Why The Tories Must Scrap HS2 | Jack Walters

Last Monday, nine members of parliament, representing constituencies in and around Birmingham, pleaded with Boris Johnson to deliver on the Cameroon promise to introduce HS2. After Boris’ barnstorming victory in December, there are fears among some politicians that the Tories may scrap HS2. The Tory manifesto said that: ‘HS2 is a great ambition, but will now cost at least £81 billion and will not reach Leeds or Manchester until as late as 2040. We will consider the findings of the Oakervee Review into costs and timings and work with leaders of the Midlands and the North to decide the optimal outcome.’

The letter, signed by two Conservatives, including Gary Sambrook and Andrew Mitchell, claims that HS2 is ‘a vital part of any re-balancing of the economy to ensure parts of the country which have been ignored have the necessary investment to not only create new jobs and drive economic growth but also increase connectivity, expand opportunities and transform the region.’

These figures are not alone is calling upon the Prime Minister to build the 470-mile long track connecting London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. George Osborne, who has always championed the initiative, told LBC that ‘HS2 is absolutely critical to changing the economic geography of this country.’ He has the support from Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, who described scrapping HS2 as a ‘hammer blow’ to the economy.

However, I would contend that these politicians are mistaken. HS2 will not help to transform the West Midlands or the North of England. Instead, it will bring even more business to the capital and the expense of the taxpayer’s purse. Therefore, Britons need to look no further than the extortionate cost of HS2 and its failure to benefit the left-behind parts of our country.

Initially, HS2 was supposed to cost £33 billion, but year-on-year the price continues to rise. Last September, the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced that the costs had risen to £80 billion. However, Deputy Chairman of the HS2’s review panel, Lord Berkeley, declared that this review had been ‘fiddling the figures’ and that the costs of HS2 were now ‘completely out of control’. And for what? A vanity project that will be obsolete by 2040 and will not benefit people that the previous government promised it would.

But why will it not benefit the communities that these politicians are so adamant it will? In 2013, the Department for Transport conceded that HS2 would benefit London over the regions. This argument also has the support from 2/3 of members of the Institute of Directors. Currently, HS2 will cut times to London by just half-an-hour, and it is predicted that for every two southbound trips, including leisure trips, just one person will travel to Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds.

Last March, the New Economics Foundation conducted research that found that 40% of the regional share of the passenger benefits by 2037 would go to the capital, despite only accounting for 25% of the British economy. The study rubbishes the argument proposed by supporters of HS2. The study contends that the south of England will receive 45% of these benefits. Just 12% of the benefits will go to the West Midlands, where Birmingham is supposed to benefit from HS2, 18% of people in the north-west will benefit, and just 10% of them will go to Yorkshire and Humberside.

The most deprived areas of the United Kingdom, which tend to have shambolic rail services, including Wales and the north-east of England, are projected to receive just 5% of the benefits. This is because by connecting London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, the network will only connect the four wealthiest cities in England by gross valued-added.

Taxpayers’ money would be better spent in continuing a promise made by Boris Johnson in reversing the Beeching cuts. Under these cuts, half of the stations were closed, and around one-third of rail mileage disappeared from the network map. Today population growth means that many communities, especially in the north-east and Wales, cannot reach the major cities within their own regions.

Northern towns like Blyth in Northumberland and Fleetwood in Lancashire have grown massively since the 1960s. Today, Blyth’s population is 40,000 and Fleetwood has a population of 25,000. In commuter belt counties, including my county of Essex, small villages of 4,000 people have train stations, including Ingatestone and Hatfield Peverel. Therefore, the billions of pounds pumped into HS2 would be far better on reconnecting the north to their own major cities than reducing travel times to London by 30-minutes.

If the government scrap HS2 and invest some of the money into rail-networks in the left-behind regions of the United Kingdom, then we will begin to reinvigorate the regional economies. Nevertheless, we must do more. We must create free-ports, which in turn could create 150,000 jobs and add £9 billion to the British economy per annum. We must give working-Britons and businesses tax-breaks. And we must radically change our failing education system. Scrapping HS2 is the first step to levelling up the United Kingdom.

Photo by mwmbwls on Flickr.

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