The future of HS2: An opportunity or a cost?

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The costs associated with High Speed 2 (HS2) are absolutely staggering. The high-speed railway line designed to connect London with Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham in a Y shape, with significantly reduced journey time, has already cost years of planning and billions of pounds without a single mile of track laid. Of course, infrastructure projects of this kind take years in time and billions in pounds, but with an allocation of £56 billion in 2015 to the project and recent reports suggesting the real cost could be nearly double that at £106 billion, important questions need to be asked. At what point are the costs too high, given the way they’re spirally so dramatically currently? And is the project actually solving the issues it set out to address, including increased investment in the north and bridging of a north-south divide? 

In theory, HS2 is a great idea. Significantly reducing journey time around the country, adding more services to help counter commuter congestion in trains, offering more feasible environmentally friendly alternatives, and creating new jobs both during the construction and after completion to name a few benefits. Importantly, it may offer much needed investment into infrastructure in the North and Midlands. There’s a reason why it’s backed so strongly by so many MPs from around the country. 

However, I just can’t see the project being pulled off successfully. The enormous cost is already a huge problem, funded by increased borrowing and taking up a large proportion of budgeted infrastructure investment in the following years that could be spent elsewhere. Boris Johnson is making a point that cost cutting in the project will be a priority, but what will that look like? With a delay scheduled between the building of phase 1 (London to Birmingham) and phase 2 (Birmingham to Leeds, Birmingham to Manchester) there is a realistic possibility that at least parts of phase 2 will be scrapped to reduce costs. 

there is a realistic possibility that at least parts of phase 2 will be scrapped to reduce costs

An argument made by multiple northern MPs is that the north is long due this investment, and HS2 is needed alongside projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail to boost the economy. This is all undermined if phase 2 is scrapped or even cut down. If this turns out to be the reality, then surely what would’ve been more worthwhile is spending on Northern Powerhouse Rail first, as opposed to reducing the time of an already relatively quick trip from London to Birmingham, possibly encouraging a commute into the capital more than business the other way round. The greatest gains could be made in phase 2 – as could the greatest loss be felt if not fulfilled. 

A further issue is the great environmental damage not included in monetary figures. There is potential for 108 ancient woodlands being at least partially destroyed to make room for the railway, and the project is described by The Woodland Trust as ‘the biggest single threat from development to ancient woodland’. Such environmental damage will be irreversible. 

Unfortunately, I fear that the political costs of such a venture will always outweigh all other costs, including those economic or environmental. Even if Johnson sees the project as enormously expensive for what it’s delivering, pulling out now, as well as losing £12 billion, would see him going back on his support for the project and pledge of investment in northern infrastructure (even if money is better spent elsewhere). What we need from our government, who will mostly likely continue to back the project, is transparency around costs and a commitment to fulfil the whole project, with special emphasis on phase 2. A genuine care and support for woodlands and restoration over time would be ideal. What we don’t want is to be having this conversation again in 5 years’ time. 

Photo credit: Smudge 9000 via Flickr

One thought on “The future of HS2: An opportunity or a cost?

  • #HS2 is not environmentally friendly. It is Ecocide. I started the anti HS2 movement in 2010 on Environmental & Technical grounds. The Green Party oppose it and for good reason. The carbon sink & biodiversity losses are utterly irrecoverable. Exactly what we can not afford in a climate crisis. The projects own figures admit it increases CO2 even without taking the carbon sink losses into account (zero envirinmental costs included). The speed is unsustainable. No other railway routinely functions at the speed intended because of this. It’s carbon hungry way above traditional high speed rail. Modal shift is miniscule. It is a shuttle services for the airports facilitating expansion. Nothing about HS2 is environmentally friendly. Nothing! We need to be investing in transport priorities not HS2. Upgrade all the existing network which is no longer fit for purpose & invest in sustainable local transport for local jobs. We need to look to the future & tracked rail is Victorian. Think Maglev or Hyperloop. They are devegetating over 40,000 acres right now including ancient woodland. It’s Ecoinsanity. The Planet is on fire and HS2 is a Fast track 2 extinction. Join us and help stop HS2

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