UK: Could a Review into High speed Rail see the Project Scrapped?

ByJoe Harker

The government has launched a review into HS2 with the intention of concluding whether to carry on with the high-speed rail project or not by the end of the year.

Billions have already been spent on the project but transport secretary Grant Shapps said the government could decide to cut their losses and scrap HS2 if the review judged it wasn’t worth carrying on with.

The review will look at whether HS2 will deliver value for money, where savings can be made and what the environmental impact would be. So, will it get the green light or not?

The Claim

The Guardian reports that the HS2 review could conclude the project should be scrapped after Lord Berkeley was appointed as deputy chair of the review.

Lord Berkeley is a Labour peer and vocal critic of HS2, having previously challenged the Department for Transport on spiraling costs and budgets getting out of control.

Dominic Cummings, closest advisor to the prime minister, is also not a fan of the project. He recently described HS2 as a “disaster zone” and there is a fear among Tories that support for it would be “toxic” among Conservative voters at a general election.

Concern over scrapping HS2 circles around the triple threat of the deputy chair of the review and the prime minister’s top advisor being vocal critics of the project while Tory voters and MPs also aren’t fans of it.

A combination of all these factors and the possibility of an upcoming general election has stoked fears that the government could decide to ditch HS2 in an effort to boost their popularity.

The government also doesn’t want to get stuck in a sunk costs fallacy where they end up throwing tens of billions at the project because of the money they’ve already spent.

The Counter Claim

However, strategy group Midlands Connect has argued that scrapping HS2 would be a “disaster” as it will hold up much needed work on the UK’s transport infrastructure.

While the obvious benefit of high speed rail is quicker travel the real benefit it will have is an increased capacity for many areas that are already suffering from significant overcrowding.

Areas in the North and the Midlands have already said they are feeling the economic benefits of HS2 as businesses want to establish themselves before the greater connectivity with London is finished, but they warn scrapping the project will bring an end to those benefits.

Jon Stone of The Independent writes that despite opposition to HS2 the review will probably conclude that the government should stay the course as review chair Douglas Okervee previously said not building the lines would be “catastrophic”.

He suggests the review will recommend some slight changes that would help with cost cutting but give the green light overall on the grounds that demand for rail travel is already higher than the projections HS2 was initially based on. Britain’s railways just can’t take much more.

The Facts

The original budget for HS2 was £32.7billion, but this has since spiraled to to £55.6bn and could rise by another £30bn according to HS2 chairman Allan Cook. The government has already spent £7.4bn on the project and the time is fast approaching where they will either have to commit to spending much more or write it off.

Even more gloomy estimates suggest the final cost of HS2 could be over £100bn, making it the most expensive railway per mile in history.

HS2 is scheduled to be built in phases, with the first being a high speed link between London and Birmingham before the second phase runs from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester. The first phase is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2026, while the second phase would be completed by 2033.

The review could recommend that the government only build the first phase of the project to avoid writing off the billions already spent with nothing to show for it, though critics have argued the second phase which links up the North of England is the far more important part of the line.

HS2 is not popular among many Tory MPs and party members, with a Times/YouGov poll during the leadership election finding that 57 per cent of party membership wanted the next prime minister to scrap the project while just 32 per cent thought they should continue.

The Daily Telegraph reports Tory MPs believe scrapping HS2 could give the party a boost in important marginal constituencies in the event of a general election. 

They also report that the completed rail line would run through the constituencies of 26 Tory MPs, including Boris Johnson’s own Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat. 

HS2 is unpopular in the areas of the country the lines will run through and popular in the areas that will be linked up by the project.

Leaders in the North don’t want HS2 scrapped and absolutely don’t want it to be downsized to just the first phase between London and Birmingham. 

They also don’t want the idea of high speed rail networks to be ditched altogether, as they want Northern Powerhouse Rail (previously referred to as HS3) to be completed, which would link Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull with a high speed rail network.


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