HS2: Does it have any supporters left?

Stop HS2 demonstrate in London. Political weight is swinging against the project.
Stop HS2 demonstrate in London. Political weight is swinging against the project.
Ian Dunt By

The Institute of Directors (IoD) gave High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) a resounding thumbs down today, leaving the multi-billion pound project with precious few friends left.

The statement comes amid reports Labour is considering removing its backing for the rail line, opening up the very real possibility of it being cancelled.

"Businesses up and down the country know value for money when they see it and our research shows that they don't see it in the government's case for HS2," IoD director general Simon Walker said.

"Overall there appears to be little enthusiasm amongst IoD members, not even in the regions where the benefits are supposed to be strongest.

"We agree with the need for key infrastructure spending, but the business case for HS2 simply is not there. It is time for the government to look at a thousand smaller projects instead of falling for one grand folly."

Seventy per cent of the IoD's members said the scheme would have no impact on the productivity of their business and just 41% said it was important to their business.

Walker also added that cost-benefit analysis of the scheme was conducted before laptops and tablets were commonplace and therefore failed to take account of how much work people could do while on a train.

"The fact is more than half our members say they spend all of their time on trains working," Walker told the BBC

"For many of them it's as productive as the time they spend in the office."

The British Chamber of Commerce remains supportive of the project, albeit with the caveat that costs are kept under control, while the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said it remain supportive "in principle" but that it must be "demonstrably clear" that benefits outweigh costs.

However, the political weight is growing steadily against HS2.

Several Tory backbenchers have come out against the scheme.

Ukip is earning political capital among those along the route by vociferously opposing the project.

Labour is still technically in support of HS2, which it itself backed when in government, but Ed Miliband is thought to be slowly turning against it.

The link would allow trains to run from London to Birmingham at 250mph from 2026 and to Manchester and Leeds by 2032.

It would do so at the cost of £42.6 billion, according to government figures, but the Institute of Economic Affairs put the figure at closer to £80 billion.

Scrapping that level of spending would allow Miliband to cost several policies while still matching George Osborne and David Cameron's spending.

"I am not willing to see this project start draining money from other vital rail projects - it's got to be delivered within the current budget," shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle told the Sunday Times.

"Nobody who is delivering it should be under any illusions that I will allow it to go up and up."

Alistair Darling, who signed-off HS2 as transport secretary, recently came out against the project and said the money would be better spent on existing rail lines.

"My experience as transport secretary is that if you do not spend money on upgrading, improving the track, improving the trains, then the thing will simply, eventually start falling apart, as it did by the mid-1990s," he told the BBC.

"My fear is, if you build this visionary project that you will have a nightmare on the rest of the network because you don't have the money to spend on it."

A DfT spokesperson said the project would help "regeneration, job creation, investment opportunities and in building a skilled UK economy".


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