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HS2 still in the air

Despite what might seem like a crushing Commons majority of 450-50 in the Commons last night in favour of HS2, the whole project is very far from settled. There are good reasons for this. One is that the Commons, like a local planning authority, is faced with a single choice – take it or leave it – rather than being presented with alternative choices designed to meet the same objective, and then being allowed after appropriate detailed examination to make a choice between them.

Another is that this is the fifth attempt by the government to launch this project, the first four having faded (based on higher speed and faster journey times, or regeneration of the north of England, among others) through failure to convince, and this fifth attempt emphasising the need to improve capacity is still seen by many as unconvincing. The third is that £50.1bn, the estimated cost of the project (and these things have an unfailing knack to soar higher once approval has been granted), is a colossal sum of money, equal to half the current budget deficit which is currently crippling the UK economy; given the opportunity cost of capital, is there really no other better way of spending such an enormous sum equal to 3% of our entire GDP?

Then, fourth, there is evidence that the government has been less than transparent with disclosing the expert assessments of the project that have been made. The Secretary of State has declined to publish the Major Projects Authority report on HS2 so that the public (and MPs) are denied access to highly significant evidence on the viability of the project. Then too there are further objections still.

The case for starting further high-speed rail construction with a line from London to the West Midlands rather than in the north of England has not been convincingly made out. It will cause widespread environmental disruption to many areas of the country including areas of outstanding natural beauty. And it is not being preceded by proper consideration of, and a strategy for, integrating high-speed rail with other transport modes including the UK’s international airport hubs.

On the other side of the coin, it is true that there are significant capacity constraints for commuters which are steadily growing. Total passenger journeys have more than doubled from 735m in 1995 to 1.5bn in 2013. As a result in 2012, during the morning peak, there were on average 2,800 people standing on arrival into London Euston and almost 3,000 people standing on arrival into Birmingham. By 2026 peak demand is projected to hit 250% of capacity at Euston, 200% at Birmingham, and 175% at Manchester Piccadilly. There is undoubtedly a looming capacity problem which has to be dealt with. The question is: is HS2 the best way to meet it? Watch this space.

3 Comments

  1. PoundInYourPocket says:

    This project seems to have gained its own unstoppable momentum despite tha lack of a convincing business case. I would have thought that a 50 billion spend would need a rock-solid bbusiness case, just as I do for a £500 spend at work. It begs the question which I can’t answer.
    “Who is driving this ?” , when there’s actually no case for it.

  2. David Ellis says:

    HS2 is a collosall waste of money, will disrupt if not blight the lives of thousands of families and will rip a terrible scar into some of England’s finest landscapes.

  3. David Ellis says:

    By opposing this project instead of supporting it New Labour would have made themselves favourites in any number of previously safe Tory seats but they are wedded to this sort of pseud-capitalist Keynesian crap that funnels public money into private hands. Oh well, guess UKIP will have to reap the benefits of Tory unpopularity on this one. New Labour are a joke.

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