HS2 under review16 September 2019
It is understood that HS2 is at the starting blocks and ready to go. The visible evidence of this can be seen across the county, with major demolition and enabling works around Euston and along the route. The long term effects on spreading wealth northwards can also be seen with development being undertaken in Birmingham and Manchester.
At this late stage and after the expenditure of GBP 7bn (USD 8.6bn) the UK’s prime minister has called for a review into the feasibility of the project – the first new railway north of London for 150 years.
The UK’s rail network is at capacity. It has been augmented and upgraded as far as it can be pushed, but there has been an enormous increase in demand and within five years there will be more people standing on services between London and Birmingham than there are sitting. These higher-speed services run on the same tracks as local trains, disrupting rail services in the towns around London and blocking attempts at providing adequate suburban rail services.
Unfortunately, the main justification given over and over to the British people has been the promised reductions in journey times. While these are welcome, they are not actually that impressive given the relatively small distances between cities on the island. Getting to Nottingham in 1 hour 20 minutes rather than 1 hour 40 minutes does not seem worth the GBP 56bn+ (USD 68bn+) price tag. Not to anyone.
That is why this review could be more dangerous to the project than people think. If you have not made the true case to the people, it does not necessarily matter that the case is valid. A political chancer might seize on a misinformed public to further a career.
Aside from capacity, the UK has been attempting to balance England’s economy away from London. It is one of the most capital-centric economies in the developed world. One of the aims of HS2 was supposedly to bridge this north-south divide. Government, so fond of the title of its ‘Northern Powerhouse’ initiative to revitalise the northern economy, now has to pay the bill.
It is an interesting turn for a prime minister who, while mayor of London, was seen as a champion of infrastructure and the industry’s darling.To end on a positive, the review does not include a requirement to look at the cost of alternatives, beyond the possibility of reorganising the project schedule. So hopefully after the report is handed over in autumn I will be accused of being jumpy, and Britain’s next megaproject will be alive and well. If HS2 is stopped it will still need to be built in the future. We have been here before with Crossrail. That was ready to be built decades ago at a fraction of the current cost.