A government white elephant—or an essential transport link for the North? Our contributors duke it outby Simon Jenkins, Andrew Adonis / November 13, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
High-Speed Two, the rail development that will connect London to Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and the East Midlands, was never a properly-planned railway. It was a political vanity project “sold” to David Cameron in 2010 as an alternative to a new runway at Heathrow, which he was then pledged to oppose. It swiftly attracted commercial lobbying and became a totem of the coalition government’s infrastructure machismo.
Higher speed is not regarded as a critical factor in rail travel and track congestion is far worse in other corridors into London, notably from the south and the west. While there is always a case for more rail investment, HS2 passed not a single test for priority, whether in the Department of Transport, the Treasury or the think tanks and Commons committees that investigated it.
Since there is no infinite stock of rail investment, HS2’s official total cost of £55.7bn, as set out in the 2015 spending review, can only impede Britain’s dire record of rail electrification, and worsen the poor state of north-country intercity links, both road and rail. In addition, as with such projects in France and elsewhere, better transport draws growth to the more attractive end of the line. HS2 is in effect a massive subsidy to London.