Mark Leftly: HS2 would create thousands of engineering and building jobs to help the UK economy

Westminster Outlook For several months now, MPs have been moaning that they haven’t got enough to do. At this time in most normal Parliaments, they would either be fighting an election or readying themselves for the implementation of the winning party’s manifesto. Five-year, fixed-term Parliaments, a condition of the Coalition agreement, has put an end to the incumbent Government’s ability to call a snap election when the polling is good, or to wait in hope that voters return to them. But this has left at least one lame-duck year, probably 18 months, when MPs are largely just positioning themselves for the next national poll.

Certainly, there’s a sense that the legislative programme has run out of puff. The Liberal Democrats are distancing themselves from their Conservative partners as they try to remind the electorate of their distinct, political voice.

However, MPs can stop complaining about their light workload when they return from Easter recess next week. One of the few topics outside of austerity and the economy that have dominated the David Cameron years reaches crunch time on Monday: the High Speed Rail Bill comes to the floor of the House of Commons. This will see the appointment of a Bill committee and a vote on Monday. A long debate on the passage of the Bill then takes place on Tuesday. MPs who believe that the High Speed Two (HS2) railway – initially connecting London and Birmingham – should form the spine of Britain’s remodelled public transport network will argue that this is £50bn well spent. Opponents, particularly Conservative backbenchers who represent constituencies to be dug up along the route, will vote against and issue clever amendments designed to sabotage the legislative process. They, for a start, don’t believe claims that for every £1 of HS2 investment there will be well in excess of £2 of benefits for the wider economy.

Much of British business – the Institute of Directors aside – wants HS2, and for good reason. There would be improved links between northern cities when the second “Y-shaped” phase to Leeds and Manchester is built. Tens of thousands of engineering and building jobs would be created for what remains of a construction industry that helps to underpin the British economy.

Also, there will be a quicker commute to London – an argument that those behind HS2 are reluctant to use, given the inevitable criticism that the railway is just another way of buttressing the economic dominance of the capital. Yet finding ways of getting workers to an economic super-centre quickly, and helping them to live  in and reach other major cities, should not be sniffed at.

A few things have amazed me about HS2 as I have increasingly covered the story over the past 15 months or so. Firstly, that transport should have become such an agenda-setting issue when it was considered a desert of wasted ministerial effort under previous governments. The fiasco over where to build much-needed new airport capacity has only emphasised the sense that transport and infrastructure now really matters. Secondly, that politicians and civil servants still think they can get away with pulling a budget out of the air when costing massive projects. After the London 2012 Olympic debacle, when the £2.4bn figure entered during the bidding process was shown to be at best a guess and a good £6bn short, it is remarkable to think that officials came up with £33bn for HS2 – a figure that any experienced, big infrastructure engineer could have (and, in some cases, had) told them was a ridiculous underestimate.

Finally, there are the figures over the business case and the counter-claims from HS2’s many opponents.

Sadly, I wouldn’t advise taking too much notice of either either side’s statistical claims – just look at High Speed 1. What is better known as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link saw its economic case completely undermined in the 1990s, following the unforeseen emergence and sensational growth of low-cost air travel. Millions of travellers expected to hop on a Eurostar to Paris or Brussels took to the skies more cheaply instead. Yet 2013 proved to be a record-breaking year for Eurostar, when the service carried 10.1 million passengers.

Lord Heseltine came up with the most sensible argument last November, even if it sounds anything but. Essentially, MPs should trust their instincts. “The guys with slide rules, they don’t know,” the peer said, which is an equally relevant point to both those for and against HS2.

I believe Britain does need this new railway. But the way HS2 has been run at times has seriously tested that faith – and I don’t think any MP could be blamed for saying no to HS2, provided it is an honest rather than an electoral, judgement.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
Life and Style
Stepping back in time: The Robshaws endured the privations of the 1950s
food + drinkNew BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain
News
Google celebrates St David's Day 2015
newsWales' patron saint is believed to have lived in the 6th century
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: HR Benefits Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager / Financial Services

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?