Banging on about HS2: how can we help them prevent a PR disaster?

The HS2 team held a PR event in Liverpool recently where assembled movers, shakers and hangers on were invited to hear the latest news on the HS2 developments. About 50 of us gathered expectantly to hear what it’s really all about Alfie, and to get it straight from the horses mouth.

To say it was a non event would be kind to non events. There were a couple of short introductory speeches – the first of which apologised for the name of the project – HS2 – and made it clear that there would be nothing particularly HS about HS2 as it was much more about moving freight off the roads, on to the rails and down the current West Coast line. The need for the new line was as much about providing capacity for passengers to travel at speeds greater than 15mph – the average speed they would be travelling if they were stuck behind a mile long freight train carrying glass from St Helens to the city of London.

The second contributor marvelled at the current 15 apprentices who are currently were working on the designs of the line. He pointed out, this project could last their life time and it would be more than likely that they would be grandparents by the time the line was operational.

That fact sobered many of us in the room as it became clear that we were being asked to endorse a project which would outlive us, and perhaps even our children. The project will be alive and kicking when many of us in the room will be consigned to our graves, ashes urns or deep at the bottom of the sea – or even under the rails at Rainford for the enthusiasts amongst us.

The final contribution to the non-event was a glossy promotional video which showed a lighting fast cartoon train whizzing through an empty countryside in all its shiny happy people mode. The absence of people in the video emphasised one of the core problems to the HS2 marketing campaign. It doesn’t have any people in it who will be alive when the line supposedly opens. It’s emphasising its audiences mortality with a ya boo sucks approach – this project is more important than you here and now, and more important too than your children and grandchildren in the there and then.

What’s it all about Alfie is freight, freight and yet more freight trundling through the countryside at the dead of night, rattling by the graveyards of the movers, shakers and hangers on who are currently being asked to cough up in TB type spasmodic fits for its ever spiralling costs.

One way to prevent a PR disaster would be for the team to be honest about the purpose of HS2 and acknowledge that not many of us are going to be around to see the first train leave the new Manchester station which will be built just outside Skelmersdale some time in 2033.

Author: drnicko

Awarded an MBE for services to arts-based businesses, I am passionate about generating inspiring, socially engaging, creative practice within educational contexts both nationally and internationally.

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