HS3: is it worth it?

Plans for HS3 are supposedly underway to create a 'Northern Powerhouse', but is the new rail link financially worth it?

Although many would agree with Mr. Osborne that it is not healthy for our country if “the powerhouse of London dominates more and more” of the economy, would the newly supposed High Speed link in the North prove beneficial for the rest of the country’s economy? Mr. Osborne has proposed that he is “ready to commit new money, new infrastructure, new transport and new science” in the North to help distribute the country’s wealth more fairly. The link between Leeds and Manchester aims to cut 20 minutes off the average journey that it currently takes (around 49 minutes), and promises to create a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, comprising of cities from the East coastal region of Humberside to the West coastal region of Merseyside.

Mr. Osborne has stated that £600,000,000 has already been invested to "electrify the lines across the Pennines" in preparation for the new high-speed rail. Though the figures are still not yet entirely certain, it is estimated that HS3 will cost around £15bn, and will be operational by 2030.

There are some, however, who have shown concerns for HS3, and have cast doubts on the intentions of Mr. Osborne. In less than a year the General Election will be held, and the proposed outcome does not look good for the Conservative Party. Many have speculated that the proposed HS3 is a marketing ploy to boost Conservative popularity in the north of England, which, as it stands, consists predominantly of Labour strongholds in most regions.

Lord Rosser told peers in the House of Lords on the 28th July that the proposed plans for HS3 “came as a complete surprise to the Department of Transport”, which certainly questions the validity of Mr. Osbourne’s proposals.

It would seem that there is in fact very little planning that has gone into HS3. Richard Westcott reports that ‘no one’s really sat down and worked out any detail of who’s going to fund it, or when it might happen.’ The Pennines are ‘not an easy thing to build a railway over’ and would have to build ‘some new track’ to accommodate the swiftness of a high-speed train.

With HS3, we are told it will bring economic growth to the north, but, other than jobs involved in the infrastructure of the new lines, it seems unlikely the north will see any immediate economic benefits before it is set to open. It is hard to see the populations of these integrated cities in the north supporting an alleged economic boost that will not affect them for another 16 years.

One could hope that the faster links between these cities will bring about expansion in businesses, which will aid the economic growth, but there in lies a question regarding ticket fares. Research has shown that HS1 costs 27% more than that of the previous railway, and implies that, with the decrease in time it takes between the destinations of HS2 and HS3, the cost of the rail fares will, respectively, increase.

Patrick Collinson, reporter for The Guardian, has noted that British commuters are paying extortionate rail fares in comparison with the rest of Europe, with Italian commuters alone paying five times less than UK commuters. ‘Here,’ Collinson states, ‘travellers are paying business class fares for a budget airline service’.

With the supposed economic growth there comes the financial predicament in rail fares: is it worth paying 27% more for a 20-minute quicker service? From this, another financial matter occurs: is the route worth £15bn, and, will HS3 eventually be privatised?

When privatised in 2010, HS1 sold for £2.1bn, but cost £5.8bn to construct. The privatisation of nationally-owned and paid for services is no news to the British public, but the cheap sales of services worth more than they’re sold for is a growing concern for the taxpayer. £20 bn is being invested in the second part of HS2, which links Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds. Overall, HS2 has cost £50bn, and, if privatised, may undergo the same cheap sell-off as its HS1 predecessor.

The same goes for HS3. Though it may bring about some economic benefits to the ‘Northern Powerhouse” it certainly does not promise financial benefits for the rest of the nation.