Cancelling the HS2 high-speed rail project would risk a nationwide economic catastrophe, with slower, less reliable trains and congested roads stifling London and hampering the regeneration of the Midlands and the North, according to an industry report.
The High Speed Rail Industry Leaders’ Group also warned that up to £5 billion would be lost if the £42 billion project was scrapped and that the rising population would probably mean it would eventually have to be built anyway at a higher cost. They insisted HS2 was not “about shaving a few minutes off the journey time from London to Birmingham”, saying one of “the most exciting, ambitious and important projects in this country since Victorian times” would also significantly increase the number of trains that could use the line.
There is growing pressure on the project ahead of a key bill in Parliament that would pave the way for its first stages to begin in earnest. David Cameron has called for HS2 to be delivered “substantially” below budget, while Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has said an incoming Labour government will hold a review.
The report, called Great Britain: connected or not?, said the cancellation of HS2 would result in “slower and less reliable rail services, and more congested roads”, turning the UK into “an inefficient and increasingly unpopular country in which to do business”.
“In the real world, the impacts on the wider economy of abandoning HS2 could be catastrophic,” it said.
There would be a “loss of confidence” in the UK’s ability to invest in major infrastructure, and “a stifled London, unable to expand its labour markets at affordable prices”.
The “best opportunity available to regenerate the cities of the Midlands and the North” would be lost and tourism outside of London would also suffer.
“HS2 is not, and cannot in fairness be represented to be, about shaving a few minutes off the journey time from London to Birmingham,” the report said.
“But it is about capacity and our ability to deal with the expected addition of 10 million to our population over the next 20 years. It is about bringing eight of our 10 largest cities and their people closer together, making Britain a more appealing place to live and do business as we continue to compete in a global race for jobs and growth.”
The High Speed Rail Industry Leaders’ Group, which consists of experts in high-speed rail construction and is backed by firms like Siemens Rail, everyone should support HS2 “so we can press on and build one of the most exciting, ambitious and important projects in this country since Victorian times”.
However Iain Macauley, of the HS2 Action Alliance, dismissed the report’s prediction of congestion problems as “absolute rubbish”, saying the West Coast mainline was running at just over 50 per cent capacity.
The money would be better spent improving services into London’s Paddington and Waterloo stations, which are almost at full capacity, he said.
Mr Macauley said academic studies had shown the main beneficiary of HS2 would be London. “HS2 will just become a suction tube for talent, jobs and businesses from the regions into London,” Mr Macauley said.
When the French city of Lyon was connected to a high-speed rail line, it had been expected to boost the economy.
“What actually happened was all the businesses in Lyon moved their headquarters to Paris,” Mr Macauley said. “And there were far more rail tickets bought from Lyon to Paris, than Paris to Lyon – that’s what Newcastle can expect.”