The nature and scale of transformative infrastructure projects almost guarantees the generation of opprobrium from various quarters. Whether hostility stems from Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition, campaign groups, NGO’s, nimby’s or the general public; condemnation of some sort will always be attracted. The diverse stream of criticism levelled at Hinkley Point, Heathrow and Trident demonstrates this fully. One project, however, has recently attracted an unprecedented breadth and depth of criticism; HS2.
The ill-conceived, badly designed and overpriced scheme that will fail to deliver its self-imposed objective of providing ‘hugely enhanced capacity and connectivity between the UK’s major conurbations’ has been taking sustained flak from all directions.
In an open letter to Transport Minister Chris Grayling, Andrew Tyrie MP, Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, writes: “HS2 has the weakest economic case of all the projects within the infrastructure programme, yet it is being pushed through with the most enthusiasm.”
Tyrie’s misgivings are mirrored by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee who cite concerns of rising cost estimates and lack of funding coupled with ‘significant uncertainty’ about phase 2 of the scheme. Even former Transport Secretary Alistair Darling and former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, having previously been staunch backers of HS2, are now both against the project.
HS2 receives further censure from the third sector. The Adam Smith Institute calls for HS2 to be scrapped on the basis of extreme cost and very poor value for money while the Institute of Directors labels the scheme as a ‘grand folly’. Moreover, the Taxpayers’ Alliance once again advises the government to scrap HS2 and invest in other UK infrastructure schemes with superior benefit/cost ratios.
What is most striking about the HS2 project is that outside of HS2 Ltd, the Department for Transport and the entourage of lobbyists and construction companies that benefit directly from its construction, there has been remarkably little popular, media or corporate enthusiasm for the scheme.
Colin Elliff, civil engineering principal of High Speed UK, the viable alternative to HS2: “All of HS2’s problems – its excessive costs, its questionable economic benefits, its destruction of natural landscapes and its abysmal performance on reducing transport CO2 emissions – can be traced back to its bad design, and specifically to its inadequate technical leadership. All the focus has been upon building the fastest railway in the world. HS2 Ltd has never grasped the true priority – to combine the new high speed line with the existing rail system to create the enhanced network that the nation needs.
“High Speed UK provides the perfect exemplar for how to do it right. Following existing transport corridors results in cheaper and greener construction. Full integration with the existing national rail network maximises connectivity and capacity gains. From this, all the economic and environmental benefits will naturally spring.”
HS2’s enormous cost, decades-long disruption to Camden, trashing of the Chilterns AONB, and limited capacity and connectivity gains should at the very minimum cause Theresa May’s new administration to sit up, take note and pause HS2 while it is subjected to a rigorous independent review.
The temporary halt on the Hinkley Point project shows the Prime Minister is not afraid of examining the projects set in motion under her predecessor. Let us hope she has the courage and sense to stop and examine HS2 before it is too late.