Yesterday on the Daily Politics show Hilary Wharf from the HS2 Action Alliance went up against Transport Secretary Philip Hammond about the HS2 consultation. Hilary Wharf argued that the business case for HS2 put forward by the government is very weak and it is not in the national interest to spend a whopping £17 billion (that’s just for the high speed rail line to reach Birmingham) building it.
The major defence put forward by Philip Hammond was that HS2 would regenerate the north, an area not as economically vibrant as the south. He stated by “bringing the great northern population centres into the dynamic economy that we already have in London and South East” these areas will be economically revitalised.
But the economic benefits generated by HS2 are not as steadfast as the transport secretary would have you believe. The HS2 Action Alliance devastating report on the illusionary benefits of HS2 pointed out that the potential for wider economic benefits was small and only constituted £3.6bn in benefits out of projected £32.3bn total.
HS2 will not magically create economic prosperity in the north just because it’s on the HS2 route. If anything it is likely to draw northern populations towards the southern conurbation because it is already more economically vibrant.
Another important point made during the interview was that connectivity between London and the five other major UK cities is already pretty good. The current journey time between London and Birmingham is 80 minutes. Spending £17 billion on a high speed rail line will only cut that journey down by 30 minutes.
Philip Hammond’s defence was that the network will eventually go further than Birmingham and that journey time savings to cities like Manchester and Leeds would be more significant. However HS2 Action Alliance pointed out that estimates of benefits associated with decreased journey times were very high. The Alliance highlight that time spent on trains can be very productive due to laptop outlets and wifi access. Consumers would therefore be less incentivised to spend significantly more money on a high speed rail ticket when they know they can still be productive on a cheaper train journey.
Quite astonishingly the transport secretary ended the interview by stating that the consultation on HS2 will deal rationally with those who put forward economic arguments against HS2 but is less inclined to engage with those people “who just don’t want [high speed rail] through their backyard”. It should be pointed out to the transport secretary that there are completely rational reasons for not wanting HS2 through your back garden- declining property prices, noise, disturbing picturesque landscapes to name but few. It confirms the HS2 consultation is all “window dressing” because the government is committed to the scheme and rational economic concerns or rational personal concerns are not going to stand in their way.