Debate: Is HS2 high speed rail link a waste of taxpayers' money?


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The Independent Online


What's going on?

Details of the next phase of the controversial HS2 high-speed rail link have been unveiled in a move Prime Minister David Cameron said would boost Britain's stagnant economy.

Today's announcement details the northern extension of the already-planned London to Birmingham HS2 line as far as Manchester and Leeds.

The new rail link is designed to cut journey times, ease overcrowding and boost regional business, and officials say the project, which is expected to cost £32.7 billion, will create at least 100,000 jobs. But does England really need this new service or could the money be spent better elsewhere?

Case for: Investing in our future

The number of short, medium and long term benefits from HS2 are almost too many to mention. Short: create employment at a time when it's desperately needed; boost economic growth. Medium: encourage businesses to start investing in areas that have long been neglected. Long: fundamentally rebalance Britain, a country which for far too long has been overly dependent on the economy of London and the South East. If Britain is going to compete on the international stage in the 21st century, it needs infrastructure to match. Better transport links are a fundamental part of that, and not just because the trains will be fast and shiny. HS2 will also reduce the strain on our over-congested roads, and connect millions more people to our aviation network. The short-term investment will be more than made back.

Case against: No boost

Considered from any angle, this looks to be a white elephant, and moreover one that will trample across hundreds of miles of English countryside and heritage. Since ticket prices are likely to be too expensive for most to use the service, HS2's main beneficiairies will be business-people, who, among other perks, will be able to get to Birmingham 20 minutes faster than before. Well forgive me for not popping the champagne. As comedian Jeremy Hardy put it, another way for suits to get somewhere 20 minutes sooner is "take an earlier train". Most distressing of all, the cost to the taxpayer of this project is immense - over £1,000 per household - and cost-benefit forecasts have been revised downwards FOUR times, suggesting HS2 will not defibrillate our economy as promised. As for regenerating the North, that too seems a mirage. The engine of this disaster is politics; common and economic sense were thrown out the window long ago.