Wednesday, 27 August 2014
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Business leaders call on government to abandon HS2 "folly"

We may now have reached a point where opponents of HS2 outnumber its supporters. 

Until recently, the loudest objections to the controversial high speed rail project have come from those whose homes, villages and towns stand along its proposed route (NIMBYs as they’re often unsympathetically dubbed)

But in recent months and weeks opposition to the project has widened -  with business leaders, economists and a number of senior politicians all calling for the scheme to be abandoned.

Last week, the Institute of Economic affairs  warned that the cost of the scheme could rise to more than £80 billion (almost double the government’s estimated 42.6bn price tag). The influential think-tank - which has long been critical of the scheme -  called for it to be scrapped and for the money to be spent on other transport projects.

Meanwhile, support within the Labour party - which has put a £50bn cap on the cost of the project - is looking increasingly fragile. Shadow Chancellor  Ed Balls isn’t thought to be a fan, whilst former Chancellor Alistair Darling  - who approved the project whilst in office - no longer supports the scheme, and fears that it could soak up the cash required for investment elsewhere in the rail network.

But this week’s survey from the Institute of Directors (IoD) - represents one of the strongest attacks yet. One of the chief arguments advanced by the government in favour of HS2 is the economic benefits it will bring; and yet around 70 per cent of those taking part in the IoD survey, business people at the sharp end of the UK economy, said the scheme would have no impact on the productivity of their business. 

In a strongly worded attack, the IoD’s Director General Simon Walker described HS2 as “one grand folly” and called on the government to abandon the scheme and focus on smaller transport projects such as station upgrades, electrification and capacity improvements .

Interestingly, amongst all of the coverage of the IOD survey one point keeps emerging: criticism of the government’s claim that a high speed link will help businesses cut down on unproductive travelling time.

Clearly, productivity is an important issue for businesses. But in the context of a huge £50bn infrastructure project, how business people spend their journey time is a pretty minor issue.  Indeed, the fact that such a relatively minor point has even entered the debate is illustrative of where the HS2 lobby has gone wrong: continually trotting out spurious unproveable economic claims rather than focusing on practical issues. 

As we’ve frequently argued in The Engineer the key issue here is whether or not HS2 represents the best solution to the UK’s future rail capacity requirements, and the project’s supporters haven’t done a particularly impressive job of convincing people that HS2 is the best option.

With opposition to HS2 now becoming increasingly widespread and vociferous, its future hangs in the balance.  Its supporters must now work doubly hard to put capacity  - rather than spurious economic arguments - at the heart of the debate about our future rail network.


Readers' comments (26)

  • Government backed projects such as HS2 seem invariably to suffer cost creep and the current high cost will probable double or more before completion. Who then will be able to afford a ticket. Not joe public for sure.

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  • The great advantage of high speed rail is that it runs right into city centres, unlike air travel. Centre to centre HSR cannot be beaten. Primarily HS2 serves only 4 cities directly: London, Birmingham Leeds and Manchester. HSBC do not even predict Manchester will be one of the future seven super-cities and this city has a direct link with a 7.5 mile tunnel !!! So this £80bm is for the benefit of FOUR cities and one will be a minor city in the future. Who thinks of this HS2 nonsense.

    A station will be BETWEEN Derby and Notts, Sheffield will be accessed by a station on the OUSKIRTS and Liverpool, which is growing faster than any other city with massive future imminent plans in Liverpool and Wirral Waters and the new cruise liner and new massive container terminal, is LEFT OFF.

    Crewe is a 360 degree rail junction. Crewe is BY-PASSED, meaning the north Midlands and North West are not fully served.

    Who thinks of this nonsense! They must have brain damage. A HSR link needs to be between Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-Hull. The Liverpool end can extend in time to North Wales under the Mersey and Dee rivers and onward to Dublin fulfilling an EU aspiration of linking capitals. This 100 mile corridor will pull, the north up by its own bootstraps and should be done first, thus making these cities far less dependent on London. HS2 is clearly for the benefit of London and London alone. No one is fooled otherwise.

    Money should be spent on updating the existing crumbling and inadequate infrastructure. Metros in London, Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow need expanding and renewing. Leeds does not even have a tram system!

    Inter-region connections should be vastly improved in comfort and speed. Liverpool does not even have a station connect its airport from the city or any of the surrounding towns!!! And they are to waste Billions on a folly!! A fast electric Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-Hull line is urgently needed, NOW!

    Never mind the NIMBYs, the whole design of HS2 is just plain wrong and the aim of the network is to benefit London.

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  • HS2 is the M6 Toll of the railway world.

    Of minimal benefit to a wealthy few.

    The hypocrisy from this government is unbound.

    We need to save money, so cut essential services and then propose this monstrosity.

    While there is a need to improve infrastructure, HS2 is not the solution.

    The idea lacks integration with other aspects of the travel network nor does it propose to improve additionally beyond the proposed rail changes.

    This isn't NYMBYism, HS2 is not a prudent solution to a bureaucratic problem.

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  • IMHO this only stifles economic growth...

    Why?... because from my perspective most of my business takes place in the West of the country, around Bristol, Glouceshire, Somerset, Midlands etc.

    Anyone trying to traverse the M5/M6 jams or Bristol etc is fully aware that better transport links providing faster travel time is needed.

    Why spend extortionate amounts of money to try to provide only 10 minutes reduction in travel for such a minority of Business and domestic travellers via HS2???

    Also reduce the West Rail Network franchises back into a single provider as as happened on the East Cost with great success.

    It was going to cost me almost £200 to travel from Yeovil, Somerset to Manchester by Train last year, taking over 5 hours. In the end I drove; Saving both time and money.

    It's time the government took notice that Economic growth needs to include Transport viability for both Public & Business; Businesses need People; People need efficient Transport/Routes.

    IMHO

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  • The price of some rail tickets is just phenomenal - but a chance comment on TV the other day sheds some light on their thinking - a rail spokesman said that mile-for-mile season ticket prices were still "good value" because they were comparable with the cost of running a car travel. I think they seem to forget that you probably have to have a car as well; a car takes you door-to-door which a train can never do - needing taxi's or parking charges at each end, plus there's the usual trouble with over-crowding etc. And the economics are close only if one person is alone in the car. Add a passenger and it's a complete no-brainer - you'd take the car. Until we get all these pigs' noses out of the trough (Network Rail's excessive bonuses, train leasing companies, banks, etc) train travel will be ridiculously expensive, so why not spend the £60 billion (and rising) on renationalising our railways and give the railways back to the people?

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  • As a Northerner who lives and works in the south, but still has family and friends 'up north' my belief is that HS2 remains an important and viable programme.
    There is no doubt that the South East corner of the UK (where I live and work) generates an unreasonably large proportion of the national GDP. The only way to correct this is to create the conditions where other parts of the UK can again flourish - and HS2 is one of the key steps in this process.
    HS2 is clearly not the panacea, it has to form part of a co-ordinated approach to regenerating large parts of the country (mainly to the north of Birmingham) that have the potential to be much more productive.
    As a final word, I am equally clear that having a high speed train line running past your village is not going to improve your environment. However, as a country we have to continue to find ways to enhance the life chances of as many people as possible. Unfortunately for a few people this will be at the cost of a slightly reduced quality of life.

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