THIS week Cheryl Gillan, MP for Chesham and Amersham and former cabinet minister, writes for the Bucks Free Press on why the controversial HS2 project should be scrapped.
It is a relief to be able to speak freely about the proposed High Speed 2 rail project, now that I am no longer bound by being a Cabinet Minister.
There has never been a vote in parliament on HS2 on whether it should go ahead and I do not believe that it should proceed. At over £32 billion it is too expensive and with an ever-falling benefit-cost ratio (currently standing at 1.2), the economic benefits have certainly not been proved yet. It is not good value for money for the taxpayer. The environmental damage to the protected landscape of the Chilterns would be immense, particularly in the South Heath and Great Missenden areas where cuttings would leave a scar across the AONB.
HS2 is by far the biggest challenge which facing Chesham and Amersham and constituencies along the proposed route. Never in my 20 years as constituency MP has there been an issue which created so much concern and distress.
The argument about HS2 is not and never has been about the culture of Not In My Back Yard. The Chilterns AONB is a national asset, a treasure of the kind that cannot be replaced.
I gave fellow Cabinet members a hard time over HS2 and I do not regret that. The fight on behalf of constituents in Chesham and Amersham has continued in Westminster and Whitehall day in and day out.
Whilst being a thorn in the side of Cabinet colleagues, I have expressed gratitude when mitigation measures were proposed. This is not the politics of defeatism. I have not accepted a fait accompli. Yes, it would be dreadful for this project to go ahead. But for the project to go ahead without mitigation measures would be truly dreadful and a betrayal of the people living along the proposed route. This is why I am working closely with local groups and engineers on alternative proposals for a fully-bored tunnel through the entire constituency and still looking at alternative routes.
The day I put my Ministerial red box to one side, I tackled the new Transport Secretary - to ask him to axe HS2. With my departure from Government I intend to continue my staunch opposition, now in public instead of behind closed doors.
There is a different range of weapons and tactics at the disposal of an MP sitting on the back benches. There are Parliamentary Questions and interventions. There is the work carried out by Select Committees in testing and validating the decisions of the government of the day. All these can and will play a part in challenging this project.
From Day 1 of the Coalition Government it was obvious that the Labour Government had created so much debt that it would burden this country for generations. Economic growth is essential. But we have to ensure that every penny of public money is spent wisely and well. We, literally, cannot afford to pour good money after bad, in the hope of an economic miracle.