similar of what you would expect to spend in central London and not in a small Derbyshire town. The cost per car in Belper should be under £5,000 but the Tories have managed to spend nearer £50,000 per space. You could finesse the site to bring that cost down but this only to around £40,000 per space. ( for an insight into the methodology of this calculation you should start here).

What are the consequences of the Tory proposals?

By making this attack on Labour's plans the Tories have put forward what they intend to do about parking in the town once the residential development of Derwent Street North commences, bringing with it the closure of the Derwent Street car park.

Derwent Street car park on a typical midweek day. Yes the Sun is shining. Photo by BelperStuff
The Tory plan is that all these cars will be transferred to the Field Lane car park. That means that there will be a considerable extra number of cars entering the car park via the Bridge Street/Field Lane junction or the rat run through Church Street/Green Lane. Many feel that Bridge Street is already saturated with traffic so any increase in the number of vehicles making a right turn into Field Lane could prove to be chaotic. The Tories have already lodged objections to planning applications on Derwent Street based on concerns of traffic congestion but now they propose to increase the number of vehicles entering Field Lane even though it is a far more sensitive junction.

The traffic problem in Belper warrants a far more intelligent approach than what we are offered by the Tories. Now that I am aware that they base their car parking strategy on a small parcel of land that they actually want to sell I find the situation quite bizarre.  There is of course the adjacent Ada Belfield care home site with the residents moving to the new facility being built within the old chocolate factory on Derwent Street. I expect that the potential of the combined care home/car park extension area has not escaped the notice of potential developers.

Google Maps satellite image overlaid with typical traffic flows on a weekday morning
The effect that a supersized Field Lane car park would have on these flows can be easily imagined.

So what is the Labour alternative?

Labour propose selling off the so-called car park extension and, if they can recoup the full amount that was paid by the Tories for the site, use the money to realise the dream to rebuild the River Gardens Tea Rooms as envisaged by the Friends of Belper River Gardens. The residue should then be more then enough to enable an invigorated Labour controlled AVBC to explore sensible parking options that would utilise far less costly land and have minimum impact on traffic levels in the town.

The town deserves an overarching traffic plan for the town and not this bodging approach we have at the moment. The plan should be evidence driven and complimentary to the historic nature of the town. The ultimate solution for Belper is that we have an enhanced public transport network plus residential development that encourages people to walk rather than use their cars. Strategies such as this are needed now and this is what you will get if you vote for Fay and Carol in 2 days time on May 3rd.

I know that those seeking your vote often make the claim that a vote for them is a vote for change but this Thursday in Belper that is exactly how it is. A vote for Fay and Carol in Belper East and Belper South would help to ensure that the Tories are ousted from power in Amber Valley so that we bring forward policies that are of real benefit rather than those proposed by the Tories as they try to paper over the cracks of their mismanagement.