by John Whitehouse on 2 September, 2013
In recent weeks the national media has been full of HS2. A number of prominent politicians have expressed opposition to the scheme, others like George Osborne have rushed to support it, the Institute of Directors members said it should be scrapped, etc etc.
For those of us who have been “in the firing line” of this massive project for over three years already, this national media attention is overdue but very welcome. For far too long, any opposition to HS2 has been brushed off as “nimbyism”, with media images of posh people in grand houses being inconvenienced by a project that would upset their idyllic and privileged existences!
The recent massive increase to the costs of the scheme has clearly provided the catalyst for the national debate to open up finally. The new figure of £42 billion, or over £50 billion including the new rolling stock, is a huge investment in a single project, which should be subject to the most stringent scrutiny.
Yet even these figures understate the true cost of the scheme drastically. HS2 will be subsidised by many thousands of ordinary householders living near the planned route, whose homes have lost tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds in value through no fault of their own, but who will receive little or no compensation due to our archaic property blight laws. These people are not “toffs”, but mostly ordinary people living in ordinary homes, which for them (like most people) represent their major or only assets.
And what about the true costs of the damage and loss to the natural environment, as HS2 ploughs through ancient woodlands and precious tranquil countryside?
If “UK plc” were to work out the real costs of HS2, a figure of £100 billion might be much nearer the mark.
So, if HS2 is going to cost so much, and cause so much grief, it had better be worth it, hadn’t it? Here, the pro-HS2 lobby has had to shift ground continuously over the last three years, as the well-informed opposition groups have demolished one argument after the other. We don’t hear much about it being a “green” project now – because it won’t be – nor the economic case now that they’ve realised that business people can and do actually work on trains!
The north-south divide? There is no evidence that HS2 will do anything to help this, in fact the reverse is more likely – London and the south-east could become yet more dominant.
The need for a step-increase in capacity? Even if you accept fully the demand forecasts behind this argument, which I don’t (and nor does The Economist), why build a new railway line for the fastest speeds in Europe, when we’re a relatively small country?
I don’t expect all Lib Dem members to agree with me, but why aren’t we talking about it at our forthcoming national conference? There’s no mention of HS2 in the conference agenda, nor in the directory of fringe events which arrived recently. The whole country is talking about HS2, so why aren’t we?1 Comment