HS2 will be expensive and destructive – but it is the only way to revitalise Britain's railways

Sir David Higgins says it is vital we learn from past infrastructure mistakes

Share

All aboard for the future? The 18 pages of Sir David Higgins’ closely argued case for high-speed rail can be boiled down to just 18 words: if you are going to build the line Britain desperately needs, build it properly and build it soon.

This morning, millions of commuters will corroborate his assertion that “every day, people in this country live with the consequences of our past failure to invest sufficiently in infrastructure capacity”.

The chairman of High Speed 2 wants to transform the nation’s economic geography with an express link from London via Birmingham to the North. Sir David musters powerful arguments for swift progress, hinged on the belief that “our infrastructure has not stood the test of time: it is a series of imperfect compromises which have not provided a strategic answer to the needs of the country”. HS2 Plus, he says, is the solution.

The “Plus” is more than PR embellishment. Sir David urges bolder planning than originally envisaged. His key recommendation, that phase one should extend beyond the West Midlands and into Cheshire, echoes the old music-hall song “Oh! Mr Porter”: “I wanted to go to Birmingham, and they’ve taken me on to Crewe.” And while high property prices in London are part of the imbalance he believes HS2 can correct, an ambitious terminus in the capital could be paid for by shrewd extraction of the real-estate value of Euston – to create a “desti-station” that becomes a local economic hub as well as a national gateway.

Wisely, he cautions against ploughing £700m into a link between the new line and High Speed 1 – which currently ends at St Pancras, half a mile from where High Speed 2 would begin. It reveals much about our lack of joined-up planning that no provision was made for a possible spur from the Channel Tunnel Rail Link when the £6bn line to France was built.Even with the cost of phase one whittled down below £25bn, the project remains the most expensive advance rail ticket in history, and faces formidable foes.

First in the queue: the taxpayer. This long-suffering individual is profoundly sceptical of bloated public projects, whether NHS computer networks or Royal Navy aircraft carriers, which over-spend as predictably as they under-deliver. The typical taxpayer uses trains rarely or never, yet already contributes about half the cost of keeping the nation’s creaking network running.

Many of those who do go by train have the temerity to live in areas such as East Anglia, South Wales or Cornwall. None of those regions stands to benefit from HS2.

The business community is broadly in favour of HS2. The construction phase would provide a prodigious amount of work, and once completed the line will improve connectivity, expand capacity and perhaps even clear some traffic from the motorway network.

But many individual enterprises are appalled. Why should high-tech firms in Cardiff or Cambridge help pay for their rivals in Chester to gain a competitive edge?

And, of course, the line will cause a heck of a mess. Communities in the Chilterns fear they will find themselves somewhere on the spectrum between disruption and devastation, yet without a stop on the route between London and Birmingham. They will try everything from legal challenges to unseating MPs to block the line.

In the physical world, the force of inertia is a contradiction in terms; but in the political world, the forces of inertia have proved quite capable of hobbling big transport infrastructure projects.

As a recipe to revitalise the railways, HS2 is far from perfect, but it is the only grand project likely to succeed.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Workshop Deputy & Production Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A rare and exciting role has arisen within thi...

Recruitment Genius: HR Assistant

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a keen...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this multi-ac...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Specialist

£21000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an e...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: personality is so much more important than policies

John Rentoul
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat