David Cameron called it "petty and spiteful" when Labour attacked the priviliged background of members of the Conservative leadership ahead of the last election, but apparently it's okay when a campaign backed by Phillip Hammond launches pretty similar attacks aimed at loyal party members. The adverts launched by the campaign supporting the proposed high speed rail (HS2) route yesterday – which Tim wrote up – seem to be based on the idea that Northerners hate Southerners so much they'll want a faster train line down South. Presumably so they can travel down, steal the bowler hats everyone wears in the Home Counties and make a faster escape.
Silly blue-on-blue attacks aside, the reality is that HS2 will be paid for by ordinary people across the country and benefit a fortunate minority. Passengers on the line are expected to be overwhelmingly from the top income quintiles. At a time when there are so many pressures on people's finances, and with long term fiscal pressures on the budget which mean we need to prioritise, it just isn't the right project. If the Government persist with high speed rail, it is going to become harder and harder to keep casting this as NIMBYs vs the national interest. It will become more and more clear that it is about a relatively small numbers of passengers, on what is already the fastest line in the country, going a bit faster at the expense of an enormous bill equivalent to over £1,000 for every family in the country.
This isn't about North vs. South. The priority should be improving links into cities in the North and South, and between Northern cities. We should be trying to deliver affordable and less crowded commuter routes instead of pouring money into making a fast intercity service somewhat faster. Even the Government's figures show they expect most jobs to be created in London, and the numbers are unimpressive.
And that isn't all. Many towns like Coventry will get a worse service, others in places like Nottingham will probably have to travel to an out-of-town station for their region, loads more passengers will be routed into Euston so the Underground network there will need further expensive upgrades, and places like Milton Keynes will get more and more overcrowded as they wait till the new line is finished in 2026 instead of getting upgrades to capacity on the existing line much more quickly. There is more detail on all of that in a research note we released in March.
Here are our three videos, launched today, highlighting the price everyone is going to pay for this white elephant: