Now we learn that HS2 will cause 'far worse' damage than expected, it confirms this is a flawed project
Wherever you look, in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, the north and southwest of England and London commuter services, there are better, quicker and cheaper transport investments
We report today that HS2, the planned high-speed railway from London to Birmingham and the north of England, is going to cause “far worse” damage to homes, businesses and the environment on its route than feared.
This should come as a surprise no more than the news that the project will cost more than originally planned, or that its army of consultants and bureaucrats are paying themselves generously for their work on this flawed project.
The Independent has long expressed its reservations about the scheme. We understand that capacity on the existing east and west coast main lines is already stretched, and that the second London to Birmingham line, from Marylebone, will soon also be full. But we were never persuaded that this particular scheme was the best use of the vast capital resources that would be devoted to it.
Our scepticism was vindicated by the near-collapse this year of Northern rail services. It would be more important to the economy of Manchester, Liverpool and the surrounding areas to invest more in upgrading local rail services in the next few years than to provide another fast link to London in 2033.
The same story is playing out in other parts of the country. In one of his first decisions as transport secretary, Chris Grayling cancelled rail electrification projects in south Wales, the Midland Main Line and the Lake District. Wherever you look, in Scotland, Northern Ireland (where the railways are still wholly in public ownership), the southwest and London commuter services, there are economic benefits that could be brought by increased investment that would accrue decades before anything that would come through from HS2.
And that is before we even consider the case for improved bus services, which would be cheaper and would benefit more people on lower incomes than subsidies for the railways, which tend to be used by the better-off. Against electric or hybrid buses, or new forms of low-carbon ride sharing, even the environmental case for rail megaprojects is weakening fast.
All of which is to say that the greatest argument against HS2 is its opportunity cost: that its huge price tag is money that could be better spent elsewhere.
The questions that should be asked, therefore, are whether it is too late to stop the project, and whether it is realistic to try. The major construction phase is about to start and, even if there were an early election, Labour committed itself to “complete” HS2 in its manifesto last year.
So it would make sense to assume that the first phase, at least, from London to Birmingham, is likely to go ahead. But even as it does we should not allow it to distract from better, quicker and cheaper transport investments that would bring bigger and earlier benefits to the rest of the country.
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