In light of the government’s decision to go ahead with the whole of the HS2 rail line, we have decided to re-publish an article from our fourth print issue, which was released last July. In the nature of HS2, many of the figures stated here are far below today’s expectations, only adding to the arguments laid out.

Supporters of HS2 – the second phase of high-speed rail which aims to connect 25 cities across Britain – argue the project will create 30,000 jobs and bring over £92Bn worth of benefits to the country. However, none of these figures are accurate and, what is largely ignored on the HS2 website is that, official figures suggest it will cost £55.7Bn, up from an initial cost prediction of £32.7Bn.

Government cost and time predictions are always exceeded and HS2 fulfils this prophecy.

In a National Audit Office statement in 2016, it was revealed that HS2 was running £7Bn over budget, so we already know that the new costs are wrong. Also, it is not as though £7Bn could be paid off quickly and simply by adding to the already excessive national debt. Phase 2 of HS2 is not predicted to be finished until 2033. So, the proposed benefits of producing increased trade to the north is definitely a long-run policy as Manchester and Leeds won’t see HS2 for another 14 years.

So, this desire to ‘help the north’ is definitely a delayed long-term desire, which more likely will just ease the ability for northern workers to find jobs in the capital, acting as a further constriction of British growth to the south-east.

It’s clear that HS2 is going to cost the taxpayer a lot of money and it appears the government is forgetting that. Margaret Thatcher famously reminded Britain that the government holds no money, they’re simply borrowing money from the tax-payer. So, it’s important, with such a costly programme, that it has public support, as it is the public’s money which is being spent. Again, we find that the government are acting against the People’s demands as an ITV survey from 2016 found only fifteen per cent of people felt that HS2 justifies its official cost, which we know is less than what the real cost will come to. When a government is ignoring how the taxpayers want their money spent, they’re ignoring Thatcher’s famous lesson to policymaker.

They’re simply seeing an endless pot of gold (or a ‘magic money tree’) to spend on any vanity project satisfying their immediate desires.

Furthermore, the damage to the countryside hasn’t even been mentioned yet. Whilst green belt laws are strongly protected by the government, it appears to ignore them when it comes to satisfying the will of the bureaucrat. HS2 routing has appeared to be done in ignorance of the land which will be destroyed by its production. In Britain, we pride ourselves on our areas of significant natural beauty, but ancient forests are treated as if they were nothing special at all in order to create this railway.

As recently as April, 2,000 trees were cut down, damaging not just the appearance of the area but habitats for a multitude of species. The claim that ‘no nesting birds’ were found is always made because the protection of our species is irrelevant when the plan has already been made.

The weakest of the arguments to justify HS2 is to resort to the environmental benefits of train travel; this theorises that this high-speed railway will act as an incentive to using trains rather than cars or planes. However, again this is quite frankly untrue. A Department for Transport review reveals that the modal shift from air and car travel is only a combined total of five per cent across the full network by 2036. This amount is minuscule and to say it is sufficient to justify over £60Bn in costs is absurd.

Instead, this money could be saved or used to provide subsidies/tax relief to renewable energy, which could help now, rather than when the project is done by 2033. So, what we have is a project that will cost us £60Bn (or £2,000 per taxpayer) that will have minimal positive impacts on the environment, further the north-south divide, take far too long and use funds that could be much better spent elsewhere.

Clearly, we should not continue to fund this failed scheme and should instead realise that HS2 is bad economics.

 

Photo by Djim on Flickr.