David Davis MP writes in The Telegraph on why the independent review of HS2 should recommend scrapping the project
Grant Shapps’ first major announcement as Transport Secretary – a review on whether HS2 should go ahead – is excellent news for British taxpayers.
I know from my time as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee that governments find it hard to change their minds on big expensive projects. But this review should provide the impetus needed to finally scrap the project.
I, alongside other colleagues in Parliament, have long argued HS2 is a colossal waste of money. In 2010 we were told it would cost £33 billion and that quickly ballooned to £56 billion. With recent comments from the HS2 Chairman that costs could reach over £100 billion, this review could not have come soon enough.
We have already spent over £6 billion on HS2. So, it is vital this review really drills down into the economic case before any more is spent.
Frankly it would not surprise me if the costs spiralled to £200 billion. Given the Government’s most generous estimates predict only £92 billion worth of benefits, it is obvious the project is simply not worth the cost.
It certainly makes economic sense to spend money on infrastructure right now. The UK’s growth outlook is strong, global interest rates remain incredibly low and our infrastructure spending has been historically poor and badly delivered.
But what does not make sense is to spend for the sake of spending. The money must be spent intelligently and in the right place.
In May I launched a report with the TaxPayers’ Alliance which looked at 28 possible alternatives to HS2 that can be delivered much cheaper and much faster. They included upgrading and electrifying regional rail lines, improving key roadways and building new cycle paths around the country.
Beyond that, we would have cash to spare on fibre-optic rollout, deficit reductions or tax cuts. All this represents far better value for money than HS2.
Value for money is not the only problem with HS2. The Government has changed the rationale for the project multiple times and each time, their arguments have been knocked down.
In 2010 the main justification was speed. They were so obsessed with getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible that the line neglects small towns vitally in need of an infrastructure boost.
Regardless of this, by the time HS2 is complete it will be old technology. Japan is building the world’s fastest train reaching upwards of 250mph. Meanwhile Elon Musk and Richard Branson are competingto build the world’s first hyperloop reaching over 700mph. Compared to this, HS2 will look like a horse and cart in a world of Ferraris.
Once the speed argument was discredited, the Government’s rationale shifted to focussing on capacity and congestion. The Government is right that these are important problems which must be solved. We have all been on a busy train and struggled to find a seat.
But HS2 is not the answer. The most congested line in the country is the route from Glasgow to Manchester Airport which is at 211 per cent capacity at peak times. That’s over 400 people squeezed into a carriage of 190 seats.
The second most congested route is on the Oxted line from East Grinstead to London Bridge at 191 per cent capacity. HS2 will do absolutely nothing for frustrated passengers on these lines.
We are also told that HS2 will be the silver bullet to rebalance the North and South. But the Government’s own analysis shows that 40 per cent of the benefits will go to London. Even worse than neglecting the North, some economists believe HS2 will act as a funnel to drain prosperity from the northern regions into London.
So, the Government’s muddled thinking for going ahead with HS2 clearly does not stack up. The Chairman of the independent review, Douglas Oakervee, must now look at all the evidence and ask himself, is it worth it? The answer is no. Will it improve capacity? No. Will it solve the North-South divide? No. Should we go ahead with it anyway? Absolutely not.
HS2 is a singularly unpopular policy in constituencies across the UK and apart from being the right thing to do, cancelling this scheme would be a vote winner in any potential general election campaign.
The review must derail this run away disaster once and for all, so that we can invest in areas delivering for passengers and where we will see real value for money.