[Update at end of post]
“Countryside planning revolution: ‘new city’ proposed for Midlands” proclaims the headline of a Telegraph piece which covers two favourite bogeymen, the HS2 project, and the Green Belt. Yes, not only is HS2 going to be built – which is not new news – but also there may be new housing and other developments built on the back of it. Who’d have thought that, eh?
High speed trains not frightening the locals in Madrid
Sadly, one look at the by-line and the appearance there of Andrew Gilligan, purveyor of the most misleading journalism known to Londoners, tells readers that this motah may be a dodgy one. And Gilligan does not disappoint: not only is there a significant amount of exaggeration and dishonesty here (Gilligan watchers would expect nothing less), but the supposed ‘news’ is over a week old.
The event that has set Gilligan and co-author Robert Watts off and running actually took place on the Thursday before last. At Derby’s Roundhouse, the iRail 2012 event took place, and was rounded off with the Distinguished Lecture, given by Andrew McNaughton, who is Chief Engineer of HS2. So far, so nerdy, one might think, but McNaughton’s comments have since been creatively picked over.
He told that the area around Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre would become a new city. This should not be too surprising, given the confluence of motorways, railways and Airport. Much of the area is already built up, and the arrival of HS2 could well kick start Airport capacity increases. An extension of the runway is already under way.
McNaughton also opined that the new Curzon Street terminus in Birmingham would drive development of the city’s East side. This too is unsurprising, but in the Gilligan retelling the two potential developments “would effectively obliterate the open countryside east of Birmingham to create Britain’s longest continuous conurbation, stretching 40 miles from Coventry to the far side of Wolverhampton”.
Moreover, the news that “the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham was regarding the [Old Oak Common] development not just as a railway interchange but as a West London equivalent of the Docklands regeneration area” morphed into “HS2 would create a second ‘Docklands’ in a densely populated area of west London”, just to make it look that bit more scary.
All that then remains is for Gilligan and Watts to add in “Up to 100,000 homes would be built on green belt”, throw in a Shakespeare reference, get a suitably hyperbolic response from those opposed to HS2, and use phrases such as “concreting over the countryside”, and the Telegraph target demographic is angry, frightened, and already lobbying the nearest MP.
It meets the Telegraph agenda. But as journalism, it’s not good enough.
[UPDATE 26 March 1200 hours: the Gilligan frightener has been lifted - and without attribution - by the Mail. Under the by-line of Daniel Martin, the piece repeats the baseless assertion that there would be a "conurbation stretching 40 miles from Coventry to Wolverhampton".
The contribution of the representative from Coventry council, however, was edited out. The anti-HS2 campaigner fared better, and his sentiments were left in. Private and voluntary sector organisations are more the Mail's "kind of people"]