81: Communications: On Track?
The publication of two recent papers shows that HS2 is back on track when it comes to their communications at least. Despite a ropey start, HS2 is now communicating in a way that could build support for HS3 and beyond.
The ‘HS2: On Track’ report together with the freshly released Northern Transport Strategy puts the whole high-speed project in a very different light. It is moving from being a discussion comparing economic figures, statistical tit-for-tat and speed of movement, to a facilitating project opening up widespread opportunities. HS2 is now cast a fundamental part of the economic development of the whole country.
‘HS2: On Track’ starts by setting the right tone with a clear explanation of what the project is setting out to achieve. Even that, in the early days, was not always clear. The case is set out concisely, again a step forward, and in a way which non-experts can understand. The document rightly avoids jargon and abbreviations wherever possible.
There is a description of the work sitting behind the next phase of the project so HS2 looks less like a London – Birmingham project and more like a national project.
By explicitly talking about ‘looking after people along the route’, HS2 is also saying to people along future paths that they will be looked after. This is very different from the apparent steamrollering of the early days of the project where the concerns of those along the route were often perceived as being dismissed.
One area of criticism has been the project existing in splendid isolation. This has not been entirely true for a while but ‘HS2: On Track’ talks about all the supporting work – across cities, developing skills, promoting businesses etc. The value and opportunities of the project are being made clearer and more explicitly.
The approach of the project to communications is now very different and shows the value that considering communications can have.
Good project communication is all about keeping people informed on an ongoing basis. HS2 feels much more like that type of project now. This has obvious benefits in terms of minimising opposition and potential disruption. It also means that it will be less of an election issue. Yes, there is now a more apparent cross-party consensus on the project but some bad publicity or a failure to keep people informed could change that quite rapidly. It does not feel like we are in that space currently and ‘HS2: On Track’ is a sensible way of trying to keep the project out of the headlines.
The new transport strategy for the north released following the Budget shows one of the other benefits of a clearer approach. It provides Government with the confidence to talk about high-speed rail in a much broader context. The new strategy says that HS2 and HS3 are fundamental to the future prosperity of the north. The idea of high-speed rail connections sits at its heart. As the media release states:
“Building on the concept of High Speed 3, the report sets out a long term strategy to connect the great cities of the north with a network of high quality rail connections.”
It is also stated that:
“The government will deliver HS2…. in the north sooner by preparing a dedicated hybrid Bill to lay during the next Parliament, This is with a view to bringing HS2 to Crewe sooner than planned…”
While a detailed analysis of earlier documents might show that it was always the plan (in public at least) to introduce the Bill for HS2 Phase 2 in the next Parliament, the clarity with which this is now stated is beneficial. This level of support, understanding and confidence is critical when building the case for public money whether that source is central government or local.
HS2 is now being cast as a national project and when the communications are clear and open, as they now are, it has a much better chance of success.
27 March 2015