Andrew Bridgen

HS2 is a grandstand project – and the sums just don’t add up

HS2 is a solution looking for a problem. Since its conception, HS2 has been a tale of shape shifting as first it was about time, then about bridging the north south divide, then about capacity before we are told it is simply the right thing to do.

The reason the argument is shifting is because it is built of a poor business case which when scrutinised falls apart and reveals a tide of evasive evidence. Take for instance the principle argument when the HS2 scheme was unveiled by Labour. It was that 20 minutes could be saved on the journey time between London and Birmingham. Based on this, for Phase 1, the Department of Transport claimed HS2 will produce £1.40 of benefits for every £1 of subsidy spent. The Government categorises schemes below £1.50 as low value for money and this is before we even consider the subsequent increase in cost and expected further overruns.

These benefit cost ratio figures are based on the extraordinary idea that people do not currently work on trains, which anyone who uses the railway knows is simply not the case. Although this is going to be looked at, it makes you question whether the economic soundness of the project from the very start.

As the argument on time saved started to fall apart, and I would add that I have never met a businessperson who have said the reason their business is not growing is because they can’t get to London quick enough, it moved onto bridging the North South divide.

However HS2 will simply suck money from the regions into London and the South East. For weekend and leisure travel for instance, what is the more likely scenario: That more families will be travelling from London to spend an evening in Birmingham or Manchester, or families from Birmingham will be using the route to spend time and money in London.

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