Are we asking the wrong questions about HS2?

I am not sure there was much else Rishi could have done to salvage HS2. But I come bearing good news. There is no reason why HS2 cannot still be a great railway, even if it travels along the wrong route at the wrong speed and was constructed in the wrong direction to solve a problem which no longer exists. All you need to do is redefine what the railway is for. Perhaps it can be the right answer to a different question. A useful precedent for reinvention here might be what was originally called the Millennium Dome. Though hopeless at fulfilling its original purpose, once reinvented as the O2

How the Romans would have solved HS2

After the scrapping of the HS2 link to Manchester, private investment may be needed to build the Old Oak Common to Euston section. Romans would have invited private investment and construction, the bill paid on completion. Wealthy Romans formed a legal association called a societas when putting their own money into personal ventures, e.g. slave-trading, maritime ventures, the export of garum (fish sauce). But since Rome had no civil service to speak of, it needed wealthy individuals also to put their money behind state contracts put out for tender, when they were called publicani, ‘public servants’. Over time, as Rome grew wealthier and more powerful, its reliance on publicani increased,

Melissa Kite, Nigel Biggar and Matt Ridley

24 min listen

This week Melissa Kite mourns the Warwickshire countryside of her childhood, ripped up and torn apart for HS2, and describes how people like her parents have been treated by the doomed project (01:15), Nigel Biggar attempts to explain the thinking behind those who insist on calling Britain a racist country, even though the evidence says otherwise (06:38) and Matt Ridley enters a fool’s paradise where he warns against being so open-minded, that you risk your brain falling out (13:01). Produced and presented by Linden Kemkaran.

Train wreck: HS2 destroyed the countryside I love

When I drive to see my parents in the once-peaceful farming country where I grew up, it is a strange, bittersweet experience. The car journey takes me through places I ought to recognise but I don’t any more, because the green fields of Warwickshire, the villages and the farms, are scarred by the tortuous works of HS2. The distinctive red earth is laid bare for mile upon mile as the bulldozers do their worst. Rows of cottages and entire villages lie deserted, testimony to the billions already spent. As I drive along the main Banbury to Coventry road, I see mountains of earth piled high as flyovers take shape. I

Martin Vander Weyer

If Chris Packham is anti it, it’s probably a good idea

If the broadcaster and eco-warrior Chris Packham describes something as ‘an act of war against life on Earth’, sensible people might suspect that it’s probably, on balance, a good thing. Such is the case with the Rosebank field – the UK’s largest remaining undeveloped reserve of oil and gas, in deep waters west of Shetland, which was green-lighted by the government last week. Leading this £3 billion project will be the Norwegian energy giant Equinor. Rosebank’s 69,000 barrels of oil per day will be shipped to Norway or elsewhere to be refined and sold into world markets. But its 44 million cubic feet of gas per day will be piped

Why is HS2 so expensive?

Party season Unusually, the Conservatives are holding their party conference before the Labour party. It has become tradition that the Lib Dems hold theirs one week, Labour the next and the Conservatives the week after that, with the latter concluding in the first week of October. The tradition held even in 2020 when conferences moved online due to Covid. But there was a year when the normal conferences didn’t take place: 1974, when the second general election of the year was held during that time. Labour did, however, hold a shorter conference in late November in London. With October touted as a date for next year’s general election, we may

Portrait of the week: Braverman on migration, Burnham on HS2 and police on AI

Home Dozens of armed police in London laid down their guns after a Metropolitan Police officer was charged with the murder of Chris Kaba, 24, shot in Streatham Hill last year. The army stood by, but enough policemen returned to armed duties to make Military Aid to the Civil Authorities unnecessary. Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, backed some sort of review of armed policing guidelines ordered by Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, which Downing Street said was expected to conclude by the end of the year. Mrs Braverman warned separately that as many as 780 million people will be eligible to claim asylum without radical reform of rules based on

Martin Vander Weyer

HS2 has been a fiasco. It’s time to ditch it for good

In a fantasy world of wise government vision and decision-making, HS2 would have been announced in November 1964, shortly after the Tokyo Olympics. Visitors to those games saw the future in the form of the Tokaido Shinkansen – the first Japanese ‘bullet train’, which raced 320 miles from the capital to Osaka, carrying 1,300 passengers per train and eventually running 360 trains per day, with average delays measured in seconds. But in that era, UK ministers thought only of axeing railways and building motorways. A de novo British high-speed network could not have taken off in the 1970s, when the French were building the first ligne à Grande Vitesse from

Letters: Stop talking, Rishi – and take action

Sick note Sir: Kate Andrews illuminates how, for us British, the successful diagnosis of a major medical condition is frequently a matter of chance and, even then, usually occurs later than it should (‘Why are the British so anti-doctor?’, 2 September). The near asymptomatic nature of many serious conditions combined with the cultural pressures of stoicism and reluctance to be the bearer of bad news allows many cancers, for example, to run free for years before discovery. In addition, while treatments from the NHS can be brilliant, they vary enormously across the country in terms of accessibility and availability. James Wilson  South Beddington, Sutton Spare the Rod Sir: I was

Just stop HS2!

I have two suggestions for HS2. Either stop it or make it stop. The spiralling cost and delays are reason enough to rethink the project, never mind the changes to patterns of rail use since 2021. Any economic case based on pre–pandemic projections needs to be revisited. So one option would be to stop the project completely. But what if the project goes ahead in a reduced form to save face? Well, in this case, the need for speed is questionable. The value of speed to passengers is far from linear. For instance, cutting a journey time from four hours to two, as the TGV did between Paris and Lyon, is

Ministers can’t blame Putin for the disaster that is HS2

And I thought the SNP were destined to win the award for this year’s most pathetic excuse – after Scottish transport minister Jenny Gilruth blamed the party’s failure to dual the A9 on Putin’s war in Ukraine. Then UK transport secretary Mark Harper turns up and tries to use the very same excuse for HS2’s soaring costs. The Birmingham to Manchester section of the high-speed line will be delayed for two years, he said yesterday, because ‘Putin’s war in Ukraine has hiked up inflation, sending supply chain costs rocketing.’ HS2 has turned out to be an extremely expensive turkey because it was misconceived from the start Much as I despise

Boris’s rail betrayal is no surprise

A promise made is merely a promise waiting to be broken. If events complicate life for all governments it is nevertheless apparent some governments are more likely to abandon their promises than others. And by now no-one should be surprised that a government led by Boris Johnson finds it easier to jettison its pledges than to honour them. It is the nature of the creature. Today it happens to be High Speed Rail, but yesterday it was something else and tomorrow it will be another thing altogether. The Prime Minister’s inconstancy is his constancy. Even so, the watering down of previous plans to – at long last – invest seriously

Is Covid really to blame for HS2’s runaway costs?

Covid has doomed the public finances — not just because the cost of mitigating it has been high in itself but because it has normalised high public spending. When you have just allocated £37 billion to Test and Trace and spend £54 billion on the furlough scheme, a £106 billion high-speed railway to Manchester and Leeds looks relatively good value — at least taxpayers will have something lasting for their money. And who would even notice if the budget for that railway quietly crept up by a further £1.7 billion? That is exactly what has happened today. The construction costs of the first phase of the railway, from London to

Portrait of the week: Hotel quarantine starts, Ribblehead Viaduct cracks and a royal guest for Oprah

Home The target was achieved of vaccinating, by the middle of February, about 15 million people of 70 or over, together with care home residents and workers, and the clinically extremely vulnerable. But there was concern that a substantial proportion of care home workers declined the vaccine. By 16 February, more than 20 per cent of the population had been given their first dose. At dawn on 14 February, total UK deaths (within 28 days of testing positive for the coronavirus) had stood at 116,908, including 4,861 in the past week. Over the previous week, the seven-day moving average of deaths had fallen to 688 a day from 932 a

Will remote-working strengthen the case for HS2?

Soon after the pandemic hit, the world’s airlines turned off their pricing algorithms and resumed pricing flights manually. Everything the software had learned from people’s past behaviour was suddenly rendered irrelevant. The software had been created for a world of discretionary travel where demand was elastic. If a plane seemed likely to leave half-empty, the software dropped prices to fill remaining seats. In March this once-efficient approach failed spectacularly. The few people who were still flying were doing so only in desperation: everyone else was unwilling to travel at any price. Far from reducing prices to respond to a drop in demand, it now made sense to hike them. Large

Does anyone really think HS2 will be good for the country?

How depressed should one be about the HS2 go-ahead? The cost is stupefying. The offering to the north — considered so important politically — seems to be unappealing to plenty of northerners and, like a parody of British railway late arrivals, won’t reach its destination until the mid-2030s. Worse, perhaps, is the sense, especially when seen in conjunction with the Huawei go-ahead, that the government is already trapped by the past. It reminds me of Theresa May’s decision to review the Hinkley Point C programme and then let it go ahead after all. In that case, as in that of Huawei, the government reluctantly concluded it could not get out

HS2 won’t win the next election for Boris

Since the election, few issues have divided opinion among Tory MPs more than HS2. Boris Johnson’s decision to press ahead with the scheme to Crewe will have its detractors. The reason so many smaller, local infrastructure schemes are also being announced today is to try and reassure Tory MPs that this is not an either or choice. The very act of taking a decision should calm some of the blue-on-blue action we have seen over HS2. I suspect that those MPs whose constituencies are most negatively affected by it will continue to campaign against it, as will several Tory MPs who are no longer interested in climbing the greasy pole.

Robert Peston

Is George Osborne to blame for HS2’s ballooning price tag?

The politics of HS2 are difficult for Boris Johnson, especially since so many Tory MPs hate the £100 billion-plus cost, the destruction of ancient pasture and woodland and the perceived harm to their rural constituents. But the bigger political consideration for Boris ‘another-blue-brick-in-the-red-wall’ Johnson is the perception of whether today’s modified version of HS2 is seen as an upgrading or downgrading of the portion north of Birmingham. His colleagues insist the new plan will be central to his promises to transform both the infrastructure and the prospects of the North. They claim what will happen is that HS2 to Manchester and Leeds – what is known as HS2b – will

Matthew Lynn

Three better ways to spend £200bn than HS2

It will be big, shiny and it will make a difference. Even with its astronomical and rising cost and its wobbly economics, it is possible to see the gut appeal of HS2, especially to a big spending government such as this one which can borrow freely at virtually zero cost. After all, it needs to do something to close the gap between the regions. It also needs to improve the country’s transport infrastructure and this project is, at least, almost ready to start. The trouble is, there are far better ways of spending what is likely to be £200 billion by the time the final bill is due. After all,

Boris lets slip HS2’s future

No. 10’s relationship with the media has been frosty at times, with ministers reportedly banned from appearing on shows like the Today programme. Boris Johnson has now taken that antipathy a step further. The PM has been caught on Sky News talking to a school children about one of the biggest long-running news stories of the moment. During the discussion, Mr Johnson was asked by ten-year-old Braydon Brent about HS2. Much has been made in recent weeks of the government’s potential plans to scrap the scheme. However, instead of revealing the fate of the troubled project to an established journalist, Boris decided that young Braydon should be the first to