As published in The Telegraph:
HS2: David Cameron faces mass revolt from Tory MPs
David Cameron is facing a coordinated mass rebellion from Tory MPs who are demanding that the High Speed 2 rail project must be scrapped.
The Telegraph understands that up to 60 Conservatives are likely oppose the plans in the Commons, while “scores” of back-benchers are to launch a formal group to campaign for an end to the scheme.
Senior Tories fear that the Coalition’s £50 billion flagship infrastructure project represents “an unutterable waste of money” and that there is no credible business case for proceeding.
The Conservative campaign against the new line is being stepped up ahead of a Commons vote on the legislation preparing the way for the development, expected later this month.
It comes as it emerged that Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, is to share a stage with a senior Tory to call for the project to be abandoned.
Ukip is the only political party currently arguing for the planned line from London to the North to be axed but the party is seen as “the enemy” by high-ranking Tories.
However, Mr Farage will join Cheryl Gillan, Mr Cameron’s former Welsh Secretary, in demanding that HS2 is scrapped, at a Spectator magazine debate later this month.
“There are lots of MPs now that are questioning what is going on with HS2. I hope the government will change its mind,” Mrs Gillan said.
David Davis, the Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden and a former member of Mr Cameron’s front bench team, said the Coalition’s arguments for building HS2 were “largely bogus”.
“It is an unutterable waste of money,” he said. “When we are short of cash and the country can’t afford any prestige projects, which is what this is, this is beyond economic sense.
“The justifications for it are largely bogus. They rely on techniques of assessment which are daft. There are better ways to spend the money.”
Mr Davis said that as a politician representing a northern constituency he could be expected to be in favour of the project. However, many MPs share his view that the economic case has not been made and that the government should now “cancel the whole thing”.
Instead, investment should be focused on “de-bottlenecking” existing railway lines, and improving broadband internet services, he said, because these are “a national embarrassment”.
John Redwood, the Conservative MP for Wokingham and chair of the party’s economic affairs committee, also urged ministers to re-examine the project.
“I hope the government will look very carefully again at the costs and the forecasts revenues because this country cannot afford a big loss making project in the current financial situation,” he said.
Andrew Bridgen, the MP for North West Leicestershire, is said to be coordinating the back bench campaign for the abolition of HS2.
He has written to 130 colleagues urging them to join a new group to oppose the plan. Mr Bridgen was not available for comment last night. However, another senior Conservative said the campaign was likely to attract “scores of people”, with up to 60 Tories expected to vote against the HS2 Bill in the Commons or abstain.
One MP warned that Labour would wait until shortly before the next election to withdraw support for the project, which is seen as essential due to the long-term financial commitment required. This would make life “difficult” for the Tories.
“An awful lot of Conservatives are very negative about this thing,” the MP said.
“This train doesn’t come anywhere near my constituency. I just try to take an interest in the sensible use of public money and this looks to me like the worst use of public money I have seen for a long time.”
The planned high-speed route is due to run from London to Birmingham in its first phase, expected to begin operating in 2026. It will then be extended to Manchester and Leeds in phase two, which is due to launch by 2033.
However, official estimates of the cost increased by £10bn to £42.6bn earlier this year, and there has been opposition to HS2 in many communities along the proposed route. When rolling stock is included, the project is forecast to cost £50 billion, a price tag which is increasingly questioned by business groups and senior MPs. Some critics fear costs could rise to £70 billion or higher.
Yesterday, it emerged that the government’s own analysis had cast doubt on the economic benefits that would arise from HS2.
Towns and cities across Britain which are not connected to the new rail route could lose hundreds of millions of pounds as a result, according to a report from consultants KPMG.
The figures, released after a freedom of information request, indicated that 50 places across the country would be worse off, including Aberdeen, which would lose £220 million a year, Norfolk which would also lose £220 million, and Bristol.
The figures, disclosed to the BBC, reveal projections of gains and losses for 2037.
A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “These figures show that the new north south railway is vital to rebalance our economy and it boosts the north overall more than the south. Of course the line does not serve every city and region and these figures reflect that.
“But it is wrong to take them in isolation. HS2 is part of a much bigger boost to our transport system – £73bn in the next parliament, of which HS2 is just £17 billion. This will massively benefit places HS2 will not serve long before the line opens.”