Boris Johnson is about to give HS2 the green light. This is despite ballooning costs (over £100 billion and counting); despite evidence from France and Spain that the major city hubs (Paris and Madrid respectively) benefit far more from high speed rail, which in turn means that London will suck in more investment and regional English cities will not benefit by as much as some would have you believe; despite the fact that most people will not benefit; despite the environmental damage that will be inflicted on those areas which will not benefit. I could go on.
In a recent article in the Sunday Telegraph, Simon Heffer observed:
"If the Government’s prime concern is to improve the appeal of the north to businesses and migrants from elsewhere in the country, then the obvious way to do it is to improve infrastructure and the quality of life in that region. A means of getting rapidly from Liverpool to Hull via Manchester and Leeds would revolutionise areas such as East Lancashire and the West Riding where cotton and wool mills once shored up an economy founded on coal mining".
As someone who lives in the East Riding of Yorkshire, I heartily echo Prof. Heffer's words, and there is an alternative if the Government wants to increase capacity. If Boris Johnson wants a "shovel ready" project, he need look no further than the Great Central Line. As Ross Clark noted in The Spectator, very few people know about this line. It was one of the casualties of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s. Clark observes:
"This ready-made high-speed line takes almost exactly the same route between London and the Midlands as HS2 would. It sits there, its viaducts and bridges unused, begging for trains. It did once have them — at one point it had the fastest expresses in the country. Opened in 1899, it was the last and the best–engineered of all the main lines in Britain. It was built with the vision of operating 125mph expresses, and used a ‘continental loading gauge’ — which means that, uniquely for British lines, the wider trains used in mainland Europe could be run along it".
This project could be delivered in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost of HS2.
I agree with Lord Berkeley, who published his own version of the Oakervee Review, when he said that if MPs had known the full cost of HS2, they would never have voted in favour of it. They were misled. It isn't too late to halt this project, although realistically, this is not going to happen. This is the second major mistake from the Prime Minister since December's general election - the first being his decision to allow Huawei access to the UK's 5G network.
If Boris Johnson thinks that to hold on to seats he has won in the north of England, all he has to do is spend, spend, spend, he will be in for a rude awakening. Some infrastructure spending does need to take place, but there is one decision that he should take and that is to slash corporation tax, business rates, and give VAT holidays to start-up businesses in poorer parts of the country. He could then sit back and watch the economy flourish.
He has to decide if he is going to model himself on Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher. All the evidence so far is pointing to the former.