17 July 2013

HS2 - Dead and Buried in the Next Two Years

I’ve said something controversial today. HS2 will be dead and buried within 2 years. It won’t be controversial in two years time, it will simply be seen as obvious.

There has been a trickle of U-turns on HS2, most notably from Peter Mandelson, but also from Stephen O’Brien, Tory MP for Eddisbury, who abstained on the vote in Parliament but at a public meeting on 15th July declared himself against. Expect Lib Dems worried about their seats to follow.

The trickle will become a stampede and with the costs already escalating in an alarming manner (and we all know they will continue to soar during the project), the cost / benefit argument from HS2, which is at best unproven, is unsustainable.

UKIP have campaigned vociferously against HS2 on a NIMBY basis, in contradiction to their 2010 manifesto which argued for:
“…three new 200mph-plus high-seed rail lines…This would include a new line between London and Newcastle with a spur to Manchester, a London-Bristol-Exeter line and a linking route via Birmingham.” Well done for the early U-turn but don't expect to be able to take credit for your newly found and politically convenient opposition.

So who got it right on HS2 after a considered and passionate debate by members at Conference? The Green Party – again. At the time it was a lone voice, unpopular in the media or in the public perception. It is good to see that political vision is not a thing of the past.

If HS2 is cancelled now, the coalition would want to simply pocket the difference, although we as tax payers will probably still have to pay out for some ill thought out forward contracts. In the Greens we are arguing that public expenditure is crucial as a way of reviving our economy and decarbonising it. We therefore need to speed up a programme of electrification of existing rail lines, connect up places like Skelmersdale to the rail network and reopen old lines like the Halton Curve.

This is about spending money in a better, greener way. Let’s see if the other parties can get that right.

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