HS2 Billions Should Benefit The Many, Not The Few
Scrap HS2 and use the money to improve roads and existing rail services, says the ABD
Proposals for a network of high-speed railways linking London with the Midlands and the North of England were dreamt up in the dying days of the last Labour government, in a desperate attempt to boost its chances of re-election. The proposals were not properly worked up or costed, but the subsequent Coalition and Conservative governments could not resist the lure of such a grandiose project. Despite the concerns expressed by many about the spiralling costs and the overestimation of benefits, HS2 has taken on a life of its own and seems unstoppable. But it is not too late for common sense to prevail and stop this ludicrous waste of public money on a project that will benefit very few people. The money that would have been spent on HS2 should instead be used to improve the travelling conditions for millions of citizens.
The Government's current estimate of the cost of implementing HS2 is £56.6bn at 2014 prices 1
, but this is considered an underestimate by independent analysts. The Taxpayers' Alliance estimates the cost will be at least £88bn 2
. But it is not just the escalating costs that are of concern. The projected benefits are likely to have been greatly exaggerated and the business case for the project is very dubious 2 3
. The first stage of the project is not expected to be finished until the mid 2020s, by which time further developments in electronic communications may lead to reductions in demand for travel between major cities. In addition, the railway line would pass through areas of high landscape value and adversely affect the quality of life for people living close to it.
Currently, 83 per cent of passenger-miles travelled in the UK are by car, van or taxi, with just 10% by rail 4
. A 2010 RAC Foundation report found that road and rail public transport users were subsidised by the Exchequer (i.e. taxpayers) at 6p and 21p per passenger-mile respectively. Private and commercial road users made a 4p per driver-mile net positive contribution to the Exchequer 5
. Yet funding to improve and maintain the road network does not reflect its vital contribution to the country's economy. It is estimated that £12bn is required just to clear the backlog of pothole repairs. At current rates of spending this will take 14 years 6
. In addition, the Government's plans for improving the capacity of the strategic road network include 'smart' motorways, where existing hard shoulders are converted into running lanes. This is much cheaper than physical widening but there are concerns that these cost-cutting schemes could seriously compromise safety 7
. Scrapping HS2 would release funding that could be used to accelerate upgrading of the road network to a proper standard, as well as helping to clear the maintenance backlog.
While the ABD is primarily concerned with roads and drivers, it acknowledges the vital contribution that railways make to the transport system. If HS2 were scrapped, therefore, part of the funding released, say around 15%, should be used to improve existing rail services and capacity. Properly targeted, such investment would produce much greater benefits than HS2.
ABD Chairman, Brian Gregory, comments:
“No objective analysis of HS2 can justify its implementation. It is purely a vanity project. I hope that our new Prime Minister, who has shown herself to be more down-to-earth than her predecessors, will take a cold, hard look at HS2 and conclude that it should be scrapped. The money saved should be used instead to improve those transport systems on which most people rely every day.”