Esther McVey: HS2 should be scrapped and the money spent on other regional infrastructure
HS2 is a white elephant which has little to offer most of the country, writes Esther McVey
One of the many polarising political debates we have at the moment is HS2. Some see it as essential infrastructure to boost the northern economy, others see it as an expensive vanity project – a white elephant which is likely to suck further investment into London at the expense of the north.
I sit firmly in the latter camp; if I become Prime Minister, I will scrap it.
This debate has been going on for a very long time. The Department for Transport and it’s attached bodies – including HS2 Limited – say the London to Birmingham line is exactly what we need. Anyone affected by the route, or who cares about the environmental impact, strongly disagrees.
But over the last few months something has changed. Another debate has entered the picture, which is bigger and very relevant to our country’s future. Official estimates in 2015 put the cost of HS2 at a whopping £55.7 billion. If we are going to spend billions on our transport links for the next 30 years, is HS2 the right choice?
We have to choose. As a Conservative, I know we can’t afford everything. I remember that there’s no such thing as public money - only taxpayers’ money. With experts predicting costs may overrun to double the estimates, well into the hundreds of billions, there’s a real danger HS2 simply comes to a grinding halt and sucks investment away from the network. Make no mistake, that is the worst of all worlds. The work may destroy swathes of our beautiful countryside, without ever reaching the northern stretch where investment is so badly needed.
So, what’s the alternative? It’s true we have ploughed around £4 billion into Phase 1 already, as stated in a recent report from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee. But those sunk costs shouldn’t force us to throw good money after the bad. We still have the chance to heed the warning signs and rethink how we spend the rest on much worthier projects - and possibly avoid cost overruns adding another £50 billion on top.
Plenty of organisations have already brought forward serious proposals for better ways of spending the cash. A recent report from the TaxPayers’ Alliance proposed 28 local and national infrastructure projects which could be funded if HS2 was scrapped. Launching the Great British Transport Competition, they asked members of the public for their suggestions, which were then costed and analysed by a panel of expert judges. The winning projects cover everything from roads to rail, bridges to bicycles, all around the UK. At a total cost of £45 billion, we would still have some cash in the bank for any unforeseen cancellation costs, while benefitting communities large and small, from the Chilterns to Cheshire to Cornwall.
What the vast majority of people want right across the UK are reliable local links which improve their daily lives: suburb to city, home to work, and a link to connect the major cities across the country. Transport in the north suffers from chronic underinvestment and many other regions are in the same boat. The truth remains that most people do not travel into London on a regular basis; HS2 has little or nothing to offer them.
Given that the journey from Bradford to Liverpool takes almost as long from Bradford to London, it is clear Northern Powerhouse Rail (HS3) is a much better solution to benefit the north that HS2 will ever do.
Esther McVey is Conservative MP for Tatton