There’s been an intriguing, if minor, development in the HS2 case this afternoon.
The Guardian reports that the Department of Transport has miraculously found £500 million
to spend on 1.5 miles of tunnelling to reduce aesthetic damage to the Chilterns, an area of outstanding natural beauty. The decision on HS2 was expected before Christmas, but Transport Secretary
Justine Greening has delayed it until after the New Year pending a feasibility study and further environmental impact assessments. The cash has materialised thanks to internal
efficiency savings within the £32bn scheme, which has led rural campaigners to fear that other beautification funds have been reallocated. Greening is expected to clarify these points in the
Greening is striking a very different political tone to her predecessor Philip Hammond, who branded HS2’s
"http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/6740543/the-tories-take-the-train-to-war.thtml">determined opponents as ‘nimbys’. The precise reasons for this apparent change of heart are
unclear. Perhaps the government was shaken by the planning row earlier in the autumn, and now seeks to accommodate Tory-leaning rural groups ahead of battles over future capital projects. On the
other hand, perhaps it was not shaken and now believes it must humour licked rural campaigners, not to mention the smattering of Tory MPs and ministers whose constituencies are affected by
The change of personnel at the Department for Transport is the most likely explanation, other than for the lurking fact that both Hammond and Greening are close to George Osborne – Greening,
for instance, was at the chancellor’s side throughout much of his marathon stint in the Commons on Wednesday. Osborne, as we know, doesn’t choose his morning shirt and tie without first
considering their strategic implications. Perhaps it is his thinking that has altered?