An opinion poll to gauge the views of people living close to the proposed HS2 line through Birmingham produced a fascinating result. But the city council, desperate to spin-up the findings in favour of high speed rail, missed the bigger picture.
The council noted that 61 per cent of respondents were in favour of HS2, which is remarkable in itself since the properties of all of those polled are within a stone’s throw of where the 250mph trains will glide effortlessly into the centre of Birmingham.
What wasn’t made so clear was the fact that of 26,500 leaflets distributed, only 569 were returned – a response rate of just over two per cent.
This means that 98 per cent of people living in the shadow of HS2 couldn’t give a damn. Where is the widespread protest that, if you read certain national newspapers, is sweeping the country?
Surely, if high speed rail is really that unpopular, rather more than a measly two per cent of residents would have take the opportunity to make their views known. Even by the standards of surveys, a two per cent response rate is pitiful and statistically meaningless.
The anti-HS2 movement is in the grand traditions of English middle class rebellions, led as usual by the rich rural elite from the Home Counties.
Sometimes I think my life has revolved around such protests, starting as a small child living in Stokenchurch, Buckinghamshire, when I was shown the snaking lines of white wooden stakes marking out the route of the M40 from London to Oxford, which country folk were convinced would ruin their cosy way of life.
The M40 opponents did not get their way then, or years later when the motorway was finally extended to the M42 and Birmingham following a lengthy public inquiry and angry protests about ancient woodlands being ruined and rare habitats being destroyed.
Other important transportation projects were blocked by middle class activists, most notably the long search for the third London Airport which saw locations in Cubington, Buckinghamshire, and at Maplin Sands in Essex, at first backed by the Government and then rejected as the scale of rebellion became clear.
Finally, Stansted Airport in Essex was chosen. It goes almost without saying that we are not very good in this country at embracing grand public projects, particularly when transportation is involved.
The railways were opposed in the 19th century by rich landowners who could see that greater connectivity between countryside and the fast-growing cities would eventually diminish their wealth and destroy a gilded way of life.
Motorways were similarly feared in the 1950s and early 1960s as being costly and unnecessary, and then in the 1990s as environmentally unsound. Airports, seen as romantic and a sign of progress in the post-war period, quickly became a target for green activists.