As the government's high-speed rail project rattles on, Matt Gillow asks: is it really worth it?
Since its conception - an integral part of George Osborne, former Chancellor’s, ‘Northern Powerhouse’ plan for Britain - HS2 has been controversial at best. But why? Ellie Goulding, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, and thousands of local people are amongst those against it: here are seven reasons why their opposition is so strong:
Many argue the government should be spending money on current infrastructure, and not soon-to-be obsolete projects
The cost to taxpayers is huge - and predicted to rise. The government estimated, at the latest count, that HS2 would cost £56 billion to build - though that figure could easily be off the mark. Even at the current figure, the IEA notes it would be the most extravagantly expensive infrastructure project in British history.
The Money Could Be Spent Better
If we take the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) figure of £104 billion, or the more conservative Institute of Economic Affairs figure of £85 billion - we have around and about the entire yearly budget for education. Compared to other potential investments - HS2 offers poor value for money.
It Won’t Create The Jobs It’s Expected To
HS2 supporters claim that around 27,000 jobs will be created by HS2 and the new infrastructure. However, the problem, as ever, with jobs that are created by the state - is that resources must be diverted from elsewhere in order to ensure funding.
London, Not The North, Will Benefit
Research by Green Gauge states that when two satellite cities are linked by high speed rail - the more economically dominant always benefits. Indeed, strengthening a major city ‘tends to make others in the region more dependent on it,’ meaning that not only the North, but cities like Reading would lose out because of HS2. Jobs will inevitably go to London due to ease of access, rather than vice versa.
The Technology Will Be Obsolete By Completion
HS2 is operating years behind schedule. Phase 1 is expected to be completed by 2026 - but given huge advances we’ve made in technology, we could see a similar situation to that which the Concorde faced: business strategists failing to account for low-cost airlines stealing over 20 million potential customers. With the world on the verge of technology like driverless cars, who knows whether HS2 will actually even be relevant by the time it opens for business?
Does Anybody Actually Want It?
HS2 will cause major displacement of locals for years to come. Major, influential think-tanks rally against it, and there doesn’t seem to be a major politician in full support since George Osborne resigned his seat: indeed, the Cabinet seem committed to the policy only on the premise that they’re too far gone.
There’s A Huge Environmental Cost
Because the tracks for HS2 need to be as straight as possible - it’s planned to work through several environmental sites and local areas. Of course, the rail will eventually run on electric - but the devastation to the environment and local areas will be irreversible.