Freddy Gray Freddy Gray

HS2 won’t solve the North’s economic problems – it might make them worse

As Isabel says, the HS2 brigade are on a roll. Not only are Labour now under serious pressure over the party’s support or otherwise for the project, each day brings a new headline about the advantages of high speed rail.

Today, the money quote comes from David Prout, the HS2 director general. He says that, without high speed rail, London would become ‘a global city surrounded by rust belt’. The Times leader page dutifully regurgitates Westminster’s fodder: ‘If the map of Britain is not to become a literal illustration of Disraeli’s two nations, the tracks must be laid.’

At first this is a compelling argument. It seems obvious that a quicker link between capital Birmingham and Manchester would help alleviate some of the disparity between North and South. Obvious, but not necessarily true. Infrastructure experts
are not convinced that rapid rail connections spread the wealth around.

On the contrary, some evidence suggests that – since train lines go both ways – high speed services can suck more capital towards the capital.

Moreover, far from benefitting, many of north’s smaller cities – those who are not on or immediately around the high speed line – might find themselves ever more isolated and poor. The North has huge economic problems. A shiny new train line won’t necessarily solve them. It might just make things worse.


HS2_train Nigel Farage, Matthew Parris, Rory Sutherland and Cheryl Gillan  will debate whether the government should ‘Stop HS2!‘ on 31 October 2013 in Westminster. Click here to book tickets.

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