Spiralling costs, severe environmental damage and unproven use cases mean rumours of failure around high speed rail network project HS2 are growing.
In August 2019, HS2 was sent to independent review as the government looks for clear advice on how to proceed. This has caused advocates of the project to rally in an attempt to protect it.
The Northern Power House think tank has started its own review into the project and has lined up a panel of supporters to champion the project. The think tank, which has been almost entirely impotent since its inception, is still headed by ex-chancellor George Osborne. He remains a strong backer of the project, believing it will help to unlock the economic potential of Northern UK regions.
Strong opposition among the Conservative Party membership and anger in the Northern cities as to the current state of local rail infrastructure has led to a government review of the project. Though work has already begun on the first segment of the project, this may be stopped once the government review has been completed.
Momentum against the project is growing
Concerns about the project are numerous, but principally the transport secretary Grant Shapps wants clarity on the cost of the project. The original £55.7bn budget is now expected to extend to over £100bn. Opposition against the scheme has been mounting due to uncertainty over whether there is even a need for this particular infrastructure, and whether the eye-watering budget could be better spent elsewhere.
Extremely poor service levels experienced by commuters in the North have again shown that local train infrastructure is severely under-invested. Many argue the project’s money should instead be funnelled into improving current services.
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Perhaps the most damning criticism is that travel times would not be dramatically improved to London. At present, trains from Manchester to London take an average of two hours and 30 minutes, while estimates suggest that HS2 could reduce travel times to less than two hours. Regardless, shortening train times to London would be less effective at boosting Northern productivity than improving the poor transport services which shuttle commuters into Northern cities every day.
There is also concern that given rail prices in the UK are the highest in Europe, HS2 would be extremely expensive to use. As a result, many would choose the existing North South routes instead.